Yesterday morning — while scanning Long Island Sound and Cockenoe Island for birds, with her spotting scope — Tina Green noticed a bench on the Cockenoe sand spit. It’s where the common terns and American oystercatchers nest
This morning she headed to Saugatuck Shores. Here’s what she saw, with her long-range scope:
Tina — who in real life owns Renaissance Studio, the great stained custom stained glass company, with her husband Peter — suspects it might be one of the 3 now reported gone.
“Someone may have gone to a lot of trouble to remove the bench, and then get it out to Cockenoe,” she says.
The approximate location of the bench Tina Green spotted from afar.
She hopes the Marine Police can retrieve it, once their boat is in the water. Or, Tina says, “perhaps a Westporter with a large enough boat and a few strapping lads can return it to Compo where it belongs. It’s heavy!”
There are many ways to get from Westport to Cockenoe Island.
You can sail. You can paddle. You can JetSki.
Or — if you are particularly adventurous — you can walk.
Alert — and creative — “06880” reader Jeff Manchester reports:
“With a super low tide at 8:09 this morning, some intrepid souls took their soles and walked from Saugatuck Island to Cockenoe Island.
From left: Jeff Manchester, Eric Sugerman, 9th graders Jake Coykendall and Tucker Peters, and 8th grader Max Manchester, with their “support vehicle”: a mega-kayak.
“It was a brisk morning in the high 40’s when we started, and only in the 50’s when we returned. However, the water was warmer than the air, so it made for a much more enjoyable journey.
“This is a bucket list item for sure, when the tides and weather cooperate.
En route. (Photo/Mary Sugerman)
“And of course, we have the Einsels, Greens, Jo Fox Brosious and many more to thank for their herculean efforts, saving Cockenoe for future generations from an attempted nuclear power plant over 50 years ago.”
Indeed. Although if that Chernobyl-style structure had actually been built there, today’s water would be a lot warmer.
The first moon landing. Woodstock. Chappaquiddick. The Mets.
All year long, Americans have celebrated the 50th anniversary of historic evenets.
Locally, 1969 was an important year too. But most Westporters have forgotten a battle that — if lost — would have irrevocably changed this town.
Joe Schachter still remembers the fight to save Cockenoe Island from becoming the site of a nuclear power plant. (You read that right. Click here for full details.)
Joe — a member of the “Cockenoe 50th Commemorative” group, along with Betty Lou Cummings, Miggs Burroughs and Jo Fox Brosious (honorary) — writes:
1969 marked the end of a townwide, all-consuming effort to stop installation of an industrial-size nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island. The huge, 14-story complex — just a mile or so off Compo Beach — would have transformed our pristine view; stopped access to the island’s trails, beaches and boating anchorages, and forever altered this part of Long Island Sound.
A rendering of what might have been.
The 2-year “Save Cockenoe Island” battle “involved more residents in a local action than ever before– or since,” says Jo Fox Brosious, then-editor of the Westport News. Her leadership, editorials and articles led the battle.
Victory meant that families who might have considered leaving Westport if the nuclear plant had been built did not have to make that choice. Nor did thousands who moved to Westport since, but might not even have considered it, had the plant been erected.
That critical 1967-69 effort followed an earlier battle by Westporters that took place about 250 years ago, and also shaped today’s Westport. Note these parallels:
In 1777, Westport farmers rose up as “Minutemen” to battle British efforts to stop formation of the new republic that, centuries later, provides today’s envied way of life.
In 1967 Westport residents rose up again, to battle an ominous nuclear presence on Cockenoe — avoiding a specter that could have decimated our way of life.
The 1777 British troops who burned their way up to Danbury were engaged by Minutemen as they returned to their waiting ships, seen anchored from Compo Beach.
The 1967 Westporters stopped a potentially despoiled view from Compo Beach, and prevented loss of access to Cockenoe’s swimming, clamming and fishing grounds.
Today’s residents see reminders of our patriots’ 1777 battles as we pass the Minuteman Monument, or see a pair of cannons on South Beach — each commemorating an event about 250 years ago.
But our town has yet to officially recognize an existential episode of only 50 years ago by designating even one similar lasting object to commemorate this critical achievement.
Indeed, most Westporters under age 60 don’t have even one first-hand memory of an all-out battle that preserved the character of our precious community.
To prevent this clash from disappearing from the pages of our town’s history, members of the 1967-69 “Save Cockenoe Island” original leadership commemorated that battle every 10th anniversary year with events, press releases and boat parades, right through to the 40th in 2009.
2019 is its 50th commemorative year. Those remaining few who were part of that pivotal battle will not be around much longer to remind youngsters and newcomers how their predecessors protected this community for them.
Now we leave it to them to preserve the sparkle of this historic contribution to our town’s brilliantly shining light.
Westport does not have a nickname. But if we did, we might be called “The Land of Lawsuits.”
Westporters like to sue. The town won a lawsuit to prohibit construction of a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island (yay!). Neighbors lost a suit to prohibit construction of the Compo Beach playground (yay!).
Neighbors also threatened to prohibit Positano restaurant from putting a few tables on an outdoor patio near Old Mill Beach. As a result, the restaurant moved. A private home now rises in its place (boo!).
Lost in the mists of time is another lawsuit. In 1985, 64 residents of Bridge Street and nearby roads sued to prevent the conversion of what was then Saugatuck Elementary School into multi-unit housing.
Three years later, a settlement was reached. The agreement limited the project to 36 owner-occupied, age-restricted units.
(Photo courtesy of SmartMLS Inc.)
Today, The Saugatuck is a true success story. One of Westport’s most affordable residences lies a short walk from thriving Saugatuck Center and train station, and not much further from Compo Beach.
The attractively renovated red brick building graces Bridge Street between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.
Residents have formed a tight-knit, active community. It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood without it, in fact.
None of that could have been predicted in 1984. Westport’s school population was declining. Burr Farms Elementary was torn down. Hillspoint Elementary turned into daycare. Bedford El became Town Hall. Greens Farms Elementary School housed the Westport Arts Center.
When the lawsuit was settled, plans were drawn up to convert the school that generations of Saugatuck residents attended. It dated back to the early 20th century, when the original wooden building was called the Bridge Street School.
It took several years, but 17 1-bedroom and 19 2-bedroom apartments were built in what were once classrooms, the library and auditorium. Because Saugatuck had been a classic elementary school, each unit features large windows and high ceilings.
Units at The Saugatuck feature large windows.
Those surroundings are familiar to at least one current resident — and several others in the past. They attended Saugatuck El as kids. Living there now is very different — but also quite familiar.
Joe Veno has lived in The Saugatuck for more than 20 years. As a youngster, he walked to the school from his Franklin Street home. He played basketball in the playground — now a parking lot — and baseball in what is now a quiet back yard.
The Saugatuck is a cooperative. The Town of Westport owns the land, and holds a 99-year lease on the property. But the Cooperative owns the building.
Members must be at last 62 years old (at least one, in the case of married couples), able to live independently, and their income must be below the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s guidelines for homeowners at 80% of area median income. Importantly, there are no limits or restrictions on assets.
To ensure affordability, the resale price is linked to the average increase in income for individuals living in the area.
Three units are currently for sale. A 2-bedroom, 1 bath apartment is listed at $222,282; 2 1-bedroom units have listing prices of $179,800 and $168,300. (Inquiries can be directed to the property manager: 203-226-1570.)
Those are far below other Westport prices, because of the original affordable housing prices implemented in the 1990s, and the strict resale cap/formula that limits how high prices can climb.
A view of The Saugatuck’s back yard.
A cooperative’s rules are are more stringent than in a condo, particularly in areas like rentals. Saugatuck units must be their owner’s primary residence.
One of the great perks of The Saugatuck is Shaun Cullen, a part-time super.
Residents include longtime Westporters who have downsized, and no longer want the responsibilities of a home and yard.
Other residents have moved to The Saugatuck from elsewhere, to be close to their children and grandchildren in Westport.
Most Saugatuck residents are retired, from careers including Wall Street, Madison Avenue, refuse collection and tile installation. At least 2 — an accountant and a contractor — are currently working.
The vibe is friendly. Neighbors chat easily, in the community room, mail room and hallways.
The cooperative is governed by an executive board. They and other residents organize a variety of activities: movie nights, supper at the beach, a jazz keyboardist and Labor Day picnic.
A recent party in the community room.
It’s hard to imagine Westport today without the Compo Beach playground — or to visualize the town, had a nuclear power plant been built on Cockenoe.
It’s just as hard to imagine what Bridge Street would be like without The Saugatuck. How great that the neighbors who sued more than 30 years ago cooperated in a settlement that led to a co-op.
FUN FACTS: 1) During the Depression, the WPA commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a 7-foot high, 20-foot long mural: “Pageant of Juvenile Literature.” For years, it hung just inside the main entrance to Saugatuck Elementary School.
In 1992, when the town finally began to convert the old Saugatuck El to senior housing, the mural was slated for demolition.
A group of art-lovers — including Mollie Donovan, Eve Potts and Judy Gault Sterling — set out to save the work. Within a month they raised $40,000. That was enough to remove the mural, conserve it, and reinstall it at its new home: The Westport Library.
It stayed there for more than 2 decades. When the transformation project was announced, and a suitable spot could not be found for the work, Westport arts curator Kathy Motes Bennewitz and members of the Westport Public Art Collection searched for a large wall, with plenty of foot traffic.
They — with architect Scott Springer — found it, at Staples High School. Now, the enormous, eye-catching mural hangs proudly near the auditorium lobby, just a few feet from the Staples library.
2) When Saugatuck was an elementary school, Pete Seeger — at the time, blacklisted as a folk singer — performed on its auditorium stage.
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