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State & Local Politicians Meet to Coordinate Efforts to Keep Deer Lake from Private Developer

By Clark Judge.

An alliance of state and local politicians, conservation advocates and the head of a local nonprofit seeking to purchase the Deer Lake Scout Reservation met early Thursday afternoon to coordinate efforts to keep the 255-acre property from a private developer.

The result?

“I’m not sure we have anything to say right now,” said Killingworth First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski, who called the one-hour meeting at the Killingworth Emergency Operations Center. “We’re weighing our options.”

Gorski was one of nine persons who attended what amounted to a summit of parties interested in the purchase of Deer Lake from the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Others were Killingworth Selectwoman Jamie Young, state Sen. Christine Cohen, state Rep. Christine Goupil, Madison First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons, Honor Lawler of the Trust for Public Land, Dave Anderson of Save the Sound, Dave Gumbart of the Killingworth Land Conservation Trust, and Ted Langevin, head of Pathfinders, the local nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting Deer Lake as green space.

Also included was Killingworth Selectman Lou Annino, Jr. who joined the meeting by phone.

“It was a productive meeting,” said Langevin, “in that we came out of it with more of a unified way of thinking.”

However, neither he nor the others would divulge what that thinking is.

“Is there a sense of optimism?” Langevin asked in response to a question. “I think it’s more determination that optimism. We’re determined to see this all the way through.”

The meeting comes in the wake of this week’s rejection of a Pathfinders’ offer to buy Deer Lake. The property has been for sale since last fall, with the Connecticut Yankee Council in February accepting a $4.625-million offer from Fortitude Capital LLC. However, the Council said it would consider “superior offers” by a March 31 deadline, later moved to May 1 after Connecticut Attorney General William Tong intervened.

“The Office of the Attorney General is currently reviewing questions regarding the legal status of the property and a potential sale,” said a prepared statement from Tong’s office.

One of those questions could involve the head of Fortitude Capital LLC, Margaret Streicker. The founder and CEO of the company is also a member of the Connecticut Yankee Council’s Board of Directors – a position that critics decry as a conflict of interest. In fact, one conservation group contacted Tong’s office Monday, asking the Attorney General to investigate possible instances of impropriety and wrongdoing by Streicker and the Connecticut Yankee Council.

It is not known what the Attorney General is investigating, but three persons confirmed that an inquiry is underway – with Langevin contacted by Tong’s office earlier this week.

Fortitude’s $4.625-million proposal is nearly twice that of a $2.4-million bid made by TPL, a nonprofit which had the support of Killingworth’s Board of Selectmen. But a TPL appraisal, which set fair-market value for the property at $2-2.4 million, prevented it from increasing its offer.

With talks at a virtual standstill, Pathfinders stepped in. It launched an aggressive last-minute fundraising campaign and was so productive that last week it made what Langevin considered a competitive offer. The Boy Scouts did not, rejecting the proposal on Monday and, according to a Facebook post by Langevin, raising their demands to “a higher price.”

He declined to elaborate.

One day later, the story went national, with the Associated Press, USA Today, the Washington Post and National Public Radio carrying it. Then an angry U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal – one of those who appeared at a Jan. 27 news conference in support of protecting Deer Lake as open space – erupted, calling the Connecticut Yankee Council’s response “shocking” and “neither ethical or morally correct.” Furthermore, he urged it to engage in “good-faith” negotiations to reach a “mutually agreeable price” with Pathfinders.

That, in turn, provoked Gorski to call Thursday’s meeting.

“We’re all very grateful,” said Young, “for the hard work, effort and creativity that TPL and Pathfinders put into this purchase on our behalf in gathering folks to support (Deer Lake) and to save it for the town, for the children and for the people who use it.”

Gorski said there are plans for another conference “sometime soon,” while Langevin is set to appear next week before the Madison Board of Selectmen. In the meantime, Pathfinders continues to raise money for the purchase of Deer Lake, Fortitude Capital remains the frontrunner to win it and the clock is ticking.

“So, what’s the next move?” Langevin was asked.

He paused and thought while the room was quiet.

“I guess we’re going to have to say, ‘No comment,’ ” he said.

Photos by Clark Judge.

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