This land is your land, vote ‘yes’ on critical question

October 21, 2018

On Nov. 6, citizens will have the opportunity to vote on the first Connecticut referendum question ever focused on an environmental issue. The question before voters is whether a constitutional amendment should be adopted to better protect “your” Connecticut public lands. The amendment would create safeguards to assure no state-owned conservation or agriculture property could be divested without adequate public scrutiny and input.

Recent detrimental land grabs, inequitable parcel swaps, and transfers of valuable communal properties without recompense to the citizens who own them, have demonstrated to those paying close heed that reform is desperately needed to an inherently unfair and murky land conveyance process. Momentous divestments of precious natural assets, belonging to all, should never be effected in secrecy as they often are now; they must be debated in bright sunlight with all impacted parties free to weigh in within reasonable time frames.

So far, 135 major statewide groups whose organizing focuses on the environment, education, outdoor recreation, health, and good governance have signed on in support of the constitutional amendment bill to better protect our public lands. It codifies a forthright, open and truly democratic system of proposed property transmittal. In this past legislative session, the amendment bill received overwhelmingly bipartisan affirmation by the General Assembly. The Senate provided a unanimous stamp of approval, while more than three-quarters of the House members voted “yes.” In today’s fraught and divisive climate, it is not often that so many from diverse perspectives can agree on the same thing.

Connecticut residents desire greater transparency in government. They expect every citizen to be treated fairly as the owners of our shared public properties. They are determined to honor our commitments to generations of generous land donors to preserve their gifted acreage in perpetuity. They freely and regularly express gratitude and appreciation for the beautiful state landscapes that we have enjoyed from birth and hold in trust for our descendants.

Whether conservative or progressive, or a meld of both, we share a love of the natural world and a belief that our governing practices ought to better match our ideals of governance.

The constitutional amendment, as proposed in Question 2, reinforces these aspirations in a targeted and pragmatic manner. The language in Question 2, however, is rather dense as it exactly mirrors the legislative wording of the constitutional amendment bill. Clarity and simplicity, unfortunately, are not often hallmarks of legislative legalese.

Very plainly, the amendment calls for a couple of critical yet modest reforms to the state’s land conveyance process. If adopted, this amendment would stipulate that before any public land could be sold, swapped or given away that (1) each proposed land transfer must appear in a separate bill requiring a public hearing and that (2) if the land is state conservation or agricultural property, a two-thirds affirmative vote from the entire General Assembly be required to effect any transfer of that land to private companies or municipalities.

The amendment does not preclude the divestment of property, but fairly guarantees that the electorate, who collectively own this land, should be duly notified of any proposal; that a full discussion of the pros and cons of transfers take place; and that any limiting strictures such as easements and donors’ bequest restrictions be respected.

Our state-owned parks, forests, preserves, and iconic rolling farmlands are highly valued by our people and imbued with deep meanings, both consciously and unconsciously felt. They are an important part of our collective Connecticut identity, at once our heritage and our legacy.

The legislature should never remove these lands from public domain without careful deliberation and a transparent process. They belong to you.

Vote “yes” on Question 2.

Eileen Grant is co-president of the Friends of Connecticut State Parks and serves on the Board of Trustees for Friends of Harkness.