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Malloy OKs Haddam conservation land trade

Haddam - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has signed into law a bill that will enable the state to swap 17 acres of conservation land overlooking the Connecticut River for 87 acres that adjoins Cockaponset State Forest.

The land swap measure, part of a larger bill that pertains to several other state land transfers, was strongly opposed by a host of conservation groups. More than 800 people opposing the swap signed a petition submitted to the state legislature. Opponents feared it would establish a dangerous precedent that would dissuade people from donating land to the state for conservation.

In the proposed swap, the 17 acres, now part of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Clark Creek Wildlife Area, would be given to Riverhouse Properties LLC, which is seeking to build a hotel and retail complex with a theater or other entertainment venue. In exchange, Riverhouse would give the state 87 acres it owns next to the state forest. Malloy signed the bill last Friday.

Melissa Schlag Proulx of Haddam, who created a website, www.landswap.org, for a group called Stop the Swap, said this week that she and other opponents aren't quitting. They are exploring possible legal action, she said, and plan to oppose the development proposal when it goes to town land-use boards.

"They took a deed with conservation language in it and turned it on its head," said Schlag Proulx, referring to a passage in the bill that enables the 17-acre site to be used for economic development, and releases restrictions in land records that the land be retained as open space. "We have a huge problem with that.

"Who in their right mind would ever sign something again with the state, knowing that the state could completely undo an owner's intent?" she asked.

State Sen. Eileen Dailey, D-Westbrook, one of the bill's key supporters, could not be reached for comment.

- Judy Benson

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