Open Space Preservation is an Environmental Priority

December 15, 2014

State Senator-elect Tony Hwang serves on panel at Connecticut League of Conservation Voters’ 14th Annual Environmental Summit.

Water, energy, and open space took center stage Wednesday as the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters (CTLCV) hosted its 14th annual Environmental Summit.

The event, at the Riverfront Boathouse in Hartford, brought together advocates and state legislators to discuss a wide range of environmental issues facing the state. It also served as an opportunity for Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Robert Klee to share his priorities for the upcoming year.

“DEEP can’t do it alone,” Klee said several times, looking out at representatives of the many groups gathered for the all-day summit. “We need you to help educate, motivate and move Connecticut forward.”

State Senator-elect Tony Hwang (R-28) echoed those sentiments in his remarks, which were delivered during the panel discussion on open space. “The best policy and a lasting and effective one must be accomplished through outreach in our communities and by state legislators working in a bipartisan manner in Hartford,” Hwang said.

The six-year veteran of the General Assembly noted that the legislature will have membership turnover of more than 30 new legislators and committee leadership, including state Rep. James Albis (D-East Haven), who served on the open space panel along with Hwang and has been named the new co-chairman of the Environment Committee.

“It really is an exciting time for the environmental community to have true champions in the legislature,” said Hwang, who earned the CTLCV endorsement in his successful election to represent Connecticut’s 28th Senate District.

In introducing Hwang, open space panel moderator David Sutherland, of The Nature Conservancy of CT, said Hwang was a “peerless lobbyist of his fellow legislators for environmental causes.”

“When Tony gets on your issue, he works it hard,” Sutherland said.

Connecticut has been working hard to preserve open space over the past decade, but it still lags behind neighbor states, Sutherland said. According to the DEEP’s website, “The State’s overall goal is to preserve 21% of Connecticut’s land as open space by the year 2023, a total of 673,210 acres … As of October 2010, 73% of this goal has been achieved through the direct purchase of open space by the state and through state support for local acquisitions.”

In spite of a real estate market that has remained relatively flat over the past five years following the sharp dive prices took in the recession, panelists agreed that communities still have an appetite to preserve and protect open space because development pressure remains high.

While Connecticut is operating in the midst of “a very tough budget climate,” Eric Hammerling, Executive Director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, said the time to invest in preserving open space is now.

“Now was tomorrow yesterday and today will be yesterday tomorrow, so why not,” Hammerling said.

Connecticut is one of the most dense states in the nation, Hammerling noted. “Because of that,” he added, “it’s that much more important for us to think about it [preserving open space] in an aggressive way.”

“Connecticut is a dense, small state that is always under pressure for development, so it’s important that we keep a balance so that we are able to both preserve and protect its character and its beauty but also allow good sound development to occur, particularly in places that encourage it around mass transit,” state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) said.

Preserving open space is also critical to protecting wildlife habitat, said Sandy Breslin, Director of Governmental Affairs of Audubon CT. “We are a small state, but with incredible diversity of habitat,” Breslin said.

There are also economic indicators that point to the power of investing in open space. Albis, who represents East Haven, said studies show that every dollar spent on Connecticut’s state parks brings in about $34 of economic activity.

Furthermore, Hwang and other panelists noted, there are successful public-private partnerships emerging that could serve as models, most notably the Centennial Watershed State Forest, which brings together Aquarion Water Co., DEEP, and the Nature Conservancy in preserving more than 15,000 acres in Easton, Weston, Redding and Newtown.

“The work of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters has been vital in protecting and enhancing the environmental landscape of Connecticut,” Boucher said. “The issues that they promote go a long way to maintaining Connecticut’s greatest environmental assets and promoting its quality of life.”

Media Contact: Gary Jeanfaivre, press secretary to state Senator-elect Tony Hwang – [email protected], 203-556-0777.