S. B. 656 – A bill authorizing $60 million from the surplus state funds (~ 10% of the surplus) for farmland preservation, brownfield restoration, open space preservation, and urban park restoration.

SB 656 died in the Appropriations Committee.

April 26, 2006:
In the next few days, legislative leaders and the Governor will be finalizing negotiations on next year’s budget and the use of surplus funds.  Please contact your representatives TODAY and urge them to support using a portion of the state surplus to fund open space acquisitions.  See the call for communication from Sandy Breslin of Audubon Connecticut here.

E-mail Simsbury Representative R. Heagney, Simsbury State Senator T. Herlihy, and Governor J. Rell with ONE CLICK!!! (option no longer available).

Simsbury’s Representation:
State Representative Robert Heagney
State Senator Thomas J. Herlihy

Find contact information for other legislators here.

Governor M. Jodi Rell
Executive Office of the Governor
State Capitol
210 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, Connecticut 06106
Greater Hartford Area: 860-566-4840
Toll Free: 800-406-1527
TDD: 860-524-7397

Example Letters (in support of open space and SB656):

Example letter # 1.

Senator Roraback,

I am voicing my strong support for designating money in the surplus fund, to go towards land preservation.
This is akin to giving the money back to the State ten fold.

CT faces dwindling resources.  Our forests, our streams and most importantly, our water (supply and quality )are being lost and or compromised.
Please, use this financial resource ,that now is available ,to preserve those parcels of land that contain our natural resources .We will lose forever, this land,  if not now protected.

Though many other initiatives are laudable, none have the urgency that farmland and open space protection, present.

Add my support to your bill.

Example letter # 2.

To the Environment Committee,

I strongly support Public Bill #656 for the protection of open space.  This bill is of the utmost importance for healthy economic development and retaining our quality of life, wildlife, wetlands, biodiversity, and recreational assets.  Moreover, in some cases open space and targeted use of this fund can protect water quality for the future.  Although public water company lands are largely exempt from development, many watershed lands are privately owned, and at risk.

As an example, the campus associated with the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury is threatened with development, even though the land is entirely atop the Stratton Brook aquifer – a rare, pristine, high-yield aquifer providing water to three towns.  The land slated for development is entirely within the defined aquifer protection zone.  It has connected recreational trails, a high percentage of wetlands, enormous biodiversity, and lies at the heart of contiguous state and town open space –it is a cornerstone of Simsbury’s successful open space program.  Yet even this “poster child” for preservation is on the block for development.

The pressure for and the risks of development are high.  Current restrictions and regulations on land use do not even come close to adequately protecting water quality.  With approximately 90% of Connecticut’s water resources under our land, the implications are truly frightening.

Substantial amounts of state money are poured continually into clean water initiatives.  Yet we know that source protection is the most effective and most economical path to pure water. Let’s be proactive wherever and whenever we can to preserve open space AND drinking water for the future.

Example letter # 3.

Governor Rell:

Connecticut’s Land Preservation Act…….
In favor?
Yes and No.
Yes, because this bill is a comprehensive initiative, that addresses a myriad of needs for the state.
No, because it’s not enough.

Everyone wants a piece of the surplus.  Your decisions must satisfy the needs of the many, knowing full well that choices must be made and priorities must be ordered.

Land Preservation, as addressed in this bill (656), satisfies so many needs.
If cities are to be revitalized, jobs created, sprawl contained, we need to reuse our brown fields and build urban parks.  This job creation within our cities, will also reduce our traffic and it’s consequence for air pollution.  City hubs will also allow a feasible mass transit system.
City parks, can address the needs of not only our inner city children and families, but add to our air quality with the green spaces provided.
Farmland and Open Space?  At the present rate of losing 45 acres a day to development, the highest rate of any other state, Connecticut will become a paved space, a highway to travel from NY to Massachusetts to Rhode Island.
This money, our money, our surplus should be given back to the overcharged citizens of Connecticut in the form of land purchased.

Job creation, revitalizing our cities, reduction in highway travel, reducing air pollution and preserving our farms,  open space (particularly our watershed land )allow us to conserve our natural resources, while providing food and clean water
for future generations.

Do not spend our surplus.  Conserve it by preserving our land.
It will be your legacy.
Allow us to view this as a moment in history when we made a decision to preserve  for the future, what has been ours to enjoy.

Please support this important legislation.
Please consider adding to it more of the surplus fund.

Example Letter # 4

Subject: Connecticut Drinking Waters Run Not Deep Enough

Dear Senator Finch;

It is amusing to think that it takes acres and acres of lost woodlands, forests, and most likely losing the old Yankee Farms for town citizens and the state to step up and finally say enough is enough.  We have all been warned time and again if development is not reined in it will turn into a runaway racehorse.  When this racehorse does get loose, we are all so scared and bewilder that we just stare at the beast when it gallops by!  I was excited to hear you are leading the charge for Open Space Protection!!!

My own recent research shows that from 1988 through 2002, Connecticut has lost 100,000 acres of farmland and 300,000 acres of forested land to development.   This roughly translates into on the average of 18 acres per day of forestland.  This sort of development most likely becomes 12 acres of buildings on 18 acres of land.  What happened to the land left over?  The other 6 acres would be turned into parking, of course!  There’s a bucolic picture of Connecticut for you!  Now remember these studies do not take into account the construction boom of McMansions taking place in and around the Farmington Valley from 2003 to present.  And as you know, the end is not in sight.

All this talk of lost vistas, forest, fields, and quality of life loses sight of a very important resource.  This resource is basically considered a commodity for consumer consumption.  It is right under our feet…the ground water aquifer….our own drinking water.  Reference is made to degraded quality of streams and rivers with encroaching development but very rarely is it heard about the underground water.  Oh sure they get a mention, but now is the time we should look at the facts.  Aquifers are especially hard hit if development continues at its current pace.  The ground water aquifers that are part of the state’s stratified drift systems, or gravel aquifers.  Most are recharged or refilled by rainfall on top of the land including whatever that rainfall may carry off the land.

The DEP in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) combined efforts in 1997 on the state’s own Source Water Assessment Program (SWAP) in response to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996.  Their assessment program was completed in April of 2003; it is not encouraging to say the least.  The State’s drinking water system consists of 150 surface reservoirs and more than 4000 ground water wells.  This system alone provides for 80% of the state’s drinking water supply.  Of this 80%, approximately 8% of the population received their drinking water from surface reservoirs.  The balance, a whopping 92%, have claim to the underground drinking water aquifers systems winding throughout our state.  The SWAP report ranks the systems according to susceptibility by source water and system type.  If you throw the surface water out of the equation, the large and small community wells are an average of 16.6 % are high risk, 42.5% are at moderate risk, and 42% low risk.  To summarize the different risk assessments, low risk would be preserved parcels of land or Water Company owned, with very limited development, may be even preexisting town aquifer protection regulations.  Aquifers falling under moderate risk are ones that have residential development currently right over the water system; local protection regulations, and water may have to be treated prior to consumption.  High-risk areas are pretty much self-explanatory; water must be treated before human consumption, higher intensity of land development, and no local aquifer protection regulations.  This is based on 2003 data; revised data should be gathered in the near future to reassess these percentages, considering how much open space has been gobbled up in the last few years for the all American dream of life in the “country”.

This is a wake up call not only regarding general quality of life but also for overall health and well-being.  Some of these drinking water aquifers have a status of being pristine, not having to be treated prior to human consumption.  All this will change once the average new suburban home and their on-call professional landscapers take over.  Water companies will have no choice but to pass the extra cost of treatment to their customers.  Keep in mind; this does not take into account all the local residence wells that may also tap into the same source of water.  Who will pick up their costs to periodically test their water and recommend the appropriate treatment??? Alarming, you bet!  But, this doom and gloom has a silver lining, there are small local community groups, town commissions, land trusts, and private land owners who are already carrying the guidon to water and land preservation before it reaches the critical stage.  One such leader is the Town of Simsbury, Board of Selectmen, who have taken the charge of preservation.  Preservation of not only forest land, open space, but they have been forefathers in aquifer protection.  Adopting Aquifer Protection Regulations for town development and actively enforcing these regs dating back to the early 1990’s.  Ordering as far back as 1991, the assessment of availability of the Town’s drinking water aquifers if development should take off.

Today, the Town of Simsbury is openly working with the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit federal organization dedicated to the preservation of open space, and The Ethel Walker School, a local private college preparatory school for girls, to preserve more than 450 acres of school property from development.  They realize even with all the regulations in place the best method of protecting the town’s drinking water is the “do nothing” approach.  This property is special as it is part of an unbroken wildlife corridor, provides recreational hiking and horseback riding on 8 ½ miles of trails, and it is the primary watershed for the Stratton Brook Aquifer.  The Stratton Brook Aquifer is a stratified drift aquifer, that according to the Aquarion Water Group provides not only over 73% of the Town’s drinking water, but also for some customers in the Towns of Granby and East Granby.  This aquifer is currently rated by the DEP as a GAA groundwater aquifer, or pristine in industry slang, and a risk assessment of “Low” by the DPH.  Recently, the school in hopes of increasing their endowment with this “surplus” property, proposed a preliminary plan of 122 one million dollar homes. The talks are only in their infancy but I firmly believe that with State of Connecticut involvement this will bring the purchase to fruition.  If this land purchase is successful, it will undoubtedly become the model for future land preservation issues for years to come across the state, if not the Northeast.