Three Words: 'Save Medlyn Farm'
Jay Medlyn stands on a hill overlooking fields impacted by salt water flooding from Jarvis Creek Marsh. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound)
Branford farmer Jay Medlyn looks over past news stories generated by his ongoing effort to save Medlyn Farm. Branford farmer Jay Medlyn looks over past news stories generated by his ongoing effort to save Medlyn Farm.
Part of the failed levy system creating flooding issues impacting Medlyn Farm include the deterioration of this 1930's-era tide gate. Part of the failed levy system creating flooding issues impacting Medlyn Farm include the deterioration of this 1930's-era tide gate.
In addition to raising food crops, Medlyn Farm is home to between 500 and 1000 chickens which produce fresh eggs year 'round for Medlyn residential and business customers. In addition to raising food crops, Medlyn Farm is home to between 500 and 1000 chickens which produce fresh eggs year 'round for Medlyn residential and business customers.
Jay Medlyn looks over tomato plants in his farm's greenhouse. Jay Medlyn looks over tomato plants in his farm's greenhouse.
Signs of support for Medlyn are cropping up in several shoreline towns; like this one on Damascus Road in Branford. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
With three words on bright green lawn signs cropping up across the shoreline, Branford farmer Jay Medlyn is stepping up his battle to "Save Medlyn Farm."
Medlyn said he's using the signs to call attention to his fears that he will lose his livelihood. The fifth-generation farmer produces seasonal vegetable crops, greenhouse produce and fresh hen eggs year 'round together with other agricultural offerings including a firewood supply operation. Medlyn Farm is situated at 710 Leetes Island Road (Route 146) on land that has been owned and farmed by Medlyn family members for nearly 140 years.
At issue is a Gordian knot of complications tied to salt water infiltrating Medlyn's farm land and water supply. The salt water enters from an adjacent tidal marsh known as the Jarvis Creek Marsh.
Medlyn's contention is that the 2012 removal of a section of an historic peat berm, compounded by the failure of a 1930's-era tide gate, is causing rampant salt water flooding that's also impacting his neighbors and tying up traffic on Route 146. The levy system failure is at its worst during extreme high tides and storms. The state agency which has ownership of the tide gate is at question. Medlyn is seeking answers from the Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), among others.
The other part of the levy system failure involves the berm removal, Medlyn contends. The berm was partially dismantled in 2012 by the Branford Land Trust (BLT) as part of its stewardship of a Partnership Property in Jarvis Creek Marsh. In its newsletter of December, 2013, when discussing the effects of sea level rise, BLT described the berm and tide gate as "deteriorated old control measures" which had been proving "little defense against the influx of water, especially after the berm was further eroded by Hurricane Irene."
But Medlyn feels the flooding impacting his farm began following the berm removal, combined with damages from a huge tidal surge from the area's second hurricane event in two years, Hurricane Sandy.
"We didn't have a problem until the Land Trust removed the berm, and then Hurricane Sandy came in," said Medlyn.
In the December 2013 newsletter, BLT also noted construction of a boardwalk on the BLT Partnership Property in Jarvis Creek Marsh "...included removing the remains of the peat berm, which was consistent with a long-established [DEEP] policy to return marshes to their natural state."
In 2015, Medlyn took BLT to court for damages to his crops impacted by the change. The court case is still open.
"Branford Land Trust turned it over to their insurance company. The insurance company will pay me off, but that doesn't solve the problem," said Medlyn. "It's not putting the berm back in. It's not fixing the flood control."
BLT's General Corporate Attorney Jim Perito said particulars can't be discussed due the law suit to still being in litigation, but he did note that referring a claim to BLT's insurance company and providing an attorney is standard practice during such proceedings.
"We refered it to our insurance company, like anyone would in matters such as these," said Perito.
The matter could be resolved or go to trial. Perito is not the attorney of record representing BLT in the suit.
Until a fix for the salt water flooding issues is found, one costly result for Medlyn has been the ruin of his formerly pristine irrigation pond. Adding insult to injury, water analysis also found salt water in Medlyn's recently-installed well, which he put in at his own expense after the irrigation pond was fouled. During the last growing season, 80 percent of his sweet corn crop was lost, said Medlyn.
"We always had plenty of good spring water," said Medlyn. "After we got salt water in the irrigation pond, we dug a well to get fresh water to trickle irrigate the rest of the crops. It still got saltwater in it. We're talking about food crops. You can't be playing around with the water. This is my livelihood."
That's why he's now trying to stir up local interest in his cause with his "Save Medlyn Farm" signs. The signs first began showing up in mid-November and now can be spotted outside homes and other properties in towns including Branford, North Branford, Guilford, Madison, North Haven and more.
"The intent of the signs is to get them to fix the levy system. It's eroding all the land out," Medlyn said. "We've been here since 1880 and I don't want to have to leave here. My issue is my water supply is being contaminated with salt water. Fix it or buy me out – but there's not enough money, because this place is priceless. Why would I want to go anywhere else? Why would you want to leave the property your family has been on for generations? But I need answers. I just can't continue like this. I think the whole community wants me to stay and is behind me."
But there are is now another player involved in the problems facing Medlyn Farm: the state Dept. of Transportation (DOT). The DOT's proposal to replace the Route 146 bridge at the Guilford "crabbing hole," will close the bridge for nearly a year and virtually halt vital Guilford customer access to Medlyn's farm, said Medlyn (see related story here). State Representative Sean Scanlon (D, District 98) told Zip06/The Sound he is not only aware of Medlyn's concerns but also of those being voiced by Guilford and Branford residents impacted by the proposed bridge replacement.
"This is subject to a public information hearing that will have to be held, where constituents and residents can come and voice their concerns about this project. I've been getting a lot of calls and emails about this bridge from constituents in Guilford and Branford. It's important for them to know this project is not going forward definitively until the people are heard," said Scanlon.
Scanlon plans to help alert the public so they have notice of the bridge hearing, which he expects will take place sometime during the first quarter of 2017.
Scanlon first took office in 2014 and has been attempting to assist Medlyn with the salt water flooding issue impacting Medlyn Farm, together with State Senator Ted Kennedy Jr. (D, District 12), who also first took office in 2014.
Kennedy said he's following up on work started by his predecessor, State Sen. Ed Meyer, to help bring attention to Medlyn's issues. Within the past year and half, Kennedy has helped Medlyn reach the ears of the Commissioner of DEEP and to renew the interest of state's Agricultural Commissioner regarding flooding issues impacting Medlyn Farm.
"I want to work to make sure that Medlyn Farm can continue in operation for many generations to come, and I'm working with the state to make sure his issues are address as quickly as possible," Kennedy told Zip06/The Sound.
Last year, DEEP commissioned a study, conducted by Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) at UCONN (Avery Point) to review the flooding issues impacting Medlyn Farm. The CIRCA study found the failing tide gate to have a significant impact on the influx of saltwater.
Next week, Scanlon is bringing representatives from DEEP and the Department of Agriculture together with Medlyn to discuss the tide gate flooding issue and possibly begin to approach a solution. Scanlon said the flooding is not only impacting Medlyn Farm, but also Route 146, a state highway.
"I want to do what I can to try to help Jay, and I also want to do what I can to help the residents of that neighborhood, because the flooding that impacts Jay also impacts those who live there," said Scanlon. "If we can figure this out, it's a double win."
Reporter's Note: This story was updated to include a response from Branford Land Trust's representation.