Murphy visits Coogan Farm to promote tax break bill

By:  Judy Benson
The Day

Mystic — Sen. Chris Murphy toured the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center’s Coogan Farm on Friday morning to highlight the role of federal tax incentives in making more land conservation projects possible.

“The conservation easement deduction is an inventive way to keep farmland as farmland, and take the pressure off of farmers to sell their land for development,” Murphy said after seeing renovations underway at the historic farmhouse on the property and learning about the 30,000-square-foot Giving Garden, where vegetables are raised for donation to a local food pantry.

Murphy is co-sponsor of a bill to make conservation easement tax incentives permanent. Congress, which has not yet taken up the bill, has repeatedly let the tax incentives program expire, and then retroactively extended it, he said.

“It’s a really important tool that needs to be permanent, so people can plan and have the confidence that it will be there,” he said.

The nature center worked with the Trust for Public Land to raise $4.1 million in public and private funds to purchase the 45-acre farm in 2013.

While the conservation easement tax incentives were not used in the purchase, the preservation of the Coogan Farm is an important example of the value of saving land from development, Murphy said.

“What were the alternatives for this land if you had not bought it?” he asked Maggie Jones, executive director of the nature center.

A hotel and condominiums were among the proposals, she said.

With the tax credit program, land trusts and other groups can purchase development rights from a farm to ensure the land stays in agriculture, Murphy said.

Land trusts or other groups "get the tax credit for the money they spend on purchasing the development rights, and the farmer gets the benefit of the payment,” Murphy said.

The program is needed to preserve and expand farmland in the state, he said.

“We simply need more land in farming in Connecticut,” Murphy said.

After touring the property, Murphy asked Jones how much more needs to be raised to complete the projects at the farm, including converting the historical farmhouse into an education center, and creating outdoor classrooms and gathering areas for school groups.

“We have to raise about $500,000 more to finish out the projects,” Jones said.

Murphy pledged to have his staff research federal grants that might be available to fund the various projects at the farm, which preserves open space, wildlife habitat and historical assets while also providing educational opportunities and fresh food for the needy.