It seems absurd that Connecticut needs a Constitutional Amendment to protect state-owned conservation lands like State Parks, State Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, and state-owned agricultural lands, but we are convinced that this is absolutely necessary.
Why? Take a look at some of the provisions of this year’s Conveyance Act (HB 6998) that recently passed out of the General Administration and Elections Committee. If this version of the Conveyance Act were to pass, the following would happen:
- 4.7 acres of Silver Sands State Park would be given for no compensation to the City of Milford for “municipal purposes” that amongst other things include a parking lot (Section 3 of the Act);
- State lands along the Quinebaug River would be used for sand and gravel mining access through areas with endangered species habitats, and in return the State would inherit lands that were previously mined and would likely need remediation (Sections 14 and 15 of the Act); and
- Portions of the Centennial Watershed Forest that actually have conservation easements on them were proposed to be conveyed to the town of Fairfield (fortunately, Section 8 of the Act has now been removed due to many concerns expressed by the public).
Fortunately, many people have expressed concern about sections 3, 8, 14 and 15 of the Conveyance Act, especially the proposed conveyance of Silver Sands. Here’s a link to the testimony that so many people have provided expressing concerns about various elements of the Conveyance Act.
CFPA held an event for its Winslow Society supporters to discuss the Conveyance Act and the need for a Constitutional Amendment to make the process of swapping, selling, or giving away State lands more transparent and open to public input. Keynote speaker, David Leff, who is also Chair of CFPA’s Public Policy committee suggested a few basic elements that would be central to a Constitutional Amendment:
- two-thirds vote of the legislature would be required rather than simple majority;
- each conveyance would be the subject of its own bill (rather than the current mishmash of good and bad proposals);
- a public hearing in the affected community/ies would be held; and
- if a land conveyance were approved, funds would be appropriated to purchase compensatory land of similar conservation value as close by as possible.
David’s talk concluded, “no matter what restrictions and protections are imposed by law today, tomorrow’s land transfer legislation beginning with the ominous words “Notwithstanding any provision of the General Statutes . . .” is free to disregard prior law. The only thing that binds the Legislature is a Constitutional Amendment voted upon by the people. That’s us. We need to make our voices heard!”
CFPA is not alone in calling for a Constitutional Amendment to protect State conservation lands. The CT Council on Environmental Quality has also called for a Constitutional Amendment in its 2014 report entitled “Preserved But Maybe Not – The Impermanence of State Conservation Lands”.
It’s time to make a difference and keep public lands in public hands. Thank you for your support!