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Lawmakers Ask Environmental Commissioner To Weigh In On Land Swap


About two dozen environmental groups are opposing a bill that would swap a state-owned parcel of land in Haddam with another property owned by a group of developers. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen reports a new amendment was proposed yesterday that would require the state’s environmental agency to review the land swap

About eight years ago the state purchased 17 acres with a view of the Connecticut River for $1.35 million.  But lawmakers are considering swapping the land with the developer Riverhouse Properties in exchange for 87 acres next to the Cockaponsett State Forest. Trevor Furrer of Riverhouse says if the swap goes through his company will build a hotel, shops and restaurants.

“All surrounding a public square, fountain. like a piazza and all looking across the river to the swing bridge and the opera house to connect the two .“

Riverhouse has a banquet hall that sits high on a bluff right next to the 17 acres the company wants to own. But that land came with a deed that says it “should be retained in its natural scenic or open condition as a park or public open space.” Again Trevor Furrer

“My understanding is the deed restrictions would need to be lifted. But we certainly envision the entire development to be fully public access. Now that’s different from open space, but we are building something for the public, a tourist attraction to create jobs and tax revenues.”

Furrer says the development would bring as many as 400 construction jobs and at least 300 permanent jobs. And $150,000 in local property taxes. Senator Eileen Dailey says the economic benefit is why she has proposed the land swap.

But State Representative Philip Miller says Connecticut bought the 17 acres specifically for conservation purposes and it should remain protected.

"A lot  of people who have been very generous about donating or selling open space to the state  are really concerned this will set a terrible precedent by revoking the sacred trust between the sellers  who sell land like that or donate land with the expectation that it will be conservation land in perpetuity.”

The Department of Environmental Protection, which manages the 17 acres as a wildlife area, has not weighed in on the proposal, saying it is a legislative matter. But yesterday Senator Ed Meyer made a proposal that could get the D.E.P. involved.

“I put in an amendment which would end the giving away of this land and refer the matter to the D.E.P.  for a report on whether or not it should be preserved or if it should be given away.”

And there was other action at the Capitol on the proposal.

Representatives Richard Roy and Clark Chapin along with Senator Andrew Roraback sent a letter to Environmental Commissioner Dan Esty asking him to weigh in on the land swap. Senator Roraback.

“We want him to speak to the legal, financial and environmental implications of what’s being proposed,which is  I think is at the core of his job description. His agency owns the land in question. His agency will become the owner of land in question if the swap moves forward.”

Roraback says the Governor should direct Esty to offer his opinion.

“What’s most important to me is he say something. What he says is less important than that he say something. I think he’s abrogating his responsibility and I think the Governor should speak.”

The letter asks Commissioner Esty to weigh in on the matter by 5 P.M. Tuesday. Up to now Esty has said only that the proposal can best be vetted by the legislature.

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