A bill we are supporting that would improve Connecticut’s process for protecting open space took an important step forward yesterday when the state General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to send it to the full Legislature.
Called “An Act Concerning the State’s Open Space Plan” (SB 347), the bill seemed on the verge of dying when state officials estimated that it would cost the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection $100,000 a year to carry out.
However when that estimate was announced, Karl Wagener, executive director of the state Council on Environmental Quality and the prime force behind the bill, met with the DEEP staff and agreed to keep working to find a way to carry out the provisions of the bill for far less money. Sandy Breslin of Audubon Connecticut providing key help by revising the bill’s language.
Connecticut Audubon Society has been working with the CEQ on strategy and by marshalling public support. Over the years our annual Connecticut State of the Birds reports have called on the General Assembly and the DEEP to enact the revisions in the bill. Yesterday we emailed all 56 members of the Appropriations Committee on behalf of our statewide members and urged them to move the bill out of committee, which they did.
We thank them all, but we particularly want to thank Senator Bob Duff and Legislators Tony Hwang and Catherine Abercrombie, the assistant majority Whip, for letting us know they support the bill.
The bill requires the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to identify lands that are the highest priorities for open space acquisition, including wildlife habitat and ecological resources, and the general locations of these highest priorities.
The legislation also requires the DEEP to work with other state agencies to identify state-owned lands that are important for conservation but which are not protected open space, and to plan a strategy for preserving them in perpetuity.
And it broadens the number of stakeholders the DEEP must consult when it works on these projects. Added to the list are municipalities and regional planning agencies, in addition to the Council on Environmental Quality and private nonprofit land conservation organizations such as CAS.
The next steps are to continue working with the DEEP to decrease the cost of the bill and then to urge the full General Assembly to pass it. – Tom Andersen, Director of Communications and Community Outreach