This is the last weekend that state parks will have lifeguards on duty for the summer. At Squantz Pond State Park in New Fairfield, it's been a fairly safe summer. But town officials remain at odds with the state over how the park is being run.
There were fewer guards on duty during the peak of summer than in past years. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection cut back on guard duty at several parks during the week for budget deficit mitigation efforts.
Former First Selectman John Hodge says DEEP is ignoring a water safety audit done in 2008. He cited several examples in a letter to DEEP officials. That includes removing the bilingual park ranger, removing safety signs written in English and Spanish and allowed understaffing of lifeguards. He says universal swim safety flags have been posted with instructions on how to interpret the flags but that they are only in English.
Hodge says the signs were put up after a spate of drownings in the last decade. Many of the victims were from various boroughs of New York City.
DEEP is taking comment on banning walk ins at state parks. This was prompted in part by concerns from New Fairfield officials with cars stopping on a curved roadway leading to Squantz Pond. But 14 months after walk-ins were reestablished and DEEP was notified, Hodge says even the most ineffective bureaucracy could have drafted a regulation prohibiting such activity.
People were also parking around town and walking along the roadway to the entrance. Hodge says they don't want to put up no parking signs in residential zones around Squantz Pond because that wouldn't be fair to homeowners. He says if they were to have a gathering, relatives and friends wouldn't be able to park in front of their house either.