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Formica seeks greater transparency in state park process

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, has proposed a bill that would require state officials to hold a public hearing in any town where a new state park has been proposed.

Formica said he thought it unlikely that the bill would be able to have a retroactive impact on the establishment of the property in Waterford known as Seaside as a state park, but said that the topic of applying the bill to Seaside could come up should the bill move to public hearing.

"Whether people have, one, the power to say, 'Yeah, we're going to go backwards,' and two, the stomach for it, I don't know," the senator said Friday.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in September announced that the former Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled, located off Shore Road, would become a state park.

His announcement came after decades of Planning and Zoning public hearings in Waterford in which town officials considered zoning amendments submitted by the state's then-preferred developer Mark Steiner, who had a contract to purchase the property.

Formica said the Seaside decision brought the opportunity for the bill to light.

"There was a decision to make an area a park and yet there were no plans, there were no dollars, there were no specifics" to bring that about, he said.

Bill No. 215 would require that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection "notify local officials of the intent to establish a new state park in such town" in addition to holding a public hearing.

"Additionally, any plan to establish such a state park shall be detailed and indicate funding sources for such project," the bill states.

Formica said the purpose of the bill is to promote open communication in such a situation. He mentioned that dealing with the aging buildings once used to house medical facilities on the property will be an expensive endeavor.

Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward has said in the past that the state did not contact him before making its decision to turn the property into a state park.

Steward said Wednesday that he supports the bill. The first selectman has voiced opposition to turning Seaside into a state park, and since the announcement has advocated for public-private partnerships whereby private entities could use a portion of the property to help cover the cost of the property's maintenance as well as generate tax revenue.

He said last week that he had talked to Formica about the legislature needing to appropriate funds for the creation of the park, but that he had not participated in the creation of the bill.

The bill has been referred to the Joint Committee on Environment.

t.townsend@theday.com

Twitter: @ConnecticuTess

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