It's About the Land 3-25-2011

Totoket Times March 25, 2011

The North Branford Land Conservation Trust
It's About the Land

The Representative Policy Board (RPB) of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water District will hold a public hearing on May 5, 2011 here in North Branford to consider an application by the Regional Water Authority (RWA) to sell 60.35 acres of Class m ("off watershed") land east of Lake Gaillard on Beech Street and Pomp's Lane for $2,115,000. If the policy board approves the sale, the land must first be offered to the Town (priority right) and the State which have 90 days to exercise their option to buy the land, and an additional 18 months to raise funds to meet the offering price. The land is in three parcels: 17.2 acres, 23.7 acres, and 19.5 acres. A detailed report about the proposed sale is filed at the Atwater and Smith libraries, the town clerk, and the planning and zoning office. Each member of the RPB represents a town in the regional water district whose vote is weighted according to the number of customers served and the amount of land held by the RWA. Proceeds from the sale can only be used for capital improvements to the water system including the purchase of watershed land and/or to reduce debt. Proceeds cannot be used to lower current water rates. For more information, go to RWA's website and click on "Our Land".

I'll make my disclosures now: I retired from RWA in 1999 having worked for the organization in land management since its acquisition of the New Haven Water Company in 1980 and the New Haven Water Company since 1960. I live next to one of the parcels having purchased my building lot from the water company in 1968.

The land has been owned by RWA and by RWA's predecessor, the New Haven Water Company since the 1920's when the company was building Lake Gaillard dam and acquiring land for the reservoir and its watershed. Most of the land under and east of the reservoir was farmland. Entire farms were purchased by the company including portions of farms extending beyond the watershed. Yale School of Forestry, under an agreement with the water company dating back to 1902, managed the company's landholdings until 1947. Hayfields and pasture were planted with seedling trees such as red pine, white pine, Norway spruce and hemlock. Wood lots and older forests were managed for timber and other forest products with a long term goal of improving the quality of forest growth for economic benefit to the company while protecting the watershed.

Saving land requires a sense of urgency and timely action. In the recent decade RWA has worked with town governments (including North Branford), the state, land trusts and other organizations to save open space on its drinking water supply watersheds. If land is developed, the quality of runoff will decline, storm flows will increase and dry weather flows decrease as natural cover is replaced by roads, driveways, and buildings.

Park land in the Northford and North Branford sections of town, enjoyed by residents ions at a time when the town was building elementary and middle schools and soon after, a high school to meet the demands of a growing town. Today, growth has slowed but challenges of the past endure as school buildings need to be replaced or renovated while children must be educated to new standards of excellence, preparing them for life in a competitive global economy.

There will be more discussion about the RWA land at the next meeting of the North Branford Land Conservation Trust. Also, we will have more information about a tour that we plan to run at Lake Gaillard and the Tilcon quarry on May 4. The Land Trust's next meeting will be held Wednesday April 6, 7 pm, at the Atwater Library.

Otto Schaefer, Acting President