As we do each year, CLCC will advocate for consistent and increased funding for state land conservation funding programs during the 2021 legislative session.
A mainstay for local land conservation efforts, the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program (OSWA) provides financial assistance to land trusts, municipalities, and water companies to help acquire and protect open space and create urban green and community gardens. Since 1998, the OSWA program has leveraged millions of matching municipal, federal, and private dollars to support 575-plus projects protecting over 36,000 acres. The program is funded by state bonds and also by the Community Investment Act—a dedicated account set up outside the budget, with revenue from a $40 surcharge on local real estate recording fees.
The OSWA program also includes the Urban Green and Community Garden Grant Program. Funded exclusively by the CIA, the matching grants program provides financial assistance to targeted investment and/or distressed communities to fund community garden and greenspace development projects.
The land conservation community is looking forward to the announcement of the 2020 OSWA and UGCG awards and a new 2021 grant round. With the program seeing record numbers of applications, revenue from the CIA and the release of additional bonding will be essential to funding not only the current awards but also to ensure the ongoing viability of both programs.
The Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust funds DEEP’s priorities for open space acquisition. Funded exclusively by bonding, RNHT has enabled the state to conserve over 49,000 acres since 1986. Like the towns, land trusts, and water companies with which it partners, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also has a list of properties in the queue for which it seeks funding for conservation, recreation, and agriculture. Without an infusion of bond funds, many of the properties may be lost forever to development.
Additional bonding is also needed for CT DEEP’s Recreational Trails & Greenways Program, which provides financial assistance for a wide variety of municipal and nonprofit recreational trail development and acquisition projects around the state. As a matching grant program, it also leverages investments into important community projects from public and private sources.
Strong advocacy and active participation by land trusts and other grassroots partners will continue to be essential to our success in protecting and enhancing these essential programs in the upcoming legislative session.