Connecticut's state park system is going to be impacted by the state's major fiscal problems, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy warned environmental activists Tuesday.
"Real decisions have to be made about what we can and can't afford," Malloy told environmentalists attending a Connecticut League of Conservation Voters conference. "There are going to have to be some compromises." But Malloy insisted Connecticut is "not going to lose the crown jewels" of the park system. Malloy's administration and the General Assembly are facing a projected $1.4 billion deficit, and activists who were at Tuesday's conference were clearly worried about what kind of changes that would bring to the state parks.The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is already refusing to take camping reservations for the spring and fall at the most popular camping sites, fearful the agency won't have enough staff because of the budget crisis. This past summer, the state's fiscal troubles forced cutbacks in lifeguards at some state park swimming areas and maintenance staff reductions. Malloy said more cuts could be on the way, saying park hours might again be reduced and that some park buildings and facilities might need to be closed. But the governor insisted that environmental programs are "one of our most protected items" when budget decisions are being made. Malloy said he is proud of his push to expand the park system by designating the former Seaside tuberculosis sanatorium in Waterford as a new shoreline state park. Malloy also defended his support for bringing more natural gas and natural gas-fired power plants into Connecticut. His administration is now struggling to come up with a revised energy strategy in the wake of decisions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire that blocked financing for multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline projects. The governor dismissed a recent report by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey that New England doesn't need access to more natural gas to solve its energy problems. Healey's study concluded that the region's energy issues can be solved through conservation and renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. Malloy said he respects Healey, but, "She happens to be wrong." He said the report didn't adequately account for the loss of generating capacity in the region as older power plants are shut down. The governor also said he wants Connecticut and New England to have more access to hydropower from Canada. A proposal to build a major transmission line from Canada through the White Mountains of New Hampshire has triggered massive opposition in that state.