Christine Stuart photo
Despite a brief attempt by freshman Rep. Philip Miller, D-Essex, to amend it, the House voted 90 to 58 to give final passage to a conveyance bill, which included the controversial Haddam land swap.

Miller argued that the 17 acres of land the state purchased and wants to exchange with a developer for 87 acres of land, was purchased as conservation land.

Speaking on the floor, Miller said he recognized that the other conveyances in the bill were legitimate but maintained that the “Haddam land swap is based on 17 acres that is definitely conservation land.”

He said despite of what he called “slick marketing,” the formerly industrial zoned sandpit is now a sand barren, a critical habitat in Connecticut.

Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton, who spoke against the bill said he thinks “common sense has finally prevailed in this matter,” as he referenced the debate in the Senate. He said there’s nothing in the deed to indicate it’s conservation land. Miller disagreed.

A government source at the State Capitol on Tuesday said the controversy comes down to the difference between the words “should” and “shall,” the former of which appears in the deed as part of a key phrase suggesting the land “should be retained in its natural scenic or open condition.” If the phrase were to read “shall be retained” or “must be retained,” there would be additional language spelling out specific conditions of the parcel’s conservation, according to the source.

But Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said she thinks it sets a bad precedent for anyone wanting to donate land to the state to be maintained as conservation land or open space. She said there’s no guarantee anymore that the land won’t be developed based on the action the legislature took Wednesday.

Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, said he doesn’t believe the environmentalists who say this bill was rushed through the process. He said this piece of legislation and the land swap was thoroughly vetted by the General Administration and Elections Committee.

He said there was a public hearing where lawmakers listened to the discussion and made a sound decision based on those discussions. He added he didn’t believe this would impact the donation of land to the state because this parcel was not donated.

“It was purchased,” Morin said.

The bill was brought up at around 10:45 p.m. and a vote was taken shortly after 11 p.m. as the legislature sped to its midnight deadline.

Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.