Sunday, December 30, 2007

Open space vs. army base

A well-written article this morning in the Hartford Courant by Josh Kovner adds new details to the impending controversy about the building of an Army Reserve Training Center in the Maromas section of Middletown.

The article raises questions and concerns along with some new hope.

On the hopeful side, there is a clause in the property ownership papers that says the state has the right of first refusal on the site as open space if CL&P decides to sell. That would, of course mean that the DEP has the will, the money and the public support to buy the acreage as open space. The good news here is that is should be easy to build a coalition of open space and environmental activists to lobby the state to purchase the land. Not that the fight will be an easy one, but there are plenty of folks in town, and in the state, with strong feelings on the issue.

Also of some limited hope is that the Army is willing to look at other town sites for the project. More on the negative side of that below.

Of concern are the mayor's attitude that "the Army, which is exempt from local land-use laws, is driving this project." Despite his willingness to pin the blame for this green space development on the Army, he still supports the base construction at the proposed site. If the base is build there, it will cost millions to improve utilities to the site, and will open the entire corridor to commercial development.

Also of concern is information in the story that, " The federal Base Realignment and Closure legislation of 2005 requires that the center be built in Middletown." Somewhere, sometime, some politician thought they were doing Middletown a favor by inserting that clause into federal statute. What it means is that Middletown has to swallow yet another, off-the-tax-rolls development that will bring little in value to town.

The final concern is that our town planner has suggested that a former brownfield might be a good spot for the training center. On the surface, not a bad idea, but his first suggestion is the former Remington Rand plant. This is a site which has been pursued by environmental activist who are looking for access to the Little River (the Mattabesset/Cocinchaug). This suggestion is puzzling since the planner has been an advocate of the Jonah Project on the same site.

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