By Clark Judge.
Conservationists trying to preserve the Deer Lake Scout Reservation gained an important ally Tuesday when Gov. Ned Lamont said the state may provide additional support to keep the 255-acre property from a private developer.
In his first public comments on the sale of Deer Lake, Lamont voiced his desire to preserve it as open space.
“It’s gorgeous,” he said. “So we could step in as needed. We’re not the piggy bank. I like going in alongside other people.”
That was welcome news to Pathfinders, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting Deer Lake as green space. In the midst of an aggressive fundraising campaign, it made an offer two weeks ago to purchase the property … only to be turned down by the Boy Scouts.
Undeterred, it resumed its fundraising and launched a Save Deer Lake movement that this week found sandwich boards and “Save Deer Lake” yard signs appear throughout Killingworth.
Now it has the support of the state governor, whose suggestion of “going in alongside other people” suggests a potential partnership with Pathfinders. In fact, that is a real possibility, with the two sides exploring a deal to join in an offer, with Pathfinders shouldering the bulk of the cost.
“I do think the state being involved again is a very good thing,” said state Sen. Christine Cohen. “I think it could find ways to work with Pathfinders … perhaps long-term and down the road … to purchase portions of the property.
“If we had a little more time, is there something more we could do where maybe Pathfinders buys a portion of the property and the state buys a portion in keeping with the fair-market value of that portion? There are still things to be done, but it certainly warrants exploration.”
And that is happening. According to Cohen, Gov. Lamont made numerous inquiries over the weekend into the sale of Deer Lake and had conversations with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“I’m encouraged,” Pathfinders’ chairman Ted Langevin said of Lamont’s remarks. “I think this is going to focus more attention on the matter and, hopefully, help people see this as a very important issue that should be supported with donations and goodwill.”
More attention has been on Deer Lake recently. After the Connecticut Yankee Council last week rejected Pathfinders’ offer to purchase the property, the story went nationwide – with articles carried by the Associated Press, USA Today, Washington Post and National Public Radio.
Owned by the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Deer Lake has been for sale since last fall. Postponing a decision on the property for two months, the Connecticut Yankee Council voted in February to sell it for $4.625 million to Fortitude Capital LLC, a firm headed by CEO Margaret Streicker.
However, the sale was conditional – with the condition that the Council would “consider superior offers” by March 31. But that deadline was moved to May 1 after state Attorney General William Tong intervened at the last minute to review “questions regarding the legal status and sale of the property.”
In the meantime, the Council not only rejected an offer by Pathfinders but, apparently, increased its demands. In a Facebook post shortly after hearing from the Council’s realtor, Langevin referred to “a higher price” but declined to elaborate when asked.
That produced an angry response from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal one day later (Blumenthal Fires Back at Connecticut Yankee Council Over Its Rejection of Offer by Pathfinders | HKNow (hk-now.com). Now it has the attention of Gov. Lamont, and that, said preservationists, is significant … particularly in an election year.
“I think it’s meaningful,” said Dave Anderson of Save the Sound. “It’s a good thing that he’s getting involved. It has an impact because there’s a commitment there.”
Politicians have been involved with the Deer Lake sale for months. Blumenthal, Cohen, state Rep. Christine Goupil and Killingworth First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski appeared at a Jan. 27 news conference at Deer Lake in support of protecting the property. Cohen, Goupil and Madison First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons joined Gorski last week when an alliance of politicians and preservationists, including Langevin, met at the Killingworth Emergency Operations Center. Langevin then went on to meet with the Madison Board of Selectmen Tuesday morning via Zoom.
Now Lamont has joined the chorus. Gorski had appealed to the governor’s office for weeks, asking for his support. On Tuesday she gained it.
“I’m smiling,” she said.
She is not alone. With the governor suddenly involved, preservationists believe that his comments could, as Langevin said, “focus more attention” on a subject that already has plenty. Moreover, they said, they may apply public pressure on the Boy Scouts to, as Blumenthal said last week, “engage in good-faith negotiations” to reach “a mutually agreeable” settlement to sell Deer Lake to Pathfinders.
“Having the governor and all these politicians involved means a lot,” said one conservation director. “They’re not going to make false promises. So I think what you just heard is significant.”
Photos by Clark Judge.