A proposal to move an existing light tower at Ocean Beach Park to recreate the historic clock tower at the boardwalk has raised some concerns, including whether the move would affect the tower’s nesting osprey.
Thomas Quinton, chairman of Save Ocean Beach, said the organization first considered repurposing the light tower in 2005 but delayed while it focused on infrastructure projects. He said the organization’s steering committee and general membership unanimously approved the idea in April, and that the Parks and Recreation Commission requested in May that the issue go before the Education, Parks and Recreation Committee of the City Council.
The 70-foot light tower is 30 feet shorter than the original clock tower, and Quinton said the towers are similar in their bases. The original boardwalk clock tower collapsed as a crane was taking it down for refurbishment in 1989.
“The tower was lost, and along with that a piece of history was lost,” said Quinton.
Quinton said the relocation would be done in phases and that the organization would look to independently raise the funds for the project. He said the effort could also be eligible for a historic restoration grant. The phases would involve work on a concrete foundation, moving the tower, repairing the tower, and installing four clocks.
Quinton said the estimates he has received for the first phases are $20,000 for the concrete work and $19,500 to move the tower.
Recent blog posts on the New London Patch and Waterford Patch have urged residents to oppose the proposal since the light tower is used as an osprey nesting site. The posts recommend the construction of a new tower as well as the installation of webcams to view the birds.
Ralph Matyas, a Highland Ave. resident, said he was worried that the osprey might not return to the beach since the light tower has been their nesting site for so long.
“They’re beautiful, magnificent birds and it would be a real shame if that tower came down and they never came back,” he said.
Save Ocean Beach has installed an alternate osprey nesting site at the beach on a pole donated by Connecticut Light and Power. Quinton said the birds appear to be using the new site, but Councilor Adam Sprecace said he wanted to be certain that this is the case.
“I don’t know if that’s a home or if they’re just flying onto that to look around,” he said.
According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, osprey will use artificial platforms for nesting and the department encourages their use in areas where natural nesting sites are unavailable. The osprey population in Connecticut has been growing since 1974, but DEEP monitors the birds closely due to the potential for exposure to pesticides in the ospreys’ wintering grounds in Central America, northern South America, and the West Indies.
Councilor John Maynard said he would like a letter from the state assuring the city that there will not be any repercussions if the osprey do not return to nest at the beach.
“I wouldn’t want to set the city up for any lawsuits,” he said.
Light tower condition
Quinton said the concrete foundation around the light tower is deteriorating and that one leg is unstable. He said the tower has also been inhibiting traffic flow at the beach and has not been lit for years in deference to the beach’s neighbors and due to the potential effect of bad wiring on the osprey.
Quinton said he did not believe the construction of a new tower would be feasible since it would have to be custom made. He said the organization calculated in 2005 that a new tower would cost about $1 million.
“It’s a doable project this way. If you start from scratch, it’s not a doable project,” he said.
Matyas, who has a background in construction, said he did not think there was adequate information about the condition of the tower and that it would be risky to attempt to move it and install the clocks. He also said he considered that a simple lattice tower would cost significantly less than $1 million.
Council President Michael Passero said there is time to address the issues and reach a consensus, but that repairs must be made to the tower if it remains at the beach.
“I think the most important consideration there is the tower has been there since 1940,” he said.
The issue will stay in the committee for further discussion.