Westbrook to Vote on Open Space Purchase (CT)

Westbrook, CT, 3/11/02: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, announced today that it has signed an agreement to purchase 83 acres of land along the shores of Lake Laconia from Edward and Harriet Sciongay. TPL began negotiating to purchase the property last fall, at the request of local officials. The purchase price will be determined by an independent appraisal and is expected to be in the $1.7 million range.

“This is a great opportunity for the Town of Westbrook,” said Tony Palermo, Westbrook’s First Selectman. “The Lake Laconia property meets nearly all of the criteria that the Conservation Commission has adopted for prioritizing open space acquisitions. This will allow people access to one of the most beautiful and pristine lakeside properties in town. We now have an opportunity to purchase the property for a fair price in two phases, and plan to apply for two rounds of state funding. This could reduce the cost to the town by up to 50 percent.”

The Town approved a $2.2 million bond for open space protection in January, and residents will vote at Town Meeting this spring on whether to allocate some of these funds to the purchase of the Lake Laconia land. The property is part of a corridor of open space that stretches from the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge to the Cockaponsett State Forest in northern Westbrook. The most recent addition to this greenway was the 24-acre King property acquired by the Town last year.

“The Trust for Public Land is pleased to help provide this land conservation opportunity to the Town of Westbrook,” said Alicia Betty, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “The Lake Laconia property will make a truly significant addition to Westbrook’s open space corridor, protecting important wildlife habitat and providing a peaceful place for people to hike, fish, or canoe.”

“The Conservation Commission considers the Lake Laconia property a high priority for open space acquisition because of its location for protecting the water quality of the Menunketesuck River,” said Thomas O’Dell, Chair of the Westbrook Conservation Commission. “In addition, the site contains a diversity of vegetation, wetlands, vernal pools, and a significant overlook, and is historically linked to manufacturing and farming. The land has also been approved for residential development so it’s ‘purchase now or lose it forever’.”

The property is primarily forested with birch, spruce, oak, cedar, and a scattering of beech and hickory trees, and is home to a variety of wildlife including coyote, deer, osprey, fox, turkey, horned owl, wood duck, and other migratory birds. It includes more than 3,000 feet of frontage on Lake Laconia, which is formed by a dam in the Menunketesuck River as it flows from the towns of Haddam and Killingworth to Long Island Sound in Westbrook. The parcel also includes several small streams, two vernal pools, and other wetlands.

If Town Meeting approves the purchase, the Town anticipates purchasing the property from TPL in two phases. Phase I is the purchase of 36 acres this summer, and Phase II will be the purchase of the remaining 47 acres next summer.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.4 million acres nationwide, including nearly 3,000 acres in Connecticut. The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money magazine recently named TPL the nation’s most efficient large conservation organization for the second year in a row, based on the percentage of funds dedicated to programs.