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UPDATED: Stonington supports plan to preserve 220 acres of pristine forest, fields

Stonington — The Board of Finance voted unanimously Wednesday night to contribute up to $300,000 to help preserve 220 acres of land off Al Harvey Road.

The tentative funding model calls for the town to contribute the money from its $375,000 Open Space Fund to the $1.15 million purchase price for the land. It also calls for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to contribute $580,000 and the Aquarion Water Co. another $230,000 for as conservation easement. None of the other funding has yet been committed and the $230,000 could end up being a combination of other funding sources, according to the Trust for Public Land.   

The town's support and commitment, though, will help the Trust for Public Land, which negotiated the purchase and is assisting the town, to raise the additional funds for the purchase.

The money from the open space fund comes from fees paid to the town from developers who cannot provide the required open space on their own land. The town then uses the money to purchase more desirable open space. The money does not come from taxpayers or out of the annual budget.  

In the case of the Al Harvey Road land, First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough told the finance board Wednesday that the opportunity to buy and preserve the land is "probably one of the most exciting conservation opportunities the town has ever had."

She called the land 220 acres of pristine forest that sits over an aquifer and contains Copps Brook, which provides water to the Aquarion Water Co. reservoir. It also is contiguous with other preserved lands, is an important habitat for the once-threatened New England cottontail rabbit and sits within the boundaries of the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge.

Plans call for conveying 120 acres of the land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 100 acres to the Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Chesebrough and Honor Lawler, the project manager for the Trust for Public Land, assured finance board members there would be public access to the land. Board members also expressed the need to have off-street parking so visitors would not park along the narrow, rural road. Lawler and Chesebrough said there are two fields that could accommodate parking.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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