CFE Co-launches Save Oswegatchie Hills Coalition to Protect Fragile Forest from Ill-conceived Development
Save the River-Save the Hills and the Friends of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve unite with statewide group in fight for the forest
New Haven, Conn.—Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE), Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve (Friends), and Save the River-Save the Hills (STR-STH) have launched the Save Oswegatchie Hills Coalition to protect 236 undeveloped acres of forest, wetland, and Niantic River shoreline adjoining the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve in East Lyme. The creation of the coalition formalizes the groups’ partnership and provides an opportunity for organizations and citizens across the state to join the fight.
The southeastern Connecticut parcel drains to the Niantic River, a coastal estuary feeding into Long Island Sound. Despite shallow soils, steep ravines, and legally-protected vernal pools and wetlands throughout the terrain, the privately owned Hills have attracted numerous development proposals, which the Friends and STR-STH have opposed. The current owner of the 236-acre parcel, Landmark Development, LLC, has proposed high-density housing on the top ridge of the rocky landscape.
“These dedicated local organizations have been steadfastly fighting ill-conceived development proposals on these hills and wetlands for many years,” said Don Strait, president of CFE and its bi-state program Save the Sound. “An unbroken, fully-protected Oswegatchie Hills is critical to the entire region, coastal ecology, and the health of Long Island Sound. It’s time that we all stand united to speak up for this natural treasure. Saving important lands is difficult, but we’ve proven that when our community bands together, we can win big preservation victories. Last year, a 10-year coalition effort of determined local groups and statewide organizations secured permanent protection for the 1,000-acre forest in Old Saybrook. We’re looking forward to working alongside the Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve and Save the Rivers-Save the Hills to achieve the same success in Oswegatchie.”
Oswegatchie Hills, one of the few remaining large stretches of undeveloped and unprotected coastal waterfront land in the state, has been classified as open space and conservation land in the Town of East Lyme’s Plan of Conservation and Development since 1968. Concerned citizens formed the Friends and STR-STH organizations soon after proposals for a golf course community and high-density housing surfaced in 1999.
The most recent proposal from Landmark is for high-density housing that would place 840 housing units and over 1,700 parking spaces on 36 acres of land. In March 2015, CFE formally challenged the development proposal and became an intervenor in the ongoing litigation brought against the Town of East Lyme.
“CFE’s state-wide presence, credibility, and track record give us renewed energy to save this last large parcel of undeveloped open space,” said Kris Lambert, president of the Friends. “With their expertise, we continue to show that the best use of this land is preservation, not development.” The volunteer-based Friends organization coordinates stewardship of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve with the town and the East Lyme Land Conservation Trust, including trail maintenance, erosion control, and invasive species control. Since its founding, the Nature Preserve has grown through the donation and acquisition of land and conservation easements and now totals 457 acres, comprising the southern two-thirds of the Hills. The coalition aims for the remaining 236 acres to be added to the Nature Preserve.
“Multiple conservation organizations and many individuals have told us, over the years, that they support our cause, but until now we haven’t had the means of bringing broader attention to our battle,” said Fred Grimsey, founder and president of STR-STH. “This coalition shows that we are a unified front of people and organizations who want to see the remaining Oswegatchie Hills preserved, not developed.”
Coalition outreach efforts include community presentations, emails and newsletters, and a Save Oswegatchie Hills Coalition section on CFE’s website, where conservation supporters can receive regular updates.
For more information and to schedule a presentation for groups, contact Suzanne Thompson, Save Oswegatchie Hills Coalition Coordinator, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, firstname.lastname@example.org, (203)-787-0646, ext. 114.