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Preserving The Preserve in Old Saybrook: A Triumph Over Greed

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published May 03. 2014 4:00AM

Extending for 1,000 acres on the shore of Long Island Sound and the mouth of the Connecticut River, and containing a mix of unspoiled woodlands, wetlands and Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, the magnificent tract known simply as The Preserve represents, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said last week, “the last large unprotected coastal forest between New York City and Boston.”

For decades developers envisioned building houses and a golf course on the sprawling parcel located in Old Saybrook, Essex and Westbrook, but now a complex, long-awaited agreement could keep The Preserve unspoiled forever.

All it will take, not surprisingly, is money. For better or worse, that often seems to be the case these days.

Back in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, it seems, a president simply had to declare that a beautiful piece of land deserved to be designated a park — and there was plenty of unclaimed property ripe for such classification.

Over the years, of course, as more land fell into private hands, setting aside open space became more problematic and costly.

A plan unveiled by the governor calls on the state legislature to appropriate $3.3 million toward the $8.1 million purchase price, supplemented by $3 million from Old Saybrook, where most of the property lies, with the balance paid by Essex, Westbrook, the federal government, The Trust for Public Land and private donors. The three towns will all have to vote separately in favor of the acquisition, along with the Connecticut General Assembly. As the governor said, the purchase involves many moving parts and is one of the most complicated land acquisition deals in recent memory.

But, he added, “I don’t know of any other land acquisition that is higher-ranked in importance across the state than this particular action we are taking.”

I agree. I’ve hiked on Preserve trails and kayaked along its shores. It’s a treasure.

Due to my own perverse sense of humor and justice, I also find it particularly gratifying that the route leading toward preservation has been paved, so to speak, by the financial collapse of the greedy S.O.B.s who had been trying to develop the property. Lehman Brothers, the global financial services company that epitomized avarice and rapaciousness, had hoped to build an 18-hole golf course and 200 luxury homes on the site but it declared bankruptcy in 2008 during the nationwide financial crisis and it was forced to unload its holdings.

Lehman’s loss is our potential gain. The state, the towns and citizens must not let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slip by. Get on the phone, send an email or text, or write a snail mail letter to your state representatives and town officials, urging them to allocate the funds. It will be money well spent.

Happily, this is a gubernatorial election year, so all sorts of public officials are lining up with the governor in support of the plan.

The Preserve is now home to more than 100 species of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Let’s keep it that way.

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