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ESSEX - The Essex Land Trust has partnered with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the non-profit land preservation group that is negotiating the possible sale of the 1,000-acre Preserve, and submitted a grant application to the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) requesting $470,000 to help offset the purchase costs.
TPL's Kate Brown said recently that two verified appraisals of The Preserve property have been completed, allowing the renegotiation of the original sale price from $10 million to $8.09 million. The independent appraisals were a requirement of the initial agreement between TPL and River Sound Development, LLC, the present owners of the land.
Of the 1,000 acres, 63 are in Essex. Based on the recent appraisals, Brown said, the Essex acres are valued at approximately $700,000. The figure served as the basis for the DEEP request through the department's Open Space and Land Acquisition Grant program.
"There is no deadline for DEEP's decision, however, we would hope to hear by summer or fall," she said.
In a budget discussion with the Board of Finance two weeks ago, First Selectman Norman Needleman said he believed it would be "highly likely, hopefully likely" the purchase would succeed.
"Essex has been asked to participate. If that is what the town chooses to do, it likely would use most of the funds we now have in the open space sinking fund," he explained.
The open space sinking fund now totals $225,000.
To address that likelihood and to provide sufficient funds for possible future acquisitions, Needleman recommended an increase in the 2014-2015 budget's allocation to the open space fund. The other two members of the Board of Selectmen agreed, and then the finance board agreed. When the proposed 2014-2015 budget is presented at a public hearing Thursday, April 24, the amount recommended for the sinking fund will be $20,000, an increase from the originally proposed $5,000.
"We want to participate in The Preserve purchase. I think it is the right thing to do. I think most people in Essex think it is the right thing to do," Needleman told the Board of Finance. He said he believed that would be possible through a combination of state grants like the $470,000 application to DEEP, some town funds and private donations pulled together by the land trust.
While the reduced sale price is good news, Brown pointed out, "We still have the job of raising $8 million, plus additional funds to establish a stewardship. We are seeking additional state funds beyond the Essex application. This is an ongoing process. Close to $1 million has been raised from private donors, other organizations, and foundations."
She added, "There is a huge group of local volunteers working on all these pieces. This would not be happening without all these local efforts."
TPL and the town of Old Saybrook will be holding a public forum on Friday, April 25 at 7 p.m. at the First Church of Christ, 336 Main Street, Old Saybrook. It is an open, informational meeting. Persons who wish to learn more about The Preserve, including information on hikes, events, and meetings, should visit