Doug Hardy photo

After personally visiting the site and getting Daniel C. Esty, the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, to finally weigh in on the matter, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the controversial Haddam land swap bill Friday.

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Esty refused to weigh in on the legislation during the session even after being asked by lawmakers. He claimed in a response to lawmakers that it was not within the purview of his office. But on July 7, Malloy wrote Esty and asked for his opinion.

“Specifically, members of my staff and I have heard many arguments, both in favor of this proposal and in opposition to it, concerning the relative environmental merits of this exchange,” Malloy wrote in this letter. “Since, ultimately, this is a transaction you would have to approve, and since you are charged by me and by the law with overseeing and implementing the environmental policies of the state, I would like you to provide me with your analysis of this proposed transaction.”

Esty wrote Malloy back the next day to tell him he would have concerns about the transaction, which swaps 17-acres of land with a view of the Connecticut River with 87 acres adjacent to a state forest, if the land had been donated or gifted to the state for open space.

“I note that the State Parcel was acquired for the value, and was not donated or gifted to the State for open space or other conservation purposes,” Esty wrote . “If the parcel had been acquired in such a fashion, I would have significant concerns with the proposed transaction.”

The environmental community maintains that the property was intended to be “conserved open space,“ and “purchased with public Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust funds.”

“The deed contains a statement by the state that ‘it should be retained in its natural scenic or open condition as park or public open space‘,” Martin Mador, legislative chair of the Connecticut Sierra Club, said in a statement. “But the language of the Senate bill throws out the deed, declaring that it ‘shall have no further force and effect‘.”

“Because the transfer of open space to a private developer was rammed through the legislature without adequate study, many people tell us they are losing confidence in the state to keep its promises and to make sure open space is protected,” Mador wrote Friday.

But Malloy believes otherwise.

“Governor Malloy believes this agreement strikes the appropriate balance between environmental protection and economic development,” Colleen Flanagan, Malloy’s spokeswoman said Friday. “In entering into this agreement, the state stands to gain five times as much land in the exchange and it specifically affords residents the opportunity to voice their support or opposition to the proposed land use on the local level. After hearing from vocal supporters and opponents, touring the property himself and soliciting the opinion of his commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Governor Malloy is convinced this land swap is the right thing to do.”

The 17 acres of state land will be given to Riverhouse Properties to build a hotel and a mix of shopping areas. The state will be given 87 acres adjacent Cockaponset State Forest.

Courtesy of Riverhouse Properties