On March 20, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland announced his approval of the $80 million necessary to permanently secure an unprecedented amount of open watershed land for preservation.
The allocation of the funding, which the State Bond Commission formally approved Wednesday, finalizes a purchase and sale agreement that officials from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, The Nature Conservancy, the Kelda Group, and its Aquarion and BHC Company subsidiaries signed in February of last year.
BHC Company, an Aquarion subsidiary that supplies water to many Connecticut towns, currently owns the land, which includes areas of Fairfield, Litchfield, New Haven, and Hartford counties. The Nature Conservancy said BHC agreed to sell the land to both the Department of Environmental Protection and The Nature Conservancy for a total of $90 million, more than $100 million less than its appraised price.
“The more than 15,300 acres we have acquired is more than four times greater than the state’s record year for acquiring open space,” Rowland said in a press release. “Not only has this acquisition preserved thousands of acres of pristine land, it has also greatly increased the recreational opportunities available for Connecticut’s residents, both today and in the future.”
The final joint draft of the property’s Natural Resources Management Agreement said it will be co-managed by the BHC, the Department of Environmental Protection, and The Nature Conservancy. This will allow BHC to retain access to the land in order to continue providing water to many Connecticut cities while promoting conservation and recreational land use.
“It represents both an investment in our future and in our quality of life,” Rowland’s spokesman Chris Cooper said. “By saving things like [the Kelda land], you don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”
Funding for the BHC-Kelda land acquisition became a topic of controversy late last year when the largest state budget deficit of Rowland’s administration prompted him to cut approximately $88 million in planned spending, including $13 million in mental health program funding.
A sum of $2 million was cut from the BHC-Kelda purchase, which was seen as a token cut by mental health advocate and state Rep. Patricia Dillon, who referred to programs like the BHC-Kelda property acquisition as “sacred cows for the governor.”
Despite the budget deficit, funding was secured for the purchase, finalizing a deal that has been in the works for about two years.
“When we realized there was a great concern about the land and our land holdings and the governor had a plan in place that he desired to implement for open land preservation, it provided us an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to environment,” said Adrienne Vaughan, BHC’s public relations manager.
Both purchasing parties agreed that the property was worth the price.
“I think one of the things that really attracted us to this deal, too, is to get land in Fairfield County for what basically amounted to about $5,000 an acre,” said David Sutherland, the director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s a great investment in the future.”