Enviro groups laud public land sale amendment
Public land sales in Connecticut will now be more transparent with the overwhelming approval of voters last week.
About 84 percent of the state’s voters on Nov. 6 said yes to requiring a public hearing before any public land is sold, given away or swapped.
This includes state-owned buildings, parks, forests, wildlife management areas and beaches. It also now requires a two-thirds majority vote before the state gives up ownership of any land overseen by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Department of Agriculture.
“Public lands do, literally, belong to every single Connecticut resident,” said Lynn Werner, executive director of the Housatonic Valley Association. “It’s only right that we all have an opportunity to voice our opinions about how they’re conveyed.”
The parcels are generally packaged together in the annual conveyance bill, which takes a while for legislators and others to sort through. The property transfers could also be tacked on to the bill last minute, increasing the possibility they will be approved without seeing everything in the package.
“Previously, the Connecticut legislature was free to give away or sell lands held for conservation, even if deed restricted, without the public’s input,” said Catherine Rawson, executive director of Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust.
Environmental groups are now breathing a sigh of relief with the passage of the constitutional amendment, which immediately went into effect.
“It feels great for Question #2 to pass,” said Eric Hammerling, executive director for the Connecticut Forest & Park Association. “This is a real convincing win both for Connecticut’s public lands and more transparency in government.”
Hammerling was one of the vocal advocates for the amendment, serving as treasurer for the ProteCT Public Lands coalition, which was made up of about 150 organizations. He said this added protection and transparency is great, but the work isn’t done.
“There is more to do because the public still must show up and participate when those public hearings are held in the future,” Hammerling said.
They all recognized the need to protect the land.
“Not only are these critical spaces for habitat protection and recreation, they also protect our drinking water and help buffer against climate change,” Werner said. “They’re major draws for bringing tourism to the region, and they have an impact on our property values. These lands are among our most valuable assets here in western Connecticut.”
Hammerling said there isn’t a primary issue that is the group’s main concern, but there have been rumblings of various proposals to sell public properties for budgetary and other reasons. Werner and Rawson also applauded how the sales will have to be done in a more open way.
“It is impossible to predict the list of public lands that might come up for disposition in one way or another,” Werner said. “But we’ll be on the look out, ready to speak up. Because now we can — and so can you.”