Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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Madison Navigating Next Phase of Reopening Process as Beaches, Summer Programming Ramps Up

Almost two weeks into Phase One of reopening as defined by the state, the Town of Madison is preparing to begin offering more services and limited summer programming while still reminding residents that many restrictions will remain in place, and the danger of the pandemic is far from over.

This week, Town Hall is opening to the public in a limited, appointments-only capacity; the Beach & Recreation Department is accepting enrollments for a slew of modified summer programs, with possibility of adding more later in the summer; and beaches are filling up with both Madison and out-of-town visitors as summer heat descends on the shoreline.

“We should still be respecting social distancing, and we should still be trying to keep to smaller groups right now,” First Selectman Peggy Lyons told The Source. “It’s just going to evolve.”

With new state guidelines still coming out regularly, Lyons said at a May 26 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting that the town had hoped to have more clarity on a handful of issues, most particularly the camps.

On May 29, Governor Ned Lamont relaxed some of the broader state restrictions, including doubling the number of people allowed to gather indoors from 5 to 10, and reopening barber shops and hair salons based on previously announced guidelines.

Speaking to The Source, Lyons emphasized that Madison would continue to follow a regional approach, seeking to align the town’s gradual loosening of restrictions with neighboring municipalities and depending on guidelines from Hartford as they were released.

The opening of Town Hall to the public, while an important step that will see all town employees return physically to work at least on a part time basis, will still be “very limited” in scope, according to Lyons.

Secure dropboxes for certain items will be placed around Town Campus, to be used by certain departments when possible, according to Lyons. The town is also opening up its bulky waste drop-off center at Ridge Road this week to commercial contractors; previously it had been available only to residents.

Department heads are determining what kind of business necessitates in-person appointments right now, according to Lyons, with residents still strongly encouraged to use online or phone systems whenever possible when they need something from the town.

Though the situation remains “fluid,” Lyons also said she anticipates a full “open office hours” version of Town Campus to be in place this July.

Summer programs—most notably summer camps—will go on, also beginning in July. Camps opened for registration on June 1 and will follow state guidelines, which include regular health screenings, masks worn by all staff members, and camp limited to a maximum of 30 campers, though the state Office of Early Childhood can provide discretionary waivers for larger camps, according to its website.

Lyons told The Source that while most sports camps and youth sports leagues are not currently being run, there will be limited, bring-your-own equipment sports programs, including tennis and some limited soccer activities.

More state guidance is expected on or around Saturday, June 6, Lyons said, at which point the town could potentially begin planning for a more extensive offering of programs, including the possibility of sports leagues like flag football or organized soccer, which often start later in the summer anyway.

The summer concert series on the green had earlier been postponed, as have Fourth of July celebrations.

With how quickly guideline changes ar ecoming from the state, Lyons emphasized that the town was still being forced to think on its feet.

“So sometimes you just have to say, ‘Okay, this is what we’re capable of doing,’ and stay with the plan for now,” she said.

Restrictions on businesses, most of which were allowed to open on May 20, will likely not be the focus of town restrictions above and beyond what the state puts out, according to Lyons. While the town still has the power to limit gatherings, programs, or movement on its own properties, it’s unlikely to place additional restrictions on privately owned establishments.

Only if those businesses were not operating in a manner that was “safe and consistent” with state guidelines would the town step in, Lyons said.

At the May 26 BOS meeting, Public Health Director Trent Joseph said his department had been “doing a lot of responding” and “tightening up some of [the] control measures” at restaurants, though he said mostly the focus was on education rather than enforcement.

At press time, Joseph had not responded to an email requesting further details about those responses.

Beaches have been another area of increased activity, with mostly good weather over the last couple weeks and heat bringing people down to the shore. “Well over” 1,000 residents had purchased beach passes as of last week, Lyons said, and the town plans to launch its online ordering system on Monday, June 15.

Madison beaches are still only open to residents on weekends, and passes will be required starting on Saturday, June 20, according to the town’s website.

Both Lyons Emergency Management Director Sam DeBurra said the town had continued to receive concerns about crowds, particularly at Middle Beach Road. Poor weather over Memorial Day weekend helped, DeBurra said, but the unexpected closing of Hammonasset Beach State Park on May 19 brought a cascade of people walking or driving into Salt Meadow and other Madison beaches.

Lyons told The Source that she and other officials, including the Police Department, are exploring ways to limit these sorts of crowds, with the possibility of a new outbreak still very real.

“Just because the sun’s out and it’s a nice day and everything else doesn’t mean the threat is gone,” DeBurra said.

Some of those ideas include upping police enforcement of two-hour parking spaces near the beaches, where people park and walk to the beach, and even potentially moving the gate near West Wharf Beach north in order to encompass additional parking spots, limiting those places to residents.

Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at j.williams@shorepublishing.com.

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