Legislative committee unanimously passes Coastal Center lease bill
Following Friday’s hearing, the Government Administration and Elections Committee voted unanimously today to pass HB 6679, which was introduced by Representative Frank Smith of Milford.
The bill would authorize the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to sign a new lease with Connecticut Audubon for the Coastal Center at Milford Point.
Following an Action Alert we sent last week, hundreds of people messaged the committee and urged it to pass the bill.
The outpouring of support undoubtedly played an important part in persuading the committee.
If you are among those who spoke out, your voice was heard! Thank you!
The next step is for the full General Assembly to vote on the bill. No date has been set yet but we will keep you informed.
Thank you to Rep. Smith, to the committee, and to everyone who spoke or sent a message in favor of the bill!
For details, read the following testimony:
Testimony of Patrick Comins, Executive Director of the Connecticut Audubon Society to the Joint Committee on Government Administration and Elections, urging passage of HB 6679
For 25 years the Connecticut Audubon Society has been the steward and caretaker of the Milford Point Coastal Center and the 8-acre nature preserve that surrounds it.
We have managed and improved the rare coastal habitat, and have provided access to a unique part of the Long Island Sound coast for a quarter of a million visitors or more over the years.
We’ve been doing so under a lease with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which owns the property.
Unfortunately the lease expired a decade ago, although we have continued to manage and to upgrade the Coastal Center in the ensuing years.
The lease needs to be renewed, and our request today is for the committee to pass the legislation proposed by Representative Frank Smith. It would allow Connecticut Audubon to sign another lease with the Department.
Under Connecticut Audubon’s care and stewardship, Milford Point has been transformed into one of the most important nature centers in New England.
Important for the array of wildlife that finds rest, nourishment, and breeding places there.
And important because Milford Point is the connection to nature and to Long Island Sound specifically for up to 15,000 people a year — from Milford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and throughout Connecticut.
Almost half those visitors are elementary, middle and high school students who participate in our outdoor environmental education programs.
Many of those kids are from under-served areas. Their first visit to the Coastal Center is often their first visit to a nature preserve and to Long Island Sound. For them, it is an unmatched experience and can serve as the foundation for a life of caring for the environment and enjoying what it has to offer.
Renewing the lease will ensure these programs continue and the next generation of students enjoy the benefits.
The Coastal Center is also the public gateway to the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and the state-owned Wheeler Marsh Wildlife Management area.
It is an important point of access for birders and other wildlife observers, environmental groups, anglers, and sportsmen and women, to name a few.
The Coastal Center is designed to accommodate physically and mentally challenged groups. It provides meeting space for local environmental, civic and corporate groups.
All this is possible because of commitment, dedication, and expertise of the Connecticut Audubon staff and board, and the generosity of its members.
The center building was built by the Connecticut Audubon Society in 1995 and in the ensuing years we’ve made considerable additional capital expenditures. Our annual operating budget for the center is approximately $250,000.
That adds up to a major investment in the environment of Connecticut, to the benefit of its people and its wildlife.
In recent years Connecticut Audubon has worked with other organizations and with federal and state agencies to improve wildlife habitat at Milford Point.
Well over 300 species of birds have been recorded at the Coastal Center. Its dunes protect rare coastal plants and are a feeding area for scores of migrating Monarch butterflies.
Among the more successful programs is our stewardship of several birds protected under the federal and state endangered species acts.
Working under the auspices of the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, we have protected and increased the populations of federally-threatened Piping Plovers and state-threatened American Oystercatchers.
And we have helped provide safe nesting areas for threatened Least Terns and for Common Terns.
They all require the careful and expert stewardship that only Connecticut Audubon is able to provide.
The Connecticut Audubon Society was founded in 1898, almost 125 years ago. The organization has since grown to encompass seven nature centers and 20 sanctuaries across the state, covering 3,300 acres.
Our dedication to Connecticut is sincere. We fully intend to be here, in a healthy, thriving state, in another 125 years and beyond.
Our fervent hope is that the Milford Point Coastal Center continues to be part of that.
So in conclusion I ask you once again to please pass the legislation drafted by Representative Frank Smith.