OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 6660

AN ACT AUTHORIZING BONDS OF THE STATE FOR VARIOUS STATE GRANT PROGRAMS AND CONCERNING THE FACE OF CONNECTICUT STEERING COMMITTEE.

SUMMARY:

This bill authorizes a $ 12. 5 million increase in bonds for the state's farmland preservation program and $ 42. 5 million in new bonds for existing Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) land preservation and remediation programs. It also establishes several requirements for the existing Face of Connecticut Steering Committee.

EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage, except for the new bond authorization for DEP and DECD programs, which is effective July 1, 2009.

FARMLAND PRESERVATION

The bill authorizes a bond increase for the state's Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program for farmland (see BACKGROUND). By law, the State Bond Commission may from time to time authorize General Obligation (GO) bonds up to $ 117,750,000 for the program. The bill increases the amount by $ 12. 5 million to $ 130,250,000.

NEW GO BONDS FOR LAND PRESERVATION

The bill authorizes $ 42. 5 million in GO bonds to be used as follows:

1. $ 7. 5 million to DEP for the open space and watershed land acquisition program (see BACKGROUND);

2. $ 7. 5 million to DEP for the recreation and natural heritage trust program (see BACKGROUND);

3. $ 7. 5 million to DECD for brownfields remediation and redevelopment; and

4. $ 20 million to the Face of Connecticut account to be expended by DEP as the Face of Connecticut Steering Committee directs for historic preservation, brownfields remediation, and farmland and open space preservation.

FACE OF CONNECTICUT STEERING COMMITTEE

The bill also requires the Face of Connecticut Steering Committee to:

1. submit a report by January 1, 2010 detailing specific goals of current state programs concerning farmland preservation, open space preservation, brownfield remediation, historic preservation, and the obstacles to achieving these goals to the Office of Policy and Management and Environment and Commerce committees;

2. create a grant program for mixed-use preservation;

3. develop eligibility criteria for smart growth funding and make a prioritized list of recommendations for smart growth projects to the General Assembly; and

4. annually report to the General Assembly on the projects the committee funded.

BACKGROUND

Agricultural Land Preservation - Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Program

The agricultural land PDR Program is the state's primary farmland preservation tool and is administered by the Department of Agriculture (DOAG).  Farmers may apply to the program through the DOAG, which evaluates applications according to regulatory criteria.  The program's primary goal is to preserve farmland containing a high percentage of prime farmland soils in established farm communities.

DEP's Land Preservation Programs

Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program. DEP administers this land preservation program. To be eligible for funding, the land must be:

1. valuable for recreation, forestry, fishing, conservation of wildlife, or natural resources;

2. a prime natural feature of the state's landscape;

3. a habitat for native plants or animals listed as threatened, endangered, or of special concern;

4. a relatively undisturbed and outstanding example of an uncommon native ecological community;

5. important for enhancing and conserving water quality;

6. valuable for preserving local agricultural heritage; or

7. eligible for class I or class II watershed land classification.

Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program. This program's goal is to acquire land for public use that:

1. represents the ecological diversity of Connecticut and to preserve and conserve it for recreational, scientific, educational, cultural, and aesthetic purposes;

2. is of unusual natural interest as additions to the state parks, forests, wildlife systems, and fishery management areas;  and

3. is essential habitat for endangered and threatened species.

The program also aims to offset carbon dioxide by preserving lands that naturally absorb it.  The law establishes a stewardship account for the maintenance, protection, and management of lands acquired.

Face of Connecticut Steering Committee

PA 08-174 created the steering committee to oversee how the Face of Connecticut Account funds are used; it is a 15-member committee within the DEP for administrative purposes only.

The Face of Connecticut Steering Committee consists of the DEP and DOAG commissioners, the DECD commissioner or her designee, the executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, the Office of Policy and Management secretary, and 10 other appointed members representing different organizations.

The Face of Connecticut Account is a separate, non-lapsing General Fund account for acquiring, restoring, and maintaining open space, urban parks, farmland, and historic resources. It exists to acquire, restore, or manage specific types of property. The account can be used to fund these activities if doing so conserves open space, renovates or enhances urban parks, preserves active agricultural land, or restores historic assets.

Related Bills

sHB 1082, favorably reported by the Environment Committee, requires the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board to review any state-owned agricultural land, excluding DEP land, to evaluate permanent preservation methods and make recommendations for further preservation action. The board must submit its recommendations to the DOAG commissioner and the Environment Committee no later than January 15, 2010. By law, the 12-member board helps the agriculture department with its purchase of development rights program and other efforts to preserve agricultural lands.  

COMMITTEE ACTION

Environment Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

30

Nay

0

(03/20/2009)