State Answers Lawmakers’ Call for Temporary Alcohol Ban at Gardner Lake

August 6, 2017

Article as it appeared in the Norwich Bulletin

After recurring issues and complaints, a 90-day ban on alcohol has been put in place at Gardner Lake State Park.

According to Robert Klee, commissioner of the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the temporary ban will go into effect Saturday and will last until Columbus Day weekend in October.

“I have exercised my authority to declare a 90-day ban on alcohol at Gardner Lake State Park because large numbers of people consuming large volumes of alcohol there is not a combination conducive to public safety and enjoyment of our state’s natural resources,” Klee said in a statement Thursday. “The ban I have issued means no alcohol at Gardner Lake State Park and State Environmental Conservation (EnCon) Police officers from this agency will enforce this ban. We also appreciate the offer of local law enforcement to support this new policy.”

State DEEP Communications Director Dennis Schain clarified that alcohol is banned at all state beaches. The new temporary ban at Gardner, however, will expand this rule outside of the beach to include the entire park. Alcohol may be possessed in the boat launch area but only if it is being transferred between boats and cars. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the boat launch area per preexisting state boat launch rules, Schain said.

“People are allowed to drink on the lake in their boat,” Schain said. “But of course we always encourage people to be responsible.”

Minnie Island, the state’s smallest park, sits in the middle of Gardner Lake. Alcohol is not banned on Minnie Island, Schain said.

In the past month, The Bulletin has reported on trash and alcohol-related issues at Gardner Lake State Park. Salem First Selectman Kevin Lyden said resident troopers were called on Fourth of July weekend after an assault, which sent one man to the hospital with a head injury.

Lyden went on to hold a conference call with DEEP, as well as send a letter and photographs.

“I want to thank [The Bulletin]. I don’t think this would have happened without these articles,” Lyden said.

On Monday, state Sen. Paul Formica sent a letter to DEEP signed by himself and seven other officials, including Lyden. The letter asked the state to institute a 90-day ban on alcohol in the park. Formica said he was not surprised by the state’s quick response time due to the severe nature of photos that had been sent to the commissioner.

One photo, sent with Formica’s letter, shows boats within the swimming area on an overcrowded beach day. Another, sent by Lyden, shows 105 bottle caps the first selectman collected from the beach – all from alcoholic beverages.

Formica said he hopes the temporary ban will keep things under control until the end of the season. Then, state and local government officials can spend the off-season considering more permanent changes, he said.

“The next step is to make sure park users know the rules. This may take supervision or having someone on site,” Formica said.

However, adding a staff position in the park will cost money. And because the state has yet to pass a budget, municipalities have been functioning on bare bones.

“I know budgeting is a problem right now but we shouldn’t let money get in the way of safety,” Formica said.

Uncasville resident Angela Bialowas, who was at the beach Thursday with her two daughters, said she has been coming to the beach for almost 40 years.

“I think [the ban] is an awesome idea. People need to respect this place because it’s for families,” Bialowas said.

But not everyone agrees that alcohol is the problem at the beach.

Norwich resident Chris Laubenheimer said he goes to the beach at least twice a week in the summer.

“As long as people are respectful, I don’t think it’s a problem,” Laubenheimer said. “Littering is the main concern for me. After Fourth of July weekend it was disgusting in here.”

To alleviate the trash problem, state officials placed a dumpster at the beach last week. However, given its placement near the boat launch and behind a fence and bushes, many beach-goers have not noticed the addition.

“I didn’t even see it until someone told me,” Bialowas said. “I hope [the ban] will help the trash problem, but it won’t do any good if no one is here to monitor it.”

Lyden said Salem resident troopers will continue to patrol the state park and notify individuals of the temporary ban.