Trumbull council OKs $7 million land buy

TRUMBULL — When residents think of Trumbull’s natural resources, the word “polluted” probably isn’t what comes to mind.

But while the town’s longest natural feature, the Pequonnock River, is clean when it flows into town, for 80 percent of its length in Trumbull it is classified as “impaired,” according to land conservation consultant Jim Nordgren.

“That’s a euphamism for ‘polluted’ because of the high levels of bacteria and suspended solids,” Nordgren told the town council Thursday. “So there’s a water pollution problem in the Pequonnock River.”

As part of an effort to mitigate the pollution in the Pequonnock, the council has authorized First Selectman Vicki Tesoro to pay $6.9 million for about 25 acres of land on Hardy Lane. The land sits roughly between Church Hill Road and the river. The town intends that the land serve as a buffer in the river’s watershed, officials said.

“If we don’t do this, guess what, there’s going to be development there,” said council Chairman Mary Beth Thornton, D-2nd District, after the council approved the purchase.

The approval vote passed 16-3 with all 14 Democrats and Republicans Carl Massaro, 3rd District, and Donna Seidell, 1st District, in favor; Voting against were Republicans Tony Scinto, 2nd District; Lori Rosasco-Schwartz, 3rd District; and Stephen Lemoine, 4th District. Unaffiliated member Lisa Valenti did not cast a vote.

Nordgren said protecting the land from development was key. In his presentation to the council, he highlighted a nearby plot of land that was similar in nature, though smaller than the Hardy Lane parcel.

“This part of the Pequonnock Valley is so critical,” he said. “The parts are extremely steep, so building on it is not recommended because it will direct all that water to the river.”

But land nearby is being cleared for development and in a few other cases, homeowners have clearcut trees from their property, he said.

“We understand that, everybody wants to improve their view,” he said.

But with the ground cover gone, water erodes the exposed ground and washes into the Pequonnock, Nordgren said.

“The contours are just too steep,” he said. “You can’t fool Mother Nature. If you bulldoze dirt onto a slope, it’s not going to hold. Even with the best of intention and management, you can’t hold back that water, and that is flowing right into the Pequonnock River.”

Tesoro said the land has been on the town’s radar for decades.

“We’ve been looking at it for a long time and wanting to buy it for years,” she said. “It seems everything finally lined up.”

With the Hardy Lane parcel being the last large plot of open land in the town’s interior area, it made sense for the town to control it rather than leave it for developers to snap up, she said.

“Any high-density development in this area would change the character of this long-established single-family residential area,” she said. “We have no immediate plans for the property. We will land-bank it.”

The council members had received the contracts and paperwork regarding the potential purchase earlier this year, including two appraisals of the land’s value. The result, she said, was a smart purchase at a fair price.

“We didn’t just (throw money) at the owners,” she said.