Thursday, March 15, 2012

Utilities Merger Leads to Big Conservation Victory

As an organization, we want to see government agencies, landowners and non-profits work together to protect important habitats in Connecticut forever. That’s the model that has worked at Stratford Point, on land owned by the DuPont Corp., protected by a conservation easement held by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and managed by Connecticut Audubon Society.

But we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, which is why we supported an effort by Connecticut Fund for the Environment to use the proposed merger of Northeast Utilities and NSTAR as leverage to extend for another decade a memorandum of understanding concerning 9,500 acres owned by Northeast Utilities.

The 9,500 acres is spread around the state in 375 parcels. A decade or so ago, when it looked as if Con Edison was going to buy NU, the sale agreement included a memorandum of understanding that said if NU-Con Ed wanted to sell any of those parcels, it had to give advance notice to municipalities, land trusts, conservation organizations, etc.

That memorandum expires in two years. CFE used the proposed merger to push for a 10-year extension.

Which they achieved, for 8,500 acres.

The great news is that the other 1,000 acres will be preserved forever. Here’s what the Hartford Courant reported (the link includes a link to a PDF list of the 375 parcels):

... nearly 1,000 acres of that land — sparkling gems among the 375 tracts owned by NU — will be placed in an irrevocable land trust controlled by an independent board with appointed members, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection told me today. The trust will provide stewardship for 188 acres on King’s Island in Enfield and Suffield; 723 acres on Skiff Mountain in Sharon; 57 acres off Hanover Road in Newtown; and 13 acres off Bartlett Road in Waterford.

CFE led the conservationists’ efforts. Connecticut Audubon Society supported the work. Last month, Robert Martinez, CAS’s president, wrote to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority:

… we urge the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to require an extension of the current Memorandum of Understanding that obligates NU to give advance notice to municipalities, land trusts and other conservation organizations when it offers any of those 375 tracts for sale. This advance notice is designed to give us and others time to evaluate the conservation value of the tract and formulate an acquisition strategy before the land is offered to developers.

We got what we wanted, and more. Which is good news for conservation in Connecticut.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

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