GROTON –The Groton Open Space Association has been awarded a $650,000 matching grant toward purchase of the 75-acre Merritt Property in Groton.
Announcement of the award was made April 8, 2003, in a ceremony at Lyme presided over by Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Arthur J. Rocque, Jr. The award was the second largest, after the $675,000 awarded to Lyme, of the 22 grants announced at the ceremony. State open space grants announced April 7 and April 8 totaled $7.8 million, covering 2,100 acres.
GOSA, under President Priscilla W. Pratt, has conducted a two-year campaign to save the Merritt Property from becoming a housing development.
Commenting on the grant, Mrs. Pratt said: “GOSA is extremely grateful for the support given us by the state in our efforts to preserve this vital open space area. We now turn to our fellow citizens for their support as we launch a major public fund drive to raise the balance of the $1 million purchase price. Our goal is $350,000.
“Not only will this open space be a keystone in Groton’s greenbelt system, it will also be taxpayer friendly. It is an established fact that housing developments do not pay for themselves, but increase the tax burden by requiring increased educational and general services for the town. Preserving the Merritt Property will be a tax-saving measure, as well as providing all public benefits of open space. Further information can be obtained by writing GOSA at PO Box 9187, Groton, CT 06340-9187, or phoning Edith Fairgrieve, Finance Chairman, at 536-8218.”
The state’s announcement said: “This [Merritt] parcel adds acreage to 1,500 acres of greenway that includes two State Parks. A section of the property has not been logged in over 130 years (Mature Forest). The property also includes vernal pools, two Class A streams (Eccleston Brook) and various types of wildlife habitat (wetland, stream valley, and interior forest) including habitat of two species of special concern. The property has several sites of historical and archaeological significance.”
GOSA’s involvement in saving the property goes back more than two years, when the town Inland Wetlands Agency began hearings on a developer’s plan, filed in June 2000, to build 79 houses and 1.2 miles of roads on the tract. Largely due to GOSA’s opposition, the Agency scaled back the project to 52 houses before handing off the proposal to the town Planning Commission.
On Feb. 19, 2002, the Planning Commission approved the plan, after further cutting the number of houses to 48. The commission’s decision was split, with the chairman voting against the project and one member abstaining. GOSA appealed the decision. Last November, GOSA applied for the state grant to cover 65% of the anticipated cost of acquiring the land and conducted talks with F.L. Merritt Inc., the family company that owns the property. The tract has been in the Merritt family since 1868.
Throughout the struggle over the Merritt Property, GOSA has spent thousands of dollars on legal and scientific consultation fees to help bolster its case that development would not be right to this tract. GOSA drew on countless hours of work by volunteers, including those with specialized knowledge of civil engineering, marine biology and law.
The Merritt Property is forested with Maple, Beech, Ash, Birch, Hickory and Oak, among other species. It is home to the Deer, Fox, Raccoon and Wild Turkey, as well as to an estimated 73 kinds of bird. The Wood Turtle and Red-Shouldered Hawk, which live on the tract, are listed as Connecticut Species of Concern. Other life on the property includes the Brown Trout, Marbled and Spotted Salamanders, Fairy Shrimp, Wood Frog, Tesselated Darter, American Eel and Blacknose Dace.
The western end of the tract was, it’s believed, the site in 1637 of the fort of the Pequot sachem Sassacus. At the eastern end, the Eccleston Brook glides toward the fertile clamming area of Palmer Cove. Flowing through the center of the parcel is an unnamed stream that joins Eccleston Brook to the south.
Terms of the state grant provide that the land shall be preserved forever as open space and shall be open to the public for appropriate uses.