Fate of trail pits activists against city

Local environmental groups are squaring off against city government over whether a proposed park trail should be allowed to cut through the city’s ports.

The pathway would be part of the 10-mile New Haven Harbor Trail and would cut through the Port of New Haven, a major part of the city’s fading industrial economy. To the environmental groups, it is part of an ambitious attempt to create a continuous ring of parks surrounding the city, as well as part of a much larger trail that would stretch from Maine to Florida. But the Port Authority is attempting to take over 14 acres of the land for security reasons and move the proposed trail to another area.

A proposed park trail would cut through the Port of New Haven, but Port Authority administrators say the trail could be a security threat.
Nick Robbins
A proposed park trail would cut through the Port of New Haven, but Port Authority administrators say the trail could be a security threat.

John Russo, chairman of the Port Authority, said the port’s industrial terminals and oil reserves have made it a security risk in recent years.

“It’s a highly industrial area, and little by little, [the government is] requiring it to become more secure because of the homeland security issues,” he said. “Trying to find a pathway that would be perfectly secure and give the environmentalists what they need is hard.”

The land, which was bought by New Haven in the 1920s and has long been unoccupied, was formerly protected by the city with the sole intention of creating a park or recreational space. But in 2003, the Port Authority was created with the ability to seize lands for public use under eminent domain laws, and could take over the land for security purposes, said Chris Oczyk, a member of the Vision Waterfront Group, an environmentalist organization.

But those in favor of the proposed pathway are not going down without a fight. The New Haven Urban Design League, a local advocacy group, sent an e-mail to members of the media with the subject line “Walk and see the New Haven Harborside Trial — Now In Jeopardy.” Though Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell acknowledged that the port is not necessarily secure, she thinks the government has made a weak case for the security justification for nixing the pathway.

If the city moves the pathway, the trail would be pushed to nearby Woodward Avenue and Route 1. But Farwell contends that proposed relocation site would be worse for security.

“They don’t have much of an argument,” she said. “If you’re on Woodward Avenue and you wanted to throw a hand grenade at an oil tank, you’re closer to the strategic target from Woodward than from where the path should be.”

Oczyk said his group presented its own plan to the city, in which the pathway would remain at its original site with fencing added on both sides. Still, security is only possible through civic participation and vigilance, he said.

“Real security isn’t about cameras,” he said. “It’s about community and eyes-on.”

Russo declined to address any of the specific claims made by Farwell and other environmentalists, but said the city plans to take their arguments into consideration.

The proposed trail would connect several parks in the city, such as Nathan Hale Park and Lighthouse Park. Farwell said this will make it easier for city residents to access the city’s green spaces.

Russo said nothing has been finalized yet, although the dispute will be resolved in the next three to six months.

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