July 2, 2022

Deep River Resident Calls on Governor Malloy to Veto Senator Daily’s Ground Breaking, Land Swap Bill

Land swap opponent, Deep River's John Kennedy

Deep River resident John Kennedy, who is frequently involved in environmental causes, has called on Governor Dannel Malloy to veto a bill that would permit a swap of the entire 17.4 acres of the state owned Clark Creek Wildlife Management Area in Haddam, for 87 acres of privately owned woodlands in Higganum next to the Cockaponset State Forest. There is no money involved. It is a simply a swap of one piece of land for another.

The bill that would permit this unique proposition was sponsored by State Senator Eileen Daily (D) of Westbrook, and it had overwhelming support in both houses of the legislature.

However, in addition to Kennedy, the bill has also aroused strong opposition by environmental groups. Opponents include the local Land Trusts of the towns of Essex, Deep River and East Haddam, as well as the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Audubon Connecticut, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, the Citizens for the Protection of Connecticut Public Lands and the Connecticut River Gateway Commission, among other conservation groups. Also, 600 people from 50 towns in Connecticut have signed a petition against the land swap legislation. In addition, local State Representative Phil Miller of Essex has strongly opposed the legislation.

However, the Land Trust in Haddam, where the Clark Creek wildlife area is located, has not taken a public position on the issue.

The land of the Clark Creek Wildlife Management Area involved in the swap is located directly upland from the Eagle Landing State Park and has a sweeping view of the Connecticut River, the Haddam swing bridge and the Goodspeed Opera House. The wildlife area is also a prime habitat for flora and fauna, a quality that was acknowledged by the state, when it purchased the property back in 2003.

At the time the state paid $1.35 million to purchase the Clark Creek property. However, according to swap critic Kennedy, the woodlands property in Higganum that would be swapped for the Cross Creek property cost only $428,000. “In other words, the bill would authorize the swap of property that cost the state $1.35 million for property that cost the of the owner of a woodlands property in Higganum only $428,000,” Kennedy points out.

In addition, the money funding the purchase of the Clark Creek property back in 2003 was taken from the state’s Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Fund. “Swapping away the Clark Creek land has nothing to do with the trust fund’s objectives,” says Kennedy.

Should Governor Malloy follow the lead of the majority of the members of the state legislature, including that of prime sponsor Senator Daily, and sign the “swap bill” into law, the new owner of the Clark Creek wildlife area would be a group called “Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station.” Improvements on the property under discussion by this group include the construction of a new hotel, a new shopping center, a new restaurant and a new unspecified “entertainment venue.”

Kennedy asserts that the “hidden hand” behind the entire land swap legislation is the Director of the Goodspeed Opera House, Michael Price. Kennedy says that Price wants eventually to build a new opera house on the new swapped land, which happens to be located close to the Goodspeed railroad station, presently used only by the Essex Steam Train.

For his part Price says repeatedly that he is “absolutely not involved” in the land swap legislation. Price also says that “there are no new venues in the area to which an opera house could move. If you hear of one,” he quips, “let me know.”

Looking ahead, any development on the newly swapped Clark Creek land in Haddam could obviously make use of the already existing track from the Goodspeed rail station to Essex.  Then, with a few modifications down the line, the train service could also be extended to Old Saybrook on an upgraded, existing track and right of way. From there, passengers would only have to cross the tracks to catch the Shoreline East train out of Old Saybrook bound for New Haven, with a subsequent connection on MetroNorth all the way to New York City.

But for all this development dreaming, it would first be necessary to reject the arguments of the very passionate opponents of the swap, among them John Kennedy of Deep River and his environmental allies. Whether their arguments and passion will convince the Governor to veto the “swap bill” at this point is an open question.