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Kent April 15, 2021

Nature Conservancy: Causeway must remain intact

“This is a good day for conservation in and beyond Salisbury.” Kate Kimball, daughter of Mary Alice White

SALISBURY — The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut has issued a formal response to a property owner’s proposed management and stewardship activities involving an abandoned railroad causeway at 145 Taconic Road on West Twin Lake. 

A portion of the property encompassing the man-made peninsula is subject to a conservation easement entered into more than three decades ago, between the late Mary Alice White of Salisbury and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

In recent months, a dispute had bubbled up between landowner Jeffrey Keenan and some area  residents over whether the conservation agreement allows, among other proposed activities at the site, a shortening of the causeway to improve the health of the lake. 

In response to a Feb. 10 request from Keenan seeking interpretation of the conservation easement, The Nature Conservancy granted the landowner, with contingencies, approval to remove a dilapidated gazebo and its underlying abutment located at the far end of the causeway, as well as the construction of a shallow grade ramp to primarily support the offloading of weed- harvesting material.

The Conservancy’s position, released by Andrew Benson, TNC spokesman, further stipulated that the causeway must remain intact under the easement’s terms. “There will be no reduction in the length of the causeway (noting that the removal of the gazebo and the underlying abutment is distinct), as we believe that would, among other things, be an impermissible termination of the easement as applied to that land,” according to the statement.

The inquiry by the landowner, which prompted the Conservancy’s position statement, was not a request for amendment. 

Didn’t seek to 

remove causeway

When reached by phone for comment on Wednesday, Feb. 24, Keenan said although he did seek TNC’s input in his Feb. 10 letter regarding several proposals, including removal of the gazebo and construction of a gravel ramp, he did not mention removal or shortening of the causeway.

In a follow-up email with additional comments the next day, Keenan insisted that The Lakeville Journal publish all his prepared quotes verbatim and in their entirety — or not at all. Because a portion of his quotes were derogatory to the newspaper and to some area residents, the newspaper chose to paraphrase his comments rather than to directly quote him.

Keenan indicated that he never sought permission to remove all or any portion of the causeway under easement, either from The Nature Conservancy, the Inland Wetlands Conservation Commission or any regulator, and although he proposed an impact study of the West Lake causeway, he has abandoned that plan. 

The landowner lauded TNC’s position that he was found to be in compliance as a result of annual monitoring of the property.

Benson confirmed that, “Mr. Keenan did not submit a formal proposal for shortening or removing the causeway.  We are aware, however, of the speculation in the community concerning this point, and thus we shared this position with Mr. Keenan and the public in an effort to make clear that our conditional approval of the gazebo removal was not misunderstood as a preliminary step in efforts related to shortening or removing the causeway. “  

‘Found to be 

in compliance’

The Conservancy said that it had conducted annual monitoring of the property and subject to the Conservation Easement held by TNC, it was found to be in compliance. 

“TNC notes that there was activity on a building envelope owned by Mr. Keenan and adjacent to the property subject to the easement, but would like to clarify that this building envelope falls outside the easement and is not subject to its terms.”

The Conservancy noted that several of the items will require additional review. For instance, final approval for the removal of the gazebo and underlying abutment will be “contingent upon TNC’s review of plans for the removal; confirmation that removal is possible without causing material ecological damage to the immediate area, and securing by Mr. Keenan of all necessary local regulatory permits and approvals.” TNC further noted that such work must ensure compliance with “appropriate environmental safeguards and the conservation values of the easement.”

Although there is “no categorical right” to rebuild the gazebo once removed, the Conservancy indicated that it would consider a request with additional detail to do so at a future time.

Similarly to the gazebo request, approval of the gravel ramp, according to TNC, is allowable “provided that it does not disrupt the natural flow of the lake, cause siltation or erosion, or compromise the conservation values of the easement,” and is contingent upon review by the Conservancy of the plans for the ramp and the process of its construction, as well as confirmation that the construction is possible “without causing material ecological damage to the immediate area.” Also required is the securing by the landowner of all necessary local regulatory permits and approvals.

The Conservancy concluded by noting: “We appreciate Mr. Keenan and [his consultant] Mr. [Tim} Abbott’s good faith engagement on this matter.”

‘TNC did 

the right thing’

Christopher and Kate Kimball, the children of Mary Alice White, said in a joint statement that they are pleased with the Conservancy’s position regarding their mother’s easement, particularly the protection of the causeway.

“In the past we have criticized The Nature Conservancy for being silent. We are delighted that TNC has publicly stated that reducing the length of the causeway our mother protected would be ‘an impermissible termination of the easement.’ Our mother, never one to mince words, would have applauded this clarity. TNC did the right thing by ending that discussion now, as it had no hope of success.”

“This is what it looks like when a conservation easement holder honors the promise made by the original grantor. This action is reassurance to landowners who have granted a conservation easement, or are considering one, that their easement will be honored down the line,” said the Kimballs, who thanked “everyone in Salisbury who has taken action to honor our mother’s most cherished legacy, and some of our fondest memories.”

Kate Kimball said she feels that TNC “properly exercised its right as easement holder” by allowing removal of the gazebo and abutment “contingent on compliance with all applicable rules and safeguards to protect the conservation values of the easement. 

“TNC’s statement means that our mother’s causeway and all easement-protected lands can continue to offer refuge to plants and animals that face dwindling habitats and increased threats from human interference,” said Kimball. “This is a good day for conservation in and beyond Salisbury.”

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