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Environmental Groups Mulling Lawsuit Over Land Swap

The Rivers Alliance today is sponsoring a meeting with environmental groups to discuss the statewide impact of the swap and whether it can be challenged.

Several environmental groups from across the state are meeting this afternoon to review the legalities of the Haddam land swap, recently approved by the legislature, and whether there are grounds to sue to overturn the state’s approval of the swap.

The meeting is being hosted by the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, a Litchfield-based nonprofit that seeks to protect Connecticut's rivers, streams and watersheds.

The alliance’s director, Margaret Miner, said today the group is worried about the Haddam Land Exchange, as it is called by the state, not only because of the impact it could have on the Connecticut River but its broader legal implications on conservation lands elsewhere in the state.

The group is meeting with officials from other conservation organizations in Connecticut to determine if there is a way to legally overturn the legislature’s recent passage of a bill allowing the swap of 17.4 state-owned acres near the Connecticut River in Haddam for 87.7 privately-owned acres near the Cockaponset State Forest across town in Haddam, in the village of Higganum.

The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection bought the 17.4 acres for $1.3 million, using funds from its Recreation & Natural Heritage Trust Program, which seeks to conserve land. The state now wants to give the property, which overlooks the Connecticut River and has sweeping vistas of the iconic Haddam Swing Bridge and Goodspeed Opera House, to a private developer in exchange for the Higganum land the developer owns. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy approved the measure this month.

The developer, who also owns the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station on property that abuts the 17.4 acres, wants to build retail development on the land, as well as a boutique hotel and other developments to complement the banquet facility.

One of the groups that will take part in today’s meeting is the Citizens for Protection of Public Land, a grassroots group that formed locally to oppose the Haddam Land Exchange.

When the proposal first came up “I think the first question everyone had about it was “Is that legal?” Miner said. “Some of us are interested in the principle and the precedent being set.”

Her group, she added, is concerned that the state has opened the door to bartering away some of the thousands of acres of open space Connecticut has purchased under the Recreation & Natural Heritage Trust Program.

“I’m not at all reassured that this is a one-time thing,” Miner said.

Environmental groups like her’s, she added, also are concerned that the land swap came through the legislature and was approved by Malloy without being vetted first by the DEEP.

“This horse ran around the starting gate and then just took off,” she said. “We’d like to go back to the starting gate.”

The group meeting today to discuss legal strategies hasn’t formalized any plans yet and has not hired a lawyer, “But we know lawyers and some of our members are lawyers,” Miner said.

According to recent emails between the Rivers Alliance members and members of other conservation groups interested in the Haddam Land Exchange, some of the legal issues under consideration include: Does the land swap comply with the state’s constitution? Does it represent an illegal property seizure? Does potential pollution of the Tylerville land mean it can’t be transferred without a cleanup plan? Is there language within the Recreational & Natural Heritage Trust Program that would limit how the land is transferred and used?

Miner, along with the leaders and members of other environmental groups, have written countless letters and have contacted the DEEP repeatedly to voice their concerns about the swap. In a recent response to Miner, DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty said the land swap “does not change the Department’s fundamental goal of preserving high-value conservation and recreation land for future generations.”

A PDF of Esty’s entire letter is available above, as is a letter he sent to Malloy outlining his concerns about the land swap before it was approved. 

Gene Bartholomew July 28, 2011 at 03:14 PM
The Justice Dept and Attorney General won't touch it. Corporate America is now running the State again with Malloy as the muppet and he carefully cast his minions like Esty to control it all including the courts. The time to sue was before it was passed so that they saw they were screwed, now its law. Our courts allowed the taking of peoples homes in New London on a scam deal, they declared businesses have the same rights as people, and they now allow unlimited anonymous corporate funding of candidates, I doubt they will reverse this.
Ilene Coman July 28, 2011 at 06:20 PM
I think it is definitely worth fighting to prevent the "exchange", one way or another. As for the Atty General not touching it, I don't think that it is necessarily true. Jepsen is investigating the legalities of the Stanley Park-COSTCO deal that the New Britain mayor and other officials put together there, because the land was given decades before to the city for a park and golf course- not for a big box store. I know that Jepsen wouldn't look into the Haddam land swap before it was voted on and signed by Malloy but now that it was passed, maybe he would investigate the legalities of the exchange for the same reasons noted by conservation groups, in the article above. I'm just saying...it's an avenue that shouldn't be dismissed. I fully support and appreciate the groups fighting the Haddam Swap and will help in anyway they want the public to help.
Trainlee July 28, 2011 at 07:18 PM
I understand the frustration expressed by most in the above notices. Are you all willing to support the construction of the thirty-four homes originally slated for the 87 acre parcel...or would you oppose that as well. Think carefully before you answer.
Gene Bartholomew July 28, 2011 at 08:54 PM
Got news for you, Riverhouse is probably going to develope it anyway because the schemeing Daily wrote the bill so that it says "riverhouse will trade ALL OR PART of the 87 acres" Now why do you suppose she did that???? Want to bet this becomes 4 acres in exchange for the Eagle Landing parcel and they develope the rest? I can come to no other logical conclusion why that would be wrtten in there, the states does not say 'ALL OR PART of Eagle Landing" right?
Nancy Borge July 29, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Nancy Borge I find it very interesting that the developers that got the land said in a local Haddam paper that the 87 acres swapped would be there for perpetuity. I believe that was what was said in the deed for 17.4 acres. Obviously perpetuity doesn't mean forever any more. This was land purchased for the people of CT with their dollars. Many of them didn't even know what was going on.....And sadly some thought that they would have a vote. In response to 34 homes or construction overlooking the river. Most of the 87 acres in wetlands and most of the perk wholes on the land are filled with water which means they aren't buildable lots. No one seems to have looked at the traffic problems this would create. The bridge opens all year long backing up traffic out to exit 7. If we allow this exchange to happen what will be next?

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