In a bit of Orwellian skulduggery, Connecticut's General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1341, AN ACT CONCERNING APPLICATION FOR A CERTIFICATE OF PUBLIC CONVENIENCE AND NECESSITY AND PROTECTING PUBLIC WATER SUPPLIES FROM CONTAMINATION, with a last minute stealth amendment that would would undermine those very resources. This amendment is a sad and cynical coda to a legislative session that was notable for its failure to meaningfully address the challenges facing this state on many fronts. In a blistering editorial yesterday, the Hartford Courant condemned this amendment, "adopted during the last days of the session with no public hearing or roll-call vote", and urged Governor Rell not to sign it into law:
"Attached to an otherwise benign bill designed to protect Connecticut's water supplies from contamination is a louse-ridden amendment that threatens to gnaw away at Connecticut's most pristine watershed lands...The amendment would grant the city of New Britain authority to enter into a 40-year lease to allow gravel mining on city-owned watershed land - including Class I watershed, property given the highest priority for protection for its proximity to drinking-water supplies. The 131-acre area, called Biddle Pass, is in Plainville...we object to the way this amendment was adopted. It smacks of the kind of cynical back-room dealing that fosters mistrust in state government and its officials."
131 acres with a 40 year lease is a huge amount of gravel extraction. The dust, disruption to groundwater flow and recharge, and cost of reclamation are highly significant issues. I was involved with the reclamation of an 11 acre gravel site and it required moving around 40,000 cubic yards of material. You can extrapolate the amount needed for an operation of this size. The disturbance makes infestation by invasive species practically a certainty. The performance standards required by the amendment are risibly inadequate.
The amendment proposes that "the City of New Britain may change the use of its water company owned class I and II lands to allow the lease" under the guise of providing an "increase in the future safe yield of a pure and adequate supply of drinking water." It then goes on to offer the condition that"The extraction of stone or other material from such land or any adjacent land is at a sufficient distance from residential homes as to prevent unreasonable disruption of residential use."
Call this what it is: a City in financial straits pillaging lands it holds in public trust. Water company land is among the most vital, unprotected resources in the State. It is subject to considerable restrictions and under current law the practice of gravel extraction would be prohibited. This would set a terrible precedent and cannot be justified from either ecological or public health and safety considerations.
It would net the City of New Britain between $12-$15 million and that is the sole reason for this shameful amendment. Municipal water companies are among the most vulnerable unprotected open space landowners for precisely this reason. The pressure to tap the equity in these holdings is very great, and only Connecticut's regulations restricting the use of Class I and II lands held by water providers keeps them from development.
This bill, if passed as amended, undermines the status of water company lands across the State. Governor Rell is hardly veto proof with both houses of the General Assembly in Democratic Control, but she should forcefully reject this bill the moment it comes to her desk.