Esty on Land Swap: ‘Look to local officials’

Jun 16th, 2011 | By | Category: Land

By Aaron Goode — In what appear to be his first public comments about the Haddam land swap since the deal was approved, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty tweaked environmentalists last Thursday for focusing so much attention on the controversial proposal in which Connecticut would trade 17 acres of state-owned land along the Connecticut River to a real estate developer for 87.7 acres adjacent to the Cockaponset State Forest.  Esty’s comments were made in a question-and-answer session after he delivered prepared remarks at the annual meeting of the Hamden Land Conservation Trust, where he was the guest speaker.

Esty addresses the Hamden Land Conservation Trust annual meeting (contributed)Esty called the land deal “not the most important environmental issue” and echoed the sentiment of many legislators that the environmental community had blown the issue out of proportion.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney was quoted last week in the Connecticut Mirror saying that “some members of the environmental community have gone off the rails.” The Senate voted 31 to 5 to approve the deal in the closing hours of the legislative session; in the House it passed 90 to 58.
Citing his past service as a Planning & Zoning Commissioner in Cheshire, Esty said that, in general, state officials should defer on land use decisions to the wishes of local officials, especially in a case where from an environmental perspective the right answer on the land deal was unclear. The land swap was widely opposed by environmental organizations but strongly supported by Senator Eileen Daily and by most elected officials in Haddam, where both of the parcels of land are located.
Until the land swap controversy, Esty, a former EPA official and a Connecticut Fund for the Environment board member, had enjoyed almost unanimous approval from the environmental community. He said his only regret about the land swap was that he “took such a pummeling” over the issue.
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8 Comments to “Esty on Land Swap: ‘Look to local officials’”

  1. Michael Harris says:

    Despite learned, accomplished academics, they, just as we all, are subject to deep conditioning about the nature of success and prosperity in the industrial growth society, all of which is under-girded by a money system that requires constant expansion simply to function (to service interest on debt). The result is an economy with an insatiable appetite to consume natural resources and aspects of human relationships (I’ll pay you to take care of my kids and elderly parents, for example). The fact is, the truth is, we are at the peak of cheap resource availability and have consumed more than our share and polluted more than the earth is capable of receiving. So called accomplished conservationists and environmentalists that can not understand these fundamental truths and continue to look for compromises with the industrial growth society will never lead us toward enlightened or fundamentally sustainable solutions. Rather, they are successful in this system because of their ability to ignore the imperatives of the wider web of life that are, by now, crying out with greater and greater volume. Turn on the TV, or tune in to our politicians if you wish to hear rhetoric that ignores the realities of climate change, species extinction and peak oil/resources, not to mention debt accumulation and rampant social and economic injustice. This land swap is as much a power play as a land grab. The ability of our Governor, DEP commissioner, senators and representatives to offer silence, create fake rationalizations and act incoherently with real quality of life issues for the grassroots of the state, is clear evidence of deepening social and economic injustice. Do not be fooled that the economic development justification of this swap will trickle down and lift all boats. That is a fallacy that does not work, and has been proved not to work. It is also incoherent with the things that our communities need to face the realities of converging crises happening right now – things like walkable villages, local food, clean water and public transportation. And and please don’t take my word for, but do a little research and hear truly accomplished people speaking the truth of this convergence. And listen to your heart – because it is all of this belief in our rationality, including the iron-clad paradigm of the so-called academic world that is driving our western culture over a cliff – a paradigm that can not get out of its own way. The need to craft words in a way that can be viewed as rational inside of a system that is killing itself results in the truth being obfuscated rather than revealed. The land swap is a symptom of a very sick system. Esteemed leaders that perpetuate these injustices should no longer be esteemed. I admire the stand take by Rep. Miller on the swap. I don’t admire the ‘rationality’ of a system that would consume itself in deference to economic development, enhanced retirement or political correctness.

  2. Moses says:

    If someone leaves a parcel of land because it reminds them of what paradise would look like this side of heaven. Then you don’t make deals with the devil to turn it into a living hell!

  3. I’m Philip Miller, the First Selectman of Essex and the House representative for the 36th district, which includes Haddam.
    I recently tried to oppose the conveyance bill on the floor of the House, but it passed by a 90 to 58 vote. Many of the ninety House members who voted for it agreed with me that the land swap was very troubling, but because it was included with legitimate conveyances which would help their towns, they voted for it.
    I admire Dr. Esty, and I am glad that this highly accomplished academic and environmentalist has the position he does. I’m also a longtime supporter of my Senator Eileen Daily, who sponsored the swap. I consider her to be a conservationist, because she has a very strong record of helping every town in my region to achieve open space success.
    On principle, I disagree with the state conveying conservation land to private interests as though it were surplus land. To have set this up as an either/or 17 acres or 87 is a false proposition, because it first requires the legislature to convey the 17 to a private entity.
    This land is like a lot of other DEP lands, passively managed, but valuable nonetheless. It is a sand barren, a habitat similar to Chaffinch Island in Guilford and Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton. While there is significant groundwater pollution nearby, this property is not polluted.
    It has been discouraging to hear learned Senators parrot the mistruths perpetuated by the paid lobbyists who were accosting House and Senate members in the last few days of the session. Equally troubling has been the efforts to discredit the environmentalists who have tried, on principle, to oppose this, because future donors, whether selling or donating land for conservation purposes, will not have confidence that their wishes will be honored in perpetuity. I believe that environmentalists throughout our state are very uneasy about this precedent and the lack of sunlight in this entire process.
    Thank you.

  4. Parker Sutton says:

    Of course this is controversial, and environmentalist or not, wouldn’t you be upset if you sold land to the State with the stipulation that it should be in open space and then the State turned around and traded it away? If the governor signs it, it will be a terrible precedent for conservation land everywhere. Who will ever sell or donate land to the State again if the public trust is breached like this? Aside from the issue of the deed, it is simply not true that most elected officials in Haddam supported the swap. Only recently, the first selectman of Haddam said that the land swap “is not a Haddam issue,” yet without the benefit of any public input from town residents, he and the two other selectmen issued a statement about the economic benefit to the town. Haddam residents had no chance to speak. The Conservation Commission never voted on a position, and yet a letter in favor of the swap was submitted on their behalf. And P&Z in Haddam specifically declined to take a position on the swap, yet the chairman wrote a letter in favor of the swap that was signed not as a private citizen, but as chairman of P&Z. This is how the wool got pulled over the eyes of our fine legislators, hard-working people who try to do the best for us. Call the governor at 860-566-4840, call Commissioner Esty at 860-424-3001, and call the attorney general at 860-808-5318. Let them know how you feel about this travesty.

  5. Hard to believe a man of his education and back ground could make such a statement. When are one of these people like himself, Malloy, Jepsen going to speak like they have read the facts!
    This is not just an environmental issue but one of a deed being a binding contract! This property is deeded as open space and anything that changes that will set land conservation back 100 years. This if it were to come back at all. When attorneys for the rich get a hold of this case history it will be bar the door Katy.
    A piece of land assessed last year at 1.55 million goes down to $179,000 then adjusted to $449,000?
    I apologize to Denmark but something is rotten in Haddam and our elected officials have their index finger and thumb pinching their nose.
    Wake up CT this is your land and your money! Even if they take it by force we should get fair market value. Why should the citizens of CT subsidize The River House?

  6. This is not a local issue, Mr Esty. It is CT State land bought for protection as open space. Do your job, Mr Commissioner. Listen to scientists who realize the value of this undeveloped land near the river. A sandy site filters pollution. A developed site causes pollution in addition to higher taxes to Haddam residents for sewage and clean water, police protection, fire protection, road maintenance, etc. This is not a legislative issue; it is an environmental issue. At a recent meeting of the CT Forestry and Park Association, you clearly stated that new and innovative ways need to be implemented in order for the state to maintain its public land and to obtain new open spaces. Doesn’t your lack of support on this issue contradict your UN-position on the now UN-protected land in Haddam. Your UN-support of protecting the environment will jeopardize more land being donated to the state, to land trusts and to other environmental organizations. People who don’t do their job ate generally fired, but it looks like this governor’s puppet will remain in the political mainstream. Absolutely shameful!

  7. Ponsetter says:

    Well this is good news – I think. Now we just need to see the DEP environmental impact study that determined that the impact was “unclear” , and therefore not an important environmental issue. Also our officials as far as I know were not exactly out in front of the charge for this swap…??

  8. Michael Harris says:

    Mr. Esty deserves a pummeling over this issue. It is unfair to say this deal was approved by a Senate vote of 31 to 5. It was buried in a routine conveyance bill where voting against it would have affected the entire bill, much of which was good for towns and the people of CT. But the ‘deal’ is far from routine. It was political wrangling at its best; a developer won and the people of the state lost. Transparency was not a characteristic of this un-democratic maneuver; mis-statements were used to persuade poorly informed legislators. The fact is, for two years, previous DEP representatives cautioned against such a deal and it was removed from the legislation. It is Mr. Esty’s silence that allowed this injustice to be perpetrated on the CT public. He deserves to be pummeled and should be removed from his post.

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