Sen. Chris Murphy tours Sound, stops in Greenwich

By:  Ken Borsuk
News Times

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy used the Long island Sound as a backdrop Tuesday as he traveled from Milford to Greenwich, touring coastal areas while drumming up support for legislation he’s pushing.

“There’s a value to the sound that you can’t put a dollar amount on,” Murphy said. “Quality of life in Connecticut is directly impacted by people’s access to the water. People and businesses move to Connecticut because of this amazing natural resource. It’s a big project to protect the Sound. It doesn’t happen for free.”

Murphy met in Greenwich with members of the Greenwich Land Trust, the Conservation Commission, town Conservation Director Denise Savageau and Shellfish Commission Chairman Roger Bowgen while promoting The Long Island Sound Stewardship Act and a permanent tax break for people who donate land for conservation.

In the Senate, he is working with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Greenwich resident, as well as U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillebrand of New York. The act authorizes $65 million a year to improve water quality and coastal management. Many of the programs it authorizes are already in the federal budget but at a lower funding level.

“The sound has an enormous economic benefit to the state, in the neighborhood of $20 billion a year,” Murphy said. “If you don’t protect the sound that economic payoff disappears. The lobster industry is a perfect example of that. We failed to protect the sound. We let the water temperature increase and the toxicity spiked and the lobsters all died off. We lost $100 million in our economy almost overnight.”

The Greenwich Land Trust protects close to 700 acres in town as open space. It owns 500 of those acres and has the other 200 under permanent easements.

The land trust relies on tax breaks to get people to sell or donate land as open space. Murphy said he is a co-sponsor of legislation that would make permanent a federal tax break incentive for individuals and families donating land for conservation.

The tax break is currently a program that needs to be renewed every year. By making it permanent or extending it for five or 10 years in one vote, Murphy said he believed it would become an incentive for more people to donate land instead of selling it.

“That’s part of why I’m here,” Murphy said. “We’re trying to develop awareness of how much of a difference that conservation easement deduction can make.”

Trust Executive Director Virginia Gwynn said she hoped the land trust legislation would remain a priority.

“If we could start to do that along the sound and along the rivers it could make a big difference to the health of Long Island Sound,” Gwynn said. “If people had more favorable tax conditions for making that kind of donation, it would make a difference.”