Monday, November 03, 2008

Buy the Preserve

Now that there's an agreement to buy and protect the Goss property, near Long Island Sound on Guilford's East River, the state of Connecticut should turn its attention again to the so-called Preserve, the Orwellian name for the 1,000-acre subdivision that Lehman Brothers had proposed (and had had rejected) for Old Saybrook.

I thought of this last week, after writing about the Goss property, and as I did I remembered having seen in my Google alerts recently a published piece arguing that with the fall of Lehman Brothers, this might be a good time for the state to pounce. Turns out it was an op-ed, and a good one, published in the Courant on October 12, by Suellen Kozey McCuin, a founding member of the Alliance for Sound Area Planning, a coalition formed to make sure The Preserve gets preserved.
She makes a good, cogent case:

Even the darkest of clouds can have a silver lining. As painful as the economic disruption has been, it presents a unique opportunity to save a jewel-like piece of land — a 1,000-acre forest near Connecticut's coastline. By acting now we would create a legacy that would be applauded forever.

State and local leaders must do everything feasible to purchase and protect this precious area, dubbed "The Preserve" by now-defunct Lehman Brothers — its mortgage holders and potential developers. Lehman Brothers has, for 10 years, been trying to build 221 homes on it (down from an original proposal of 308 single-family homes), along with a Jack Nicklaus golf course and more.

This area simply should not be developed. Located in southern Middlesex County, in parts of Old Saybrook, Essex and Westbrook, The Preserve is the last and largest coastal forest and wetlands complex of its size between New York City and Boston. It is an important part of a 2,500-acre block of intact coastal forest that extends west to Branford and north along the Connecticut River to the Maromas section of Middletown.

The Preserve is home to many wetlands, freshwater seeps, shallow bedrock areas and rock outcrops. The property sits atop a Class A aquifer that provides pure drinking water to three towns and hosts headwaters and tributaries of three rivers that drain to Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River. All but 15 percent of this parcel is interior forest canopy that is a lifesaving stopover for migratory birds.

There are abundant and thriving plant, amphibian and mammal communities, including the most significant and productive vernal pool (and community) ever seen by at least one renowned expert on the topic.

In short, the parcel is a pristine coastal system, an invaluable natural resource. Once it's gone, it's gone forever.

We must move now. While it may be difficult at best to get collapsed Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers or their agents to focus on this particular asset, the dust will settle and assets will at some point be on the table. Connecticut's leaders must be first in line to purchase this coastal forest for present and future residents of the state. To save The Preserve in these perilous financial times would be one piece of good news for the people of Connecticut.

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