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The $3 million Old Saybrook is being asked to contribute towards protecting from development one of the last major forestlands on the Connecticut coast is well worth the investment.
The effort to protect the 1,000-acre tract of woodlands and wetlands known as The Preserve, located largely in Old Saybrook, has gone on for more than 15 years. Plans for the property have included building 200 homes around an 18-hole golf course. It is a far better option to maintain the property in its natural state, available for passive recreation. Wetlands cover nearly 13 percent of the property, which features a rolling terrain. It teems with wildlife and is a critical watershed.
Yet the hesitation seen among some officials in town is understandable. Appraisals came in below the $8.1 million asking price. The reality, however, is that the private owner, River Sound Development, LLC, has leverage. It can simply wait, the risk for the town being that development would eventually occur and an opportunity will have been lost. It is better to seize the moment.
The nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL) negotiated the purchase agreement with River Sound last year and it calls for a closing by June 21, 2015. In addition to the $3 million the town would contribute toward the purchase, $2 million would come from the state, $1.4 million in federal funds and the rest raised privately through TPL. The state and Old Saybrook would share 50-50 ownership of the Preserve land located within that town.
About 71 acres of The Preserve are located in Essex, 4 acres in Westbrook, for which separate deals are being worked out. Old Saybrook is the big player.
More than 150 supporters of the deal packed the Old Saybrook Middle School Auditorium Tuesday for a public hearing, after which the Board of Finance voted in favor of the town's $3 million contribution. To become final it will need voter approval at referendum, with a date yet to be set. At this point, there appears no good reason for voters to reject the purchase plan.