Connecticut lawmaker seeks better public notification of state park plans, response to Seaside

A freshman lawmaker from southeastern Connecticut has proposed legislation requiring communities to receive better and more formal notification whenever the state decides it wants to build a new park there.

The bill is in direct response to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's surprise announcement last fall to transform the state's former Seaside Regional Center property along the Waterford shoreline into a new public park.

Republican Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme wants to require the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commission to hold a public hearing in the town where any proposed state park would be located.

His bill is scheduled for a public hearing Friday before the General Assembly's Environment Committee. It would also require DEEP to notify the affected town's chief elected official and applicable state lawmakers about the commissioner's intent to create a park. They'd also be notified about the hearing where plans would be presented, including how the park would be funded.

"I think people need to understand what the cost of that is. It can't just be, 'We're having a park.' And then $200 million later, we have a park," Formica said.

While he believes his legislation is likely too late for the Seaside project, Formica said the public should have an opportunity to learn more and weigh in on the state's plans for any new park, including the costs and intent of the project. Upscale condominiums, a hotel and public waterfront access had been planned for the 32-acre parcel in Waterford along Long Island Sound until Malloy's announcement that the state was terminating its contract with the private developer and pushing ahead with a park.

In a recent interview, Susan Whalen, a deputy commissioner at DEEP, said the final decision about making Seaside into a public park and the type of park it would become lies with DEEP, in collaboration with the governor's office and the Office of Policy and Management. The state agencies would receive guidance from the private consultants they are working with, who are examining the property and gathering public comment.

"Ultimately, this is state property," said Whalen, adding how DEEP is statutorily empowered to protect open space in Connecticut.

Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward, a Republican, said he did not know about Malloy's public announcement about the park until a couple hours earlier from a reporter. He has sent a letter to Whalen, urging DEEP to consider a public-private arrangement such as the one proposed by the private developer, Mark Steiner, who contends his contract termination was illegal.