By John McNamara
State Rep. Rick Lopes (D-24) has filed a bill requiring municipalities or water companies to “complete a fair market appraisal of any property encompassing a watershed, well or reservoir before such property may be sold, and to make such appraisal public at least 90 days prior to such sale.”
Lopes’ proposal is due for a public hearing on Wednesday, February 15th, at the Legislature’s Planning and Development Committee.
The legislation (6481) stems directly from Mayor Stewart’s second attempt to sell the Patton Brook well in Southington to the Town of Southington for $1 million last year. The New Britain Common Council authorized the sale in a controversial move that brought strong public opposition at a public hearing last July. The sale remains under review by the state Department of Public Health. The city administration, through the Board of Water Commissioners, also quietly approved the sale of watershed land in Burlington last last year, land that is also a part of New Britain’s coveted and extensive watershed in the region.
The effort to sell city watershed, along with a Stewart administration-back proposal by Tilcon, Inc. to lease watershed land on the New Britain-Plainville line for mining operations, has met with growing resistance from the Bradley Mountain Alliance . A citizen coalition has coalesced around protecting the watershed and its members regularly attend City Hall, the Board of Water Commissioners and state regulatory agency meetings. Year-long drought conditions that have forced the city to purchase water from the Metropolitan District Commission has further increased citizen opposition to the sale of Patton Brook.
According to a commentary raising objections to a Patton Brook sale last July: “The real value of Patton Brook Well – whether it is to be leased or sold – should be calculated on its capacity to produce potable water for residents and businesses. At no time have New Britain officials, including Stewart and Water Services Director and Southington resident Gil Bligh, provided a professional or independent appraisal of the Patton Brook Well’s actual value in setting a sale price of $1.2 million two years ago and $1 million this year. Basing a sale or lease on a real property assessment of the pumping station and the small amount of acreage alone is absurd and irresponsible.”
Rep. Lopes, who represents the 24th assembly district inclusive of New Britain neighborhoods close to watershed land, opposed the attempted sale of Patton Brook in 2014 and 2016 saying in a letter to the editor “water and access to water will always remain a valuable asset. The city of New Britain had the foresight to purchase property with access to water all over the state and these water rights remain among our most valuable assets. Giving up wells and reservoirs are short-term fixes that will only cost the city in the long run.”
Lawmakers are also taking up a series of bills supported by the Save Our Water , a non-partisan citizens’ group that initially mobilized to oppose MDC and Bloomfield decisions to give Niagara Bottling Company of California access and favorable rates to MDC reservoirs. Its membership is growing and includes New Britain as concern over protecting the water supply and natural resources is growing throughout the state.
Save Our Water’s legislative agenda includes law changes on drought protection (HB-6349), permits for large water bottlers (HB6341), water rates for water bottlers (HB6319), uniform clean water project charge rates (HB6342) and regulation of bottle water (HB5619). Save Our Water opposes Senate Bill 753 — an act concerning the viability of expanding the bottled water industry in Connecticut. Instead Save Our Water favors its own legislative package “to ensure the prudent management of our state’s valuable water resources, establishing priorities for water usage during droughts and requiring that water rates for large-scale water bottlers are not lower than rates for residential customers.”