WNPR

Advocates Continue Push For More Transparency In State Land Deals

Mar 7, 2017

Environmental advocates are asking legislators to support a measure amending the state constitution. The move would require a public hearing and a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, whenever the state legislature wants to give away, swap, or sell public land.

Eric Hammerling, with the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, testified in support of the measure last week.

"This is moderate and reasonable reform, which we hope you will support to ensure public lands are appropriately protected by a deliberate, transparent process, that includes the public," he told members of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

The measure also has the support of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Currently, land deals can by cut by lawmakers in the waning hours of legislative sessions, often with minimal, to no, public input.

"The process shouldn't work this way," Hammerling said. "Conveyances of public lands through the General Assembly should be the last resort, and not the first."

According to Hammerling and the state's Council on Environmental Quality, the state already has more transparent channels for land deals in place outside the legislature -- where proposals are published openly with periods of public comment.

State land deals became a political controversy in Haddam several years back -- when legislators proposed exchanging land overlooking the Connecticut River with a commercial developer.

The "Haddam Land Swap" fell apart in 2012, but motivated many conservationists.

A transparency measure passed the legislature last year, but not by the required margins. The laws are a bit technical, but that means the bill is back this session, and if voted on, only needs a simple majority in both houses to appear as a ballot question for voters in 2018.