East Lyme board re-examines plan to acquire 166-acre parcel

East Lyme - The Board of Selectmen took a closer look Wednesday at a proposal to acquire a 166-acre parcel near the headwaters of the Niantic River for open space.

The selectmen took no action Wednesday to recommend acquiring the property but are expected to further discuss or take a vote at their next meeting.

The New England Forestry Foundation, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization, is interested in managing the parcel, now called the Niantic Rivers Headwaters Preserve. The foundation, which practices "sustainable forestry," could harvest trees on the land but maintain it as open space for trails and recreation.

KSK Associates LLC, under managing member Steve Harney, also a Board of Finance member, owns the 166 acres, which is part of a 200-acre parcel with an entrance on Goldfinch Terrace.

Harney is presenting the 166-acre parcel to the town to use as open space. The 166 acres were once part of a larger proposal to acquire 218 acres in town.

The proposal included 45 acres near the town's Darrow Pond, 7 acres on Mostowy Road and the removal of several easements on the town's Darrow Pond property held by New England National, which has long-standing litigation against the town.

The town held several closed-door sessions on the proposal but never brought it to a public vote.

Harney has since approached the forestry foundation to partner with him on the project. The foundation is interested in either managing or owning parcel as part of a larger plan to preserve areas in the Niantic River watershed and expand its presence in Connecticut, according to a presentation Wednesday to the selectmen by Harney and the foundation.

The 70-year-old foundation possesses more than 26,000 acres which it owns outright and more than 1,145,000 acres for which it holds conservation easements in New England, according to its website.

Harney first presented his proposal to the selectmen in June but provided a more detailed presentation on Wednesday. Harney outlined to the board proposed benefits to the town by acquiring the property, such as protecting rivers, watersheds and Long Island Sound and having opportunities for recreation.

He also delved into the financial details and provided two scenarios under which the town could acquire the $1,225,000 property, according to the presentation.

Under one situation, the foundation would own and manage the property, while the town and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection would hold the conservation easement. To fund that option, the state grant would contribute $500,000, the town would contribute $500,000 and the foundation would contribute $225,000, raised through donations and other financing.

Under a second scenario, the town would own the property, while the foundation would hold the easement with the state. The town would contribute $700,000, the state grant would contribute $500,000 and the foundation would contribute $25,000.

During discussion, selectmen raised questions, from the parcel's proximity to residences to the potential for developing roads on the property.

Selectwoman Holly Cheeseman asked if the $500,000 to match the state grant needed to come exclusively from the town and learned that it could come from philanthropic or other donations.

Selectwoman Rose Ann Hardy also wanted to know how developable the property was.

Harney said an original subdivision proposal had called for 90 or so building lots on the property.

The selectmen said they wanted to digest the information before taking action.

k.drelich@theday.com
Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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