The Connecticut state budget passed last weekend and yesterday was the end of the legislative session. The environmental community hoped that money from a $100 million revenue surplus could be allocated for open space protection, and Senate Majority leader Don Williams supported allocating up $30 million for farmland protection. At the end of the session, not one cent from the surplus was allocated to agricultural preservation, with major investment instead going toward Connecticut's transportation needs - both roads and mass transit.
There is previous legislative authority for farmland and open space protection, but it is extremely difficult to get money through the State bond commission and there is now a long list of unfunded projects that may be impossible to conserve without increased financial support from the State. One farmland protection project that I have been associated with in the Litchfield Hills came to a screeching halt without $500,000 in state funding, and there are many more that now are more likely to be developed as a result.
If Connecticut is serious about open space preservation - and it is a very high priority for many of our rapidly developing communities - then it needs to make the investment in enabling non-profit conservation organizations and public entities to acquire fee interest in protected land and development rights. If the goal is for 10% of the State's land area by 2023 to be protected through State ownership, and another 11% through non-profit, federal, and municipal conservation interests, then we can't keep removing slices from the conservation pie. It will not matter if we develop new sources of private funding if the matching grants aren't available from the state to get the deal done. Virtually no entity, however well financed, has the resources to conserve multi-million dollar properties on its own from a single source. There should be $10 million -certainly not the less than $4 million- in the current open space grant round, and even that is inadequate.
The more I learn about the pace of conservation across the Litchfield Hills, the more convinced I am that state financing for conservation is absolutely critical to enable non-profit and municipal land protection projects to get done. It is greatly in the public interest to conserve open space. After all, there needs to be homeland left to secure.