Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon council debates hunting rights in Talcottville Gorge

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 12:35 PM EST

VERNON — Chaos reigned at the Town Council’s meeting Tuesday when the mayor left without explanation, two Republicans walked out over a debate about hunting rights in the Talcottville Gorge, and a third walked out not long after, effectively ending council business for the evening for lack of a quorum.

After kicking off the evening with a series of proclamations, Mayor Jason L. McCoy abruptly left Tuesday’s council meeting and never returned.

He offered no apology or reason for his absence before exiting council chambers and left Deputy Mayor Brian Motola in charge of the meeting for the rest of the night.

In the council chambers, Motola had his hands full when it came time to a vote on whether the town should contribute $5,000 to the Northern Connecticut Land Trust for the transfer of the 20-acre gorge property.

Land trust Director Gail P. Faherty of Vernon and Treasurer Jim Gage of Ellington explained to the council that though Talcott had agreed to donate the property, the trust is facing $10,000 in related expenses, including survey costs, trail upgrades, and legal fees.

They agreed to raise $5,000 to cover half of the financial responsibility, if the town would help out with the other share.

Despite its status as private property, the Talcottville Gorge, which is tucked between Interstate 84 and the Hop River State Park hiking trail, has long been used by residents for hiking, bird watching, and other passive recreational activities.

Under the conservation of the land trust, the gorge would be maintained as passive open space and residents could walk its trails without fear of trespassing.

But some council members weren’t willing to give up the $5,000 without certain assurances about its use.

“It’s unfair to take money from taxpayers, some of whom are hunters, and to give it to an anti-hunting organization for them to use to buy land, which we know they’re going to remove from hunting,” Republican council member Bill Campbell said today.

Faherty and Gage confirmed that the trust does not generally allow hunting on its properties, and the only exception would be if a donor wanted to will lifetime hunting rights to a certain individual.

Campbell argued that hunters should have the same freedom to use the land, within the boundaries of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s regulations, as any other resident who may want to pursue a recreational activity there.

Fellow Republican Daniel Anderson agreed that because hunters are taxpayers, and the $5,000 represented taxpayer dollars, hunters’ rights must be addressed within the agreement.

But other council members, including Democrats Marie Herbst and Michael Winkler, said they doubted the 20-acre strip of land, flanked by roads, homes, and hiking trails, would be suitable or safe for hunting.

“I personally wouldn’t want hunting where there are hiking trails being used,” Winkler said.

Herbst said today that she objected to Campbell’s efforts to paint his opponents as anti-hunting and accused him of confusing the issue, which was essentially a simple budget transfer of funds.

“He was not in line with what was being presented that night,” Herbst said.

Unaffiliated council member James Krupienski emphasized that the town does not own the property, the town will not own the property, and therefore the town cannot dictate allowable uses there.

“Basically what I was looking for was a commitment from the land trust that they wouldn’t prohibit otherwise legal hunting on that property. They wouldn’t make that commitment,” Campbell said.

He also said Faherty and Gage should have brought a lawyer to the meeting and were unprepared for questions.

When his amendment to allow hunting on the property was voted down, Campbell and Anderson immediately walked out of the meeting in protest.

The $5,000 transfer was then unanimously approved by a vote of 7-0.

Council members Judy Hany, Harry Thomas, and Sean O’Shea were absent from Tuesday’s meeting, and after Campbell and Anderson’s departure, only Herbst, Winkler, Krupienski, Motola, Mark Etre, Pauline Schaefer, and Daniel Champagne remained.

After the vote on the land trust, Krupienski attempted to discuss the legal opinion of Board of Education lawyer Fred Dorsey about the hiring of Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans to take over maintenance of the schools.

But Etre objected to the discussion and told the council he would leave if it continued.

Motola reminded Etre that Krupienski had the floor, prompting Etre to walk out of the meeting, leaving the remaining members without a quorum.

The council then was forced to abandon not only the discussion, but two further executive session items, and could not even legally vote to adjourn the meeting.

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