By Elisabeth Holder – Chair of the Acquisition Committee of the Middletown Commission on Conservation & Agriculture
Since the $5-million-dollar Open Space Bond was passed by voters in 2019, about three quarters of the money has been spent to acquire properties. Middletown’s Commission on Conservation and Agriculture has been inspecting properties for sale using a 14-point criteria evaluation while balancing costs and benefits to Middletown residents. Each property was assessed using the same criteria, such as the presence of aquifers and water bodies, distance to high-density census tracts, and suitability for different kinds of recreation. Once a total score has been tallied, the properties with the highest scores were appraised, and discussions were pursued with the owners regarding possible purchase by the city. Whenever possible, grants and additional funding sources were used to offset the purchase cost.
In the last two years about 275 acres have been added to the 1,100 acres of open space in Middletown that had been preserved in previous years. This represents a 26% increase in conservation lands. Three of the four recent purchases involved properties with 74-84 acres, which advances the goal of preserving larger parcels for wildlife habitat and for passive recreation. One such property was purchased using a DEEP OSWA Grant (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant). Properties include farmland along Brush Hill Road, woodlands adjacent to the Mattabesset River, hilly areas at the southern end of South Main Street, and mixed woods and fields adjacent to Smith Park.
In addition to purchasing open space properties, up to $250,000 of the $5 million bond was designated to be used “for ecological preservation and agricultural uses”. In the first such allocation of funds, two bridges were built across small streams at the Guida Farm Conservation Area to keep the water flowing naturally by reducing the amount of debris being put into the streams by those trying to cross.
Middletown’s Commission on Conservation and Agriculture continues to look for properties for sale that would rank high in the 14-point evaluation criteria. We are also working with Middletown’s farmers who are also stewards of open space to develop an agricultural grant program. We welcome residents to contact Jim Sipperly (860 638 4593 or James.email@example.com) if they want to know more or have a property they would like to submit for open space evaluation.