Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Maromas: Land of Opportunities, Part III

This is the third installment of a 4-part series on city and state actions which have the potential to affect undeveloped land in Maromas, owned primarily by the Connecticut Valley Hospital as a watershed for reservoirs which supply CVH and Riverview with water. Part I covered the Mayor's 'veto' of a bill which would have given the Department of Environmental Protection the ownership of conservation easements on the CVH land. Part II covered a proposal from the Water and Sewer Department to supply City water to CVH, eliminating the need for CVH to manage their own water supply. Part III will cover recent State-wide actions by Governor Rell, and their potential to impact CVH land. Part IV will discuss city-owned land adjacent to CVH.

Veto of 2009 Conveyance Bill tied to asset valuation
Virtually every session of the State Legislature features a bill which transfers ownership of state land. These conveyances may be between different state agencies, between the state and a municipality, between the state and a non-profit organization (for example a Land Trust), or between the state and an individual or corporation. The 2009 Conveyance Bill (HB6695, discussed in Part I of this series), which at first had a conveyance of conservation easements in Maromas from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to the Department of Environmental Protection, also had many other minor and major transfers of land. [One of the major ones involved a "Backroom Deal" involving a powerful legislator and a local developer, according to an excellent article by Jon Lender in the Sunday Hartford Courant].

The annual conveyance bills are typically sent to the floor for a vote and receive very little attention. Thus, it was not unusual for this year's conveyance bill to be rushed through on the last day of the Legislative Session. The rules were suspended, it was grouped with multiple other bills under a "consent calendar", with no possibility for any modifications, and shortly before midnight, these grouped bills were voted on as a package, passing 36-0 in the Senate and 145-0 (3 absent) in the House.

However, this year, when the bill reached the Governor's desk, something unusual happened: Rell vetoed it. She did so because of the need for revenue. In her veto letter of July 7th, she admitted, "A conveyance bill such as this is fairly typical," but went on to say:
This year, however, the fiscal landscape has changed. Thus, on behalf of Connecticut taxpayers we must maximize the utility of each valuable asset which the state owns.... Included in HB6695 are instances of land swaps, sales for less than fair market value of property ..."
[On Monday the Legislature met to override Governor Rell's vetoes, but one of the bills that they specifically decided to avoid was HB6695, which therefore does not become law.]

Governor and Legislators Look for Assets to Sell
A week after vetoing a conveyance bill because she wanted to maximize the utility of each valuable asset, Rell went one step further, ordering Department Commissioners to identify land that could be sold to address budget shortfalls. She noted that legislative Democrats had supported a requirement that her administration raise money through the sale of state assets. In a July 15th Press Release, she said:
The Democrats have not specified which assets should be sold, but given the amount of money to be raised it is clear these unprecedented economic times will call for difficult decisions. We must consider parting with parcels we would never consider selling in the ordinary course of business - among them the Seaside property in Waterford. I will need each agency head to think creatively and constructively about assets that can be sold to reach this ambitious goal without dramatically hindering state operations.
Governor Rell stressed in her press release that all property should be considered, and sales should happen quickly, "Once my office approves the potential sale, the disposition process must be conducted as expeditiously as possible but within the parameters established by statute." Rell provided a deadline of July 27th for Commissioners to return to her with their lists.

State Rep. Matthew Lesser, representing parts of Middletown (and Middlefield and Durham), told The Eye that selling state properties was actually the Democrats' idea, and they "obviously support" Rell's directive to identify salable assets. Lesser said, "In the current fiscal crisis, selling state assets is a way to continue to provide vital services to families [and] towns, without raising taxes."

Could the State Sell its Maromas Land?
The State owns about 75 different parcels of land in our city, ranging in size from less than half an acre to more than 150 acres. Half of the State-owned parcels are in Maromas, and most of those are owned by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS). Jim Simonowski, media relations at DMHAS, told me that the senior management staff at CVH would be working on the governor's directive, but that there was currently no information available about which of their properties might end up on the list of "salable assets". He was not sure how soon after the July 27th deadline the list would be made publicly available, saying that decision was up to the Governor's office, "We're really early in the process at this point."

The State properties in Maromas can be crudely grouped into three categories, according to the complications involved in selling them. The simplest of the categories would be those properties that are essentially abandoned already and could easily be listed as salable assets. This would include buildings (many of them large and beautiful) on the CVH campus that are boarded up, these could be offered for sale or lease to businesses interested in adaptive reuse, or razed and replaced with new buildings.

A second, relatively simple category would be those properties that are in active use and whose listing as a salable asset would generate enormous difficulties for the State. This would include institutions like Riverview Hospital, the state's only Mental hospital for children and adolescents, and the Connecticut Juvenile Training School. At various times in the past couple of years, Rell has proposed shutting each of those down, either to improve patient or inmate care, or to save money on their operations, but any action on those properties is likely to be quite complicated, and thus unlikely to yield cash for the State in any short time frame.

The third category consists of those properties whose sale would require relatively minor changes to state operations, this category includes the CVH reservoir land which is the topic of this Eye serial. As highlighted in Part II, Guy Russo, head of Middletown Water and Sewer, suggested to Governor Rell that Middletown should be the water supplier for CVH. If this were to happen, then the reservoir lands would be prime candidates for salable assets. The absence of a conservation easement owned by the DEP makes such a sale less difficult than it would otherwise be (see Part I, which highlighted Mayor Giuliano's 'veto' of such an easement transfer). It does not seem too far-fetched to imagine that Governor Rell might come to view the 511 acres of CVH reservoir lands as assets which could generate revenue for the state.

However, when I spoke with Simonowski in DMHAS media relations, he seemed to think that CVH would be unlikely to list the reservoir land because they would be unwilling to jeopardize their water supply. In addition, it is not clear who might be interested in purchasing the reservoir lands, because the land use restrictions for watersheds are quite strict and it is difficult to decommission a productive source of drinking water (see Part II).

Presumably, the most likely purchaser of the reservoirs would be the City or a neighboring town which wants to maintain them as a water supply.


Anonymous said...

another great and informative article. thanks so much. I feel like the State is treading on some sketchy ground selling off assets they may one day regret disposing of.

Anonymous said...

Eagerly awaiting Part IV! You should receive a medal, compensation or an honorary third Eye for doing this good deed. IF sold, maybe that Juvenile Training Center could be filled with water and re-used for recreation or fish farming.

Anonymous said...


Why don't you run for Mayor? You seem to be well informed and willing to share your knowledge. That is a rare and wonderful combination of traits that would serve Middletown very well.