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  December 11, 2000

AG's Ruling on Water System
Clears Way for Select Projects

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal last week issued a ruling advising the University that the statutory provisions the state uses to regulate water companies do not apply to UConn.

The University's water system remains subject to the oversight of the Connecticut Departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection.

As a result of the ruling, several projects on the east side of campus in the agriculture neighborhood can proceed. These projects include the horse arena, the addition to the Agricultural Biotechnology Building, improvements to the Farwell Barn, and the construction of the home being built by Chancellor John D. Petersen and his wife, Carol, on land they are leasing from the University for a fee.

The Petersens' home will be located on Gurleyville Road, a location chosen so that the chancellor will have a suitable location for hosting events and gatherings involving members of the University and surrounding communities, said President Philip E. Austin. The 4,800-square-foot, colonial-style building will have a large open area for big gatherings, a first floor that is accessible to people with disabilities and an area off the road suitable for parking.

The University is neither building nor paying for this house. Although the land is owned by the University, the building is being constructed and paid for by the Petersens themselves, and is a sign of their personal commitment to playing an active part in the life of the Storrs community, Austin said.

Other development in east campus will be done prudently and will avoid aquifer recharge areas, the areas most sensitive to development, Austin said. "Continuing to move UConn into the top ranks of the nation's public universities necessarily requires ongoing improvements. We are doing everything possible to assure that these improvements are undertaken prudently and responsibly," he added.

The University's 120-year-old main campus has developed entirely within the Willimantic and Fenton River watersheds. "Daily, UConn faces the challenge of balancing two significant public policy objectives: educating Connecticut's undergraduate and graduate students and protecting the environment in which the University is located. Successfully accomplishing both is critically important to advancing the state's economic development aspirations and sustaining its quality of life," Austin said. "Although these objectives occasionally diverge, we have and will continue to responsibly balance these interests in ways that effectively serve the public interest."

The attorney general's ruling was issued in response to a request from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which, along with the Department of Environmental Protection, oversees the adequacy and purity of UConn's water supply and aquifer protection. Blumenthal said that while UConn supplies and distributes water to the University and the north-central portion of the Town of Mansfield, it is not a water company.

"While as a legal matter the University is not subject to the panoply of valuable protections established by the state to preserve watershed property, the University should carefully consider whether each step of continuing development at the University is consistent with the state's long and firmly established statutory policy to conserve and preserve watershed and open space land," Blumenthal said.

"I am confident," he added, "that these significant state policies, designed to further both education and the environment, can be harmonized for the benefit of all Connecticut citizens."

Karen A. Grava