AREAWIDE— The Connecticut River Estuary and Midstate regional planning agencies are expected to merge by this summer under a proposed new Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments that would replace an existing and more informal Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Elected Officials.
The Essex Board of Selectmen last week received a report on the proposed changes. The board has scheduled an April 4 public hearing on an ordinance authorizing Essex to join the proposed new council of governments, a step that would precede a town meeting vote on the issue.
East Haddam First Selectman Mark Walter appeared at the board’s March 7 meeting to explain the plan. and the reasons for the proposed changes. Walter is the current chairman of the existing council of elected officials, a group that allows the chief elected officials of the Middlesex County towns, along with Lyme and Old Lyme, to meet monthly to discuss regional and state issues that effect each of the municipalities.
Walter said state officials, including leaders in the General Assembly, are pushing to reduce the number of state supported regional planning agencies. He said the elected first selectmen of the Connecticut River Valley had proposed merging the Old Saybrook-based Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency and the Middletown-based Midstate Regional Planning Agency to avoid the possibility that area towns could be shifted under a state mandate to much larger regional organizations based in Hartford, New Haven, and Norwich. “This is a positive step and also a defensive step,” Walter said.
The 17 towns currently served by the Estuary and Midstate regional planning agencies would have the option to join the proposed Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments. Under the plan, the council governments, made up of each town’s chief elected official, would serve as the board of directors for a merged regional planning agency serving the river valley region. Walter said the state has about $250,000 set aside to assist the merger plan.
The proposed member towns of the new council of governments would be the Estuary towns of Chester,Clinton, Deep River, Essex, Killingworth, Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook, and the Midstate towns of Cromwell, Durham, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, Middlefield, Middletown, and Portland. Approval from at least nine towns would be required to establish the COG.
Deep River voters approved resolutions supporting the RPA merger and the new council of governments at a Feb. 28 town meeting. Walter said the plan has also been approved by Cromwell, East Haddam, Haddam, Killingworth, and Portland. The Chester Board of Selectmen has discussed the plan, and is expected to bring resolutions supporting the changes to a town meeting vote later this spring. The April 4 public hearing in Essex is set for 6:30 p.m. at town hall.