Fight for those Hills

Often times proponents of unpopular projects try to outlast the opposition by repeatedly submitting slightly revised versions of the same bad idea in expectation that opponents will be ground down, giving up in frustration or unable to maintain their intensity.

This appears to be the strategy of Middletown developer Glenn Russo, who for more than a decade has been trying to build housing on one of the region's most pristine waterfront parcels, East Lyme's Oswegatchie Hills overlooking the Niantic River, despite overwhelming objections by residents and public officials.

This newspaper encourages all those who have been fighting this ill-considered plan to dig in their heels, especially now that it is about to be considered yet again by two East Lyme town agencies - the Water and Sewer Commission next Tuesday and the Zoning Commission on Sept. 6.

Mr. Russo's most recent plan calls for construction of some 1,200 condominium units, including some that would be designated as affordable, on 140 acres that are part of a mile-long swath believed to be the largest undeveloped but unprotected waterfront parcel in Connecticut. That land is contiguous to the 420-acre Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve, which includes more than 3 miles of trails that wind through through forest and fields.

The loss of such stunningly picturesque land would be compounded by storm runoff into the river and additional environmental degradation. This must not happen.

Fred C. Grimsey, president of the organization Save the River-Save the Hills, said this week he is worried that because the issue has dragged on for so long fellow preservationists may be losing their enthusiasm to continue doing battle.

Mr. Grimsey added, though, that he was encouraged last Sunday when scores of people turned out for the ninth annual Niantic River Appreciation Day Kayak Regatta, organized to keep preservation efforts alive. State representatives and town officials also voiced their support; many more would have attended had Saturday's bad weather not forced the event to be postponed a day.

Preservationists have tried to buy the land, and a few years ago managed to raise $6 million through a combination of local, state and federal funds, but negotiations stalled. We again encourage Mr. Russo to consider selling, with a reasonable profit, in order to secure an enduring legacy that future generations deserve.

Those who value the Oswegatchie Hills must continue to advocate for their protection and not give up the fight.

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