Dear Colleagues: Each year, the General Assembly's Committee on Government Administration and Elections considers a Conveyance Act, the sections of which primarily involve transfers of state lands to municipalities, individuals, or other parties. Often it takes many hours to interpret the sections of the Act to determine whether the conveyances are simply practical, benign transfers of property of no value to the state, or whether there are substantial questions of the public interest.
Last year, rather than trying to evaluate each section, we summarized the contents of the bill so anyone interested could review the entire Act for properties that might have some importance to them. This year, we are taking the same approach, but there has been almost no time to review the Act. We just saw it Thursday afternoon. It goes to Public Hearing on Monday. Eric Hammerling at Connecticut Forest & Park Association has identified two problematic sections. (Eric is one of the members of the State Lands Working Group,, which has been working for about three years to improve the process for land conveyances.) I use excerpts from his message below. You will also find questions and comments from Rivers Alliance. At the end of this email is information on how to send in testimony for the hearing and how to testify in person.
As you may know, each section of the Act begins with "Notwithstanding any provision of the general statutes"; Therefore, if your reflex reaction to a bad conveyance is: "Isn't this against the law?"; the answer is No. Law has been set aside. See especially Section 3, Section 8, Section 14, and Section 15. Each section stipulates that the conveyance is subject to the approval of the State Properties Review Board, but it unclear whether this Board has any authority other than responsibility to check that the paperwork is complete.
This year's bill is HB 6998. Here follow provisions.
Section 1 addresses the transfer of 6.95 acres in New Haven at 470 James Street from the state DOT to the City of New Haven. The property is evidently contaminated, and when this conveyance was first proposed (in last year's Conveyance Act), it looked like a good deal for the state. The state was explicitly relieved of any duty to clean up the contamination. This year's bill, amends last year's language and reverses the course on liability; the state is required to do the cleanup prior to the conveyance. A new feature is that the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) must give approval for the conveyance to go forward. It is not clear what exactly the DECD would be approving: the future uses of the land? the contract for the clean-up? the cost of the cleanup? or something else? The permitted uses are to be: "municipal purposes, including the relocation of public service departments, and for economic development purposes." If the City does something else with the property, it will revert back to the state. This is a highly desirable clause and is present in all sections.
Line 38 ff reads: "The State Properties Review Board shall complete its review of the conveyance of said parcel of land not later than thirty days after it receives a proposed agreement from the Department of Transportation. The land shall remain under the care and control of the Department of Transportation until the land is remediated to the criteria established for industrial and commercial properties in groundwater classification GB areas as set forth in regulations adopted pursuant to section 22a-133k of the general statutes, and a conveyance is made in accordance with the provisions of this section."
Bottom line: This reportedly is a beneficial project, but questions include: what's on the property now; who is responsible for the original contamination; what exactly is the role of DECD; what's the estimated cost of the cleanup?
Section 2 deals with 5 acres in New Haven at 101 College 47 Street, bounded by Church Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, 48 College Street and South Frontage Road. It is a DOT right of way and is being conveyed to New Haven "for economic development purposes."
Section 3 deals with three parcels in Milford under the custody of DEEP; two are less than an acre and one is 3.51 acres. They are apparently adjacent to the Milford Animal Control Shelter. The proposed uses are: "municipal purposes, including to ensure public access to open space and to the Milford Animal Control Shelter, to mitigate parking demand, to promote public health and safety by ensuring emergency access and to create coastal retreat areas to enhance storm resiliency." There is no description of what is on these parcels, but it looks as if some of the land was acquired in 1979-1980 for Silver Sands State Park. Should it remain a park? Is there some definition somewhere of the characteristics of "coastal retreat areas"? This is about all I picked up from the proposed bill, but here's the analysis from Eric Hammerling at CFPA:
" ... would convey 4+ acres of Silver Sands State Park to the town of Milford for "municipal purposes" and the price of $0. DEEP had previously refused the town's request to establish an exclusive parking area only for town residents, and so the town asked for the areas in question to be taken from Silver Sands and be given to Milford. Silver Sands is one of the state's most beautiful beaches, and has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars of rehabilitation work utilizing state funds over the past few years."
Section 4 deals with the transfer of a Department of Education baseball stadium in Stamford to the city for recreational purposes. It's about 6.6 acres, part of the J.M. Wright Technical School.
Section 5 deals with 2.5 acres in Farmington on Rte. 4 under custody of DOT to be conveyed to the town for economic development purposes. It was acquired from Parsons Properties. The location is described with reference to a survey map. The section is unusual in that it allows Farmington to sell or lease the land, which is usually forbidden. It must be for economic development purposes. It sounds as if something is already in the works for this property. What would that be? Who will benefit from this conveyance? Who will the eventual owner or lessor be?
Section 6 conveys the Fort Nathan Hale Park Pier located on the New Haven Harbor from DEEP to New Haven for recreational purposes. Section 7 directs the Military Department to convey to the borough of Naugatucka National Guard Armory. The property is 3.5 acres at 607 Rubber Ave. It shall be used for educational, parking, or recreational purposes.
NOTE: THERE SHOULD BE FULL NOTICE AND HEARINGS ON ALL IMPORTANT CONVEYANCES. SECTION 8 IS SHOCKINGLY ILLUSTRATIVE. HERE'S THE CFPA ANALYSIS. Section 8of the Conveyance Act would convey over 100 acres of the Centennial Watershed Forest to the town of Fairfield for $0. Although DEEP owns the land and Aquarion Water Company apparently holds conservation easements on this property, this proposal was made without the knowledge of either DEEP, Aquarion, or of The Nature Conservancy who works in partnership with DEEP and Aquarion on the land management of the Centennial Watershed Forest.
Section 9 is a mystery set in Stafford. It reads. "The State of Connecticut shall release all rights to a right-of-way easement over a parcel, as first recorded in a warranty deed dated April 8, 1940, in Volume 73 at page 515 of the town of Stafford Land Records and rerecorded in a warranty deed dated October 21, 1954, in Volume 92 at page 489 of said Land Records. The State Treasurer shall execute and deliver any instrument necessary to effect such release."
Section 10 concerns about a third of an acre in New Britain. The agency in charge is DECD, which is transferring the property for open space. No address is given although the deed is referenced.
Section 11 transfers about a third of an acre in New Milford from DOT to the town for open space. It is on the Danbury Rd (Rtes 7 and 202).
Section 12 concerns 7.29 acres in Portland to be conveyed from DOT to the town. No description of what's there now, but it's to be used for recreation and tourism.
Section 13 conveys eight DOT parcels (totaling about 10 acres) to East Hartford. Specified use is "development."
Section 14 is a highly unusual mining deal in Brooklyn and Canterbury whereby DEEP "shall convey to Strategic Commercial Realty, Inc., d/b/a Rawson Materials a license for access, including ingress and egress and the transportation of materials and products to cross two parcels of state land located in the towns of Brooklyn and Canterbury respectively, in exchange for three parcels of land. The first parcel of land to be conveyed by Strategic Commercial Realty, Inc., d/b/a Rawson Materials is approximately 5.5 acres and is located northerly and abutting the Quinebaug River and south of the proposed gravel driveway. The second parcel is approximately 6.5 acres and is located generally southerly of the Quinebaug River and abutting other land of the state on the northeast and southwest, and the conveyance of said parcel is contingent upon (1) the reservation of riparian rights by Rawson Materials to continue its diversion of the Quinebaug River in association with the washing of earthen materials, (2) two fifty-foot permanent easements granted by the state over said parcel for the purpose of accessing said river for the diversion of water, and (3) a written waiver of the setback requirements for the removal of earthen materials. The third parcel of land is approximately 30 acres and is located southeasterly of the proposed driveway and bounded on the east, south and west by state land and the conveyance of said parcel is contingent upon the state granting a deeded right in favor of Rawson Materials to remove all earthen materials located on the donated land and a written waiver of the setback requirements for the removal of earthen materials. The three parcels and license are more specifically described in an application for such license submitted to the department by Strategic Commercial Realty, Inc., d/b/a Rawson Materials in November and May of 2014. The exchange of said parcels of land and license shall be made simultaneously and each in consideration of the other. Said license shall include the right to construct a gravel driveway of approximately eighteen feet wide in two sections for a combined length of approximately 2500 feet, provided Strategic Commercial Realty, Inc., d/b/a Rawson Materials obtains the necessary permits for such driveway and subject to any conditions determined by said department. Said license shall be for a term set by the department and shall not be transferable or assignable without the express, written consent of said department."
Obvious questions (omitting expletives) are: Who is proposing this? What's the value of the pieces being swapped? If there will be mining, shouldn't the state be getting royalties? Who vetted this? Etc.
Section 15 concerns a similar deal in Plainfield and Killingly. Here's the key language. "[DEEP] shall grant a ten-year easement for access, including ingress and egress and the transportation of materials and products, to Basley Road Materials, LLC over approximately 3000 feet of access road over three parcels of state land located in the towns of Plainfield and Killingly, in exchange for the sum of twenty thousand dollars at the time of the granting of the easement and the agreement for Basley Road Materials, LLC to convey a parcel of land located in the town of Plainfield totaling approximately 48.3 acres after the excavation of materials is completed. "
The first thing that comes to mind is that excavating earth materials can wreak havoc with hydrology. Typically the process is also noisy and dusty. IF these deals are intended to benefit the public, they should include protections for water resources, air quality, and other natural assets. (And, again, why isn't the state getting a royalty per cubic yard? $20,000 is probably not adequate compensation. ) Here is instruction on the hearing. This hearing is the only scheduled opportunity for public to comment. The State Lands Working Group believes conveyances affecting conservation lands should be handled in the Environment Committee.
MONDAY, MARCH 16, 2015
The Government Administration and Elections Committee will hold a public hearing on Monday, March 16, 2015 at 1:00 P.M. in Room 2A of the LOB. Sign-up for the hearing will begin at 10:00 A.M. in Room 2201 of the LOB. Please submit 30 copies of written testimony to Committee staff at 10:00 A.M. in Room 2201 of the LOB. Testimony received after the designated time may not be distributed until after the hearing. Please email written testimony in Word or PDF format to GAEtestimony@cga.ct.gov. The Committee requests that testimony be limited to matters related to the items on the Agenda. The first hour of the hearing is reserved for Legislators, Constitutional Officers, State Agency Heads and Chief Elected Municipal Officials. Speakers will be limited to three minutes of testimony. The Committee encourages witnesses to submit a written statement and to condense oral testimony to a summary of that statement. Unofficial sign-up sheets have no standing with the Committee. All public hearing testimony, written and spoken, is public information. As such, it will be made available on the CGA website and indexed by internet search engines.