It is hard to imagine that the Stonington Conservation Commission could balk at a plan to permanently protect and conserve 34 acres of farmland for the creation of a new greenbelt at the entrance to Mystic, linking other open space, big tourist attractions and hotels and businesses in the vicinity.
But it does seem possible, however incredible, that the commission could throw a wrench into these laudable conservation plans.
The commission's apparent crankiness about the popular campaign to forever save Coogan Farm on Route 27, both for its cultural landmarks and open space, should worry not just Stonington residents but everyone in southeastern Connecticut.
Coogan Farm is indeed where Mystic Coast and Country meet, combining water vistas and pastoral scenes.
Preserving it for generations to come seems like a no brainer, not just for its recreational and educational opportunities and magnificent scenery but because the protected farm and the resulting walking and biking trails would become yet another attraction at ground zero for the state's tourism industry.
The land forms a green backdrop on the hillside above and north of Mystic Seaport Museum. It includes beautiful stone walls, the remains of one of the town's first homesteads, as well as a 19th-century house once owned by the Greenmans, early Mystic shipbuilders.
The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, a respected nonprofit in Stonington, has partnered with the The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation nonprofit, to develop the Coogan Farm campaign.
The groups recently signed a purchase agreement to buy 34 acres of the farm for $2.8 million, less than its appraised value. They have one year to raise the money and close on the deal.
The campaign volunteers have raised more than $300,000 in private commitments. They plan to raise a total of $2 million in grants and private gifts.
State Sen. Andrew Maynard and Rep. Diana Urban have pledged to help, and as much as $500,000 in state open space funding is being sought, according to Maggie Jones, the nature center's executive director.
The balance of the $3.5 million goal - the total includes buying the property, improvements and future stewardship - would come from $1.5 million in town bond money, which campaign officials say would cost a typical property owner less than $7 a year.
Part of the farm, 18 acres, is being sold to developers of an assisted living facility that eventually could become the second largest taxpayer in town, paying some $400,000 annually. Another 11 acres have been preserved as part of the subdivision.
Stonington First Selectman Edward Haberek has publicly signaled his support for the project.
"As the last undeveloped parcel along the Mystic River, this area could offer important economic benefits by protecting the natural amenities that contribute to Mystic's unique sense of place," Haberek said in a statement.
It seems to be the purchase price that is troubling some members of the Conservation Commission.
The commission, according to Stonington's Open Space Plan, is supposed to make a recommendation to the Planning and Zoning Commission for property to be purchased with bond money. Ultimately, the issue would have to go to a townwide vote.
A recommendation from the commission also would be helpful when applying for the state open space money.
I joined the commission for a walk on the spectacular Coogan Farm property Wednesday, after hearing that some commissioners had raised objections at an earlier meeting.
Most of the commissioners declined to talk about the property acquisition. The deputy commissioner offered to answer one single question. I took a pass on that one.
Commission Chairman Stanton Simm Jr. acknowledged that there is sentiment on the commission against the purchase, because of the price.
Simm said he would like to see Coogan Farm preserved but he believes the price is high. He says much more land in other and different parts of the town could be purchased for that amount of money.
It may be true that the Mystic land is more expensive than possible open space acquisitions in other parts of the town, but it is under much more threat of development.
Curiously, the price of acquisitions is not listed in the town's Open Space Plan as one of the principal criteria the commission is supposed to consider in making an evaluation. Instead, they are urged to look at criteria like protecting water resources, links to other open space, protecting farmland and preservation of land that contributes to the town's character.
Coogan Farm gets a perfect score on all those.
The commission is scheduled to meet May 14 to consider the Coogan Farm acquisition.
Let's hope they give it an official thumbs up.
Otherwise, they might as well rename themselves the Pave It Over Commission.
This is the opinion of David Collins.