Senate Bill No. 1178

Public Act No. 99-58

An Act Implementing Recommendations of the Program Review and Investigations Committee Regarding Open Space Acquisition.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

Section 7-131e of the general statutes is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof:

(a) Grant award decisions under the program established under section 7-131d shall be made by the Commissioner of Environmental Protection at least semiannually. All complete and eligible grant applications shall be acted upon by the commissioner as soon as practicable. A single project may receive a grant in more than one grant cycle, subject to future availability of funds and subject to the limitations set forth in this section and sections 23-78, 12-498 and 7-131d. Up to two per cent of the grant funds may be used for administrative expenses including, but not limited to: (1) Contractors to assist the Department of Environmental Protection in the review and evaluation of grant proposals and baseline data collection for conservation easements; (2) appraisals or appraisal reviews; and (3) preparation of legal and other documents. Administrative expenses may not be used for staff salaries. Not later than September 1, 1998, the commissioner shall develop written guidelines and a ranking system for consistency and equity in the distribution of grant awards under this program based on the criteria listed in subsections (b) and (c) of section 7-131d. Consistent with such criteria, additional consideration shall be given to: (A) Protection of lands adjacent to and complementary to adjacent protected open space land or class I or class II water company lands; (B) equitable geographic distribution of the grants; (C) proximity of a property to urban areas with growth and development pressures or to areas with open space deficiencies and underserved populations; (D) protection of land particularly vulnerable to development incompatible with its natural resource values including the protection of a public water supply source; (E) consistency with the state's plan of conservation and development; (F) multiple protection elements, such as water quality and supply protection, scenic preservation and farmland preservation; (G) the extent to which the presence of already constructed buildings or other manmade improvements diminish or overshadow the natural resource value of a proposed acquisition, or its value relative to its cost; and (H) preservation of forest lands and bodies of water which naturally absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide.

(b) There is established a natural heritage, open space and watershed land acquisition review board to assist and advise the commissioner in carrying out the provisions of sections 7-131d to 7-131g, inclusive, and sections 23-73 to 23-79, inclusive. Upon establishment of the review board and selection of a chairman under this section, the review board (1) shall provide comments on selection criteria, policies and procedures; (2) shall promote public participation; and (3) shall provide guidance and conduct review of strategies for land protection, including strategies under section 23-8; (4) shall review and evaluate grant award policies and procedures; and (5) may provide comments on any application for funds not later than forty-five days after such application is submitted to the chairman. Upon establishment of the board, the commissioner shall take such comments into consideration in making any decisions regarding such grants.

(c) The review board shall consist of twenty-one members as follows: (1) The chairpersons and ranking members of the bonding subcommittee of the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to finance, revenue and bonding; (2) one member of the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to the environment, appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives, and one member of the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to planning and development, appointed by the president pro tempore of the Senate, each of whom shall be ex-officio members of the board; (3) the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, or his designee; (4) a representative of the business community and a person experienced in issues relating to access to public facilities by persons with disabilities, appointed by the Governor; (5) one representative from an investor-owned water utility, appointed by the minority leader of the Senate; (6) one representative from a municipal water utility, appointed by the minority leader of the House of Representatives; (7) one representative from a regional water utility, appointed by the minority leader of the Senate; (8) one representative who is a realtor or attorney with a minimum of five years experience in real estate transfers, appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives; one representative with a minimum of five years experience in the construction industry or land development, appointed by the president pro tempore of the Senate; (9) two representatives of interest groups primarily concerned with the conservation of river watershed regions, appointed one each by the majority leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate; (10) three representatives from nonprofit organizations primarily concerned with environmental protection or natural resource conservation with a minimum of five years experience in land conservation and acquisition, appointed one each by the Governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate; and (11) one chief elected official of a town with a population less than twenty thousand and one chief elected official of a town with a population greater than twenty thousand, appointed by the Governor. The members, other than the members described in subdivisions (1), (2) and (3) of this subsection, shall serve terms of three years provided the terms of the members described in subdivisions (4) to (8), inclusive, of this subsection who are appointed in the year after July 1, 1998, shall expire on October 1, 1999, and further provided the terms of the members described in subdivisions (9) to (11), inclusive, of this subsection shall expire on October 1, 2000. The board shall elect a chairman from among its members and shall make such election on or before October 1, 1998. Members of the board shall serve until reappointed or replaced.

(d) Annually, on or before February fifteenth, the board shall submit a report regarding grant awards made in the previous calendar year and any findings and recommendations regarding the open space and watershed land acquisition program and the recreation and natural heritage trust program established under section 23-73 to the General Assembly.

(e) There is established an open space and watershed land acquisition account within the General Fund which shall consist of any funds required or allowed by law to be deposited into the account including, but not limited to, gifts or donations received for the purposes of section 7-131d. Investment earnings credited to the assets of the account shall become part of the assets of the account. Any balance remaining in the account at the end of any fiscal year shall be carried forward in the account for the fiscal year next succeeding. Payments from the account shall be made upon authorization by the Commissioner of Environmental Protection. Neither the proceeds of any general obligation bonds of the state nor the investment earnings of any such proceeds shall be deposited in the account. The Commissioner of Environmental Protection may use funds in the account for purposes of section 7-131d.

Approved May 27, 1999

TOP