Posts Tagged ‘Advocacy/Policy’

 

Compromise in Hartford on Open Space Funding

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

The Connecticut General Assembly concluded its 2015 session last week by agreeing to provide significant funds for open space preservation, narrowly averting a proposal that would have been disastrous to conservation efforts.
 
Lawmakers in Hartford voted to retain all the money that’s currently in the Community Investment Act fund (about $15 million) and to approve half the amount (about $20 million) that had been expected to flow into the fund over the next two years; the other half will be swept into the state government’s general fund and will be used to help close the state’s budget deficit.
 
So instead of losing $55 million in open space funds, as was proposed, the Community Investment Act will still have about $35 million for open space, historic preservation, affordable housing, and farmland protection.
 
Considering the budget difficulties facing the state, we think that is a compromise we can live with.
 
It is especially important considering that legislators and Governor Dannel P. Malloy also authorized bonding over the next two years that will provide $16 million for the state’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program (for land trusts, towns and water companies); and $15 million in land acquisition money to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
 
The funding was included in wrap-up legislation called the implementation bill. It passed by95-46 in the House and 23-13 in the Senate.
 
We send our thanks to the members of the General Assembly who supported it, and to Governor Malloy. 
 
Likewise, it is worth pointing out that the state’s community of conservationists, historic preservationists, affordable housing advocates, and farmland protection advocates worked tirelessly from February through June to make sure the Community Investment Act was not gutted. 
 
We were proud to be a part of that effort, and we think the op-ed essays we published throughout the spring in the state’s major newspapers helped set the tone for the debate and restoration of the funds.

Bravo to all.

Alexander R. Brash
President

Governor Malloy’s Proposal to Empty the Community Investment Act Fund Would Devastate Conservation in Connecticut

Monday, April 13th, 2015
The Mill River Park and Greenway in Stamford benefited from Community Investment Act funds. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

The Mill River Park and Greenway in Stamford benefited from Community Investment Act funds. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

Connecticut Audubon Society has been expressing its opposition to Governor Malloy’s proposal to sweep funds from the Community Investment Act in op-eds published throughout the state. We urge you to contact your state Senator and Representative and send this message:

Because of the reasons explained in Connecticut Audubon Society’s recently published op-ed, we urge you to oppose Governor Malloy’s proposal to sweep funds from the Community Investment Act and to express your opposition to the leadership of your House. The projects funded by the Community Investment Act – land protection, affordable housing, farmland protection, and historic preservation – are essential to Connecticut’s future.

You can learn how to contact your representative here. Here is the version of the op-ed that was published in the Connecticut Post, Danbury News Times, Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time.

Governor Malloy’s Proposal to Empty the Community Investment Act Fund Would Devastate Conservation in Connecticut

By Alexander Brash
President
Connecticut Audubon Society

The applause for Gov. Dan Malloy was loud in 2012 when he announced that $171,000 in state funds would help Bridgeport create a 1.5-acre community garden on the appropriately named Garden Street.

Likewise, the praise was well-deserved when he announced in 2014 that a state grant of $264,000 would help Stamford acquire easements for access and habitat restoration for the three-mile long Mill River Park and Greenway.

Money for those projects came from the state’s Community Investment Act, which since 2005 has provided funding for 1,100 projects, permanently protecting 7,500 acres of open space and community gardens. In the last two grant cycles alone, 57 communities have received state funds for habitat protection, trail access, drinking water protection, community gardens and many more.

Unfortunately Governor Malloy’s proposed 2015-16 budget, unveiled February 18, includes cuts and fund diversions that will empty the Community Investment Act. We cannot over-emphasize the devastating impact this will have on this state’s beauty, bio-diversity, and ultimately economic vitality.

Preserving and protecting our state’s forests, meadows, brooks, and salt-marshes is critical, both because these natural resources are of great value and because morally it is the right thing to do. These “wildscapes” filter and clean our water, capture carbon, buffer our communities, and serve as home to Connecticut’s many plants and animals.

Open spaces, whether as wild tracts or city parks, define the quality-of-life elements that retain our citizens or attract new ones to the region. As planners have learned, in today’s connected but mobile society, working people are ever more likely to move to a city or certain suburbs for their quality of life benefits. Witness the popularity of Seattle and San Antonio versus Detroit or St. Louis.

Funds collected through the Community Investment Act originate as real estate recording fees at the municipal level, and are dedicated to land conservation, agricultural preservation, affordable housing, historic preservation and brownfields restoration. Stripping these funds from their intended use will do far greater immediate and long-term economic damage to our state, than any good they may do to plug a budget gap.

Just as the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is revising the Green Plan and guiding the state toward the goal of preserving 21 percent of the land in Connecticut by 2023, the governor’s proposal is to take the $15 million that is in the Community Investment Act now and the $40 million that will be collected through 2017, and use it to pay the state’s bills.

The Governor’s campaign pledge was to make $7.5 million in grants per year for open space preservation, using Community Investment Act Funds. All of that would have been used to match private investments in open space preservation and will now be lost – a very short-sighted move with respect to the value of leveraging partnerships and private funds.

So for a savings of $55 million, the Governor’s proposal will strip out another $22.5 million in leveraged private philanthropy and sacrifice the enhancement of the very quality of life values that continue to make this state competitive and attractive to both corporations and citizens.

The best time to acquire and preserve conservation land is always now. As the state’s economy strengthens and the pace of real estate development picks up, critical habitats in all areas of Connecticut will be threatened. The Governor’s budget cuts, if enacted, will eliminate the most important preservation tool and make the loss of those critical habitats all but inevitable.

The applause was loud in 2012 and 2014. The roar of disapproval should be equally loud now. We urge the state’s General Assembly to restore full funding to the Community Investment Act.

Editorials Support Connecticut Audubon Society’s Stance on Community Investment Act

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to balance the state budget by removing all the funds from the Community Investment Act is not going over well with the editorial boards of newspapers in Connecticut.

They are starting to speak out forcefully in favor of the position taken by Connecticut Audubon Society and other groups concerned that the state continue to make progress on conservation, historic preservation, farmland protection and affordable housing issues, all of which are funded by the Community Investment Act.

The Governor wants to pay the state’s bills with $15 million that’s in the fund now and $45 million that is expected to be added over the next several years. Starting in mid-March, Alex Brash, president of Connecticut Audubon Society, published op-eds in newspapers around the state (see below), explaining why those funds are important and why the governor’s proposal would be devastating to conservation.

Now the Hartford Courant and Norwich Bulletin agree.

“Legislators must not let that happen,” the Courant wrote on its editorial page. “These dedicated funds were created with separate funding streams apart from the regular budget so that the money would be there in tough times. They are in effect trust funds for particular purposes that the legislature has deemed important.

“To raid them for other purposes is to violate the public trust, to make them no-trust funds. Either honor the dedicated funds or stop creating them.”

And from the Norwich Bulletin: “It is a disservice to taxpayers if dedicated funds are used for their intended purposes only when it’s convenient, and instead are treated as secret slush funds when needed to cover deficits created by poor fiscal decisions.

“Dedicated funds should be used for their intended purposes only. The governor and legislators need to rethink their approach. Actions speak louder than words.”

Please let your local state senator and representative know that you support full funding for the Community Investment Act. Find your legislator here.

For more information, you can find a version of Alex’s op-ed that appeared in your local paper in this list:

Hartford Courant
Connecticut Post
Waterbury Republican American
New London Day
Stamford Advocate
Norwich Bulletin
Danbury News Times
Greenwich Time

Governor Malloy’s Proposal Would Devastate Conservation in Connecticut

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
The Mill River Park and Greenway in Stamford benefited from Community Investment Act funds. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

The Mill River Park and Greenway in Stamford benefited from Community Investment Act funds. Connecticut Audubon Society photo.

Connecticut Audubon Society has been expressing its opposition to Governor Malloy’s proposal to sweep funds from the Community Investment Act in op-eds published throughout the state. We urge you to contact your state Senator and Representative and send this message:

Because of the reasons explained in Connecticut Audubon Society’s recently published op-ed, we urge you to oppose Governor Malloy’s proposal to sweep funds from the Community Investment Act and to express your opposition to the leadership of your House.

The projects funded by the Community Investment Act – land protection, affordable housing, farmland protection, and historic preservation – are essential to Connecticut’s future.

You can learn how to contact your representative here. Here is the version of the op-ed that was published in the Connecticut Post, Danbury News Times, Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time. Read more…

Our Statement in Support of Robert Klee as Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Friday, January 30th, 2015

IMG_0946January 30, 2015 – We were in Hartford yesterday to testify before the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee in support of Governor Malloy’s nomination of Commissioner Robert Klee to a full four-year term as head of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The committee is chaired by Representative Claire Janowski and Senator Robert Duff. Here’s our statement:

Representative Janowski, Senator Duff, members of the committee … Thank you for including us here today. I am Tom Andersen, Director of Communications for the Connecticut Audubon Society. I am here today on behalf of Connecticut Audubon to testify in support of the nomination of Robert Klee as Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The Connecticut Audubon Society was established in 1898 in Fairfield, and is the original and still independent Audubon Society within the state. Today the organization consists of four nature centers, two museums, 19 sanctuaries, and more than 10,000 members, friends, and supporters from across the state.

Connecticut Audubon’s goal is to use the beauty, diversity, and visibility of our state’s birds to connect more people with the natural world. Our core value is to leave future generations a state that is in better shape than the one we inherited.

We support Commissioner Klee’s nomination, first and foremost because of his commitment to conservation, as demonstrated during his years with the department and in the year or so since he became acting commissioner.

We believe Commissioner Klee is moving in the right direction with the department’s plan to expand and improve the state’s Green Plan, and Connecticut Audubon has already pledged to work with DEEP toward meeting the state goal of protecting 21 percent of Connecticut’s land by 2021. After a number of years when the pace of land preservation has decreased, we are looking forward to the Green Plan serving as a blueprint for, and a roadmap toward, that goal.

Connecticut Audubon has already met with DEEP several times regarding the draft Green Plan, and we have urged that it both incorporate the several existing landscape connectivity efforts already underway, with an equal appreciation for the value of open space in urban areas. We look to work with DEEP to ensure the emerging Green Plan is a product of input from all interested parties, is transparently assembled, and is ultimately coupled with the financial resources to bring it to fruition by 2021.

Commissioner Klee has repeatedly shown himself to be a great partner, and adept at leveraging resources wisely. He and his staff have reached out to Connecticut Audubon Society to collaborate on projects. One example, is Osprey Nation, a partnership we built last spring to recruit a network of citizen science volunteers to help track and monitor the state’s population of Ospreys, the fish-eating raptors that just decades ago were on the verge of extinction. With encouragement and support from DEEP, Connecticut Audubon was able last summer to recruit almost 200 volunteer citizen scientists and locate and visibly inspect nearly 400 Osprey nests around the state. Further, the collected data is now plotted on an interactive map on our website for all to see.

Connecticut Audubon also worked with Commissioner Klee and DEEP in a three-way partnership with Sacred Heart University to bring state of the art ecological restoration efforts and federal funding to salt marsh restoration along the banks of the Housatonic in Stratford. We believe this portrays the Commissioner’s penchance for research and solid science, coupled with his zeal for partnerships as a cost effective and transparent way of protecting the state’s environment. 

Finally, we are delighted to note that as a youngster, Robert Klee participated in outdoor programs at our Center on Burr Street in Fairfield, and we are proud to have had a role in shaping him as a conservationist and environmentalist. More importantly we support the efforts that the department has made under Commissioner Klee to get more children involved in outdoor conservation-related activities, particularly the No Child Left Inside program.

In sum, Commissioner Klee’s background in science and the law provides him with the expertise needed in this highly technical era to lead and oversee a multi-faceted staff. And he has demonstrated a collaborative and respectful relationship with key players and organizations in the state’s conservation and environmental community.

We’re Working in Hartford to Improve the State’s Open Space Plan

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

We’ve been urging the state of Connecticut for the last several years to revise its open space program. This year we are supporting a bill, drafted by the Council on Environmental Quality, that incorporates many of our recommendations by requiring the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to tackle the issue in its Green Plan.

The bill, SB 347, would require the DEEP to identify lands appropriate for preservation as open space that are held by state agencies and water companies; identify lands of highest priority for conservation; and make recommendations for the establishment of a system to accurately keep track of lands preserved as open space. You can learn more about it on our Tracking Legislation page, here.

Milan Bull, our senior director of science and conservation, testified before the General Assembly on Friday, March 16. Here’s what he said:

In 1997, the General Assembly set a goal of preserving 21 percent of the land area of Connecticut as open space for public recreation and for natural resource conservation and preservation. The statutory goal is for 10 percent of the state’s land area to be acquired and held by the state of Connecticut, and for 11 percent to be acquired by partners (municipalities, non-profits, and watershed lands). We have made great strides toward accomplishing this open space goal (though progress is currently being hindered by the adverse economic situation). However, we really don’t have an ongoing inventory of open spaces, including how they are being protected and what conservation goal they meet. No town, for example, reports to the state when it acquires a conservation easement from a development project, and no analysis is available as to what, if any, conservation goal is achieved. A one-acre conservation easement in the center of a 40-lot development may add to the state’s open space acquisition goal and serve another town objective, but does it really serve a conservation purpose, such as, for example, having a positive effect on a declining songbird population?

We need to understand how much land we require to meet our conservation goals, how much of what we already have meets those goals and, therefore, how much land we need to acquire and where it is located.

An effective plan would enable all of us who acquire conservation land (state, towns, land trusts, NGO’s) to focus on acquiring property that accomplishes a specific goal (in our case, wildlife habitat) and moves us all toward our larger objective.

Revising this plan has been a top priority of the Society since 2010 when we recognized a need to better understand where all known protected public and private lands are located in Connecticut, the usefulness of these lands for protecting species of conservation concern, and a need to identify and prioritize lands that need to be acquired in order to protect habitats of greatest conservation needs.

We believe this bill will effectively help to accomplish these goals and, importantly, provide for regular revisions that will increase the ability of the state to meet its open space goals set by the General Assembly.

We urge you to support this bill. Thank you for your consideration.

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