Attorney General: Philip E. Austin, University of Connecticut, 2000-032 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

November 29, 2000

Philip E. Austin
President
University of Connecticut
352 Mansfield Road
U-48
Storrs, CT 06269

Dear President Austin:

Watershed lands are among Connecticut’s most precious natural resources -- a legacy for future generations that we have a responsibility to preserve and protect. Besides their vital role in protecting the purity of the state’s water supplies, the natural beauty of these lands, undisturbed and tranquil, provides a refuge and respite from development and commercialism. These pristine lands are irreplaceable; once developed they are forever lost.

For these reasons, almost 25 years ago the Connecticut legislature took direct and significant action to stop the loss of these lands, setting forth a primary policy and objective to preserve and conserve watershed land as open space. The State’s policy was embodied in a moratorium on utility company land sales, a land classification system and a requirement of prior notification of proposed land sales to the State, municipalities and private conservation groups, providing them with a first option to purchase such property. Twice, this system was successfully defended against constitutional attack, all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The State’s commitment to these lands has been consistently renewed yearly through significant appropriations made by the Connecticut legislature for their purchase and preservation.

As part of the program known as UConn 2000, a vital component of the State’s commitment to higher education, the University of Connecticut has undertaken development and expansion of its campus to increase and enhance the educational opportunities that the University offers. This extremely important program has involved development of watershed land where the University is situated. As a consequence of the continuation of the UConn 2000 program, you have asked the Department of Public Health and this office whether, as a matter of law, the University is a “water company” as that term is defined in the General Statutes, subjecting the University’s watershed land to the statutory protections and restrictions imposed on private utility companies.

According to the plain language of the law, the University is not a “water company” within the narrow definition contained in the statute, that is, for purposes of the State’s watershed land development restrictions. A clear and long settled principle of law provides that the State is not subject to a statutory requirement or responsibility unless there is a specific reference to the State or its agencies in the statute. State v. Shelton, 47 Conn. 400 (1879); Charter Communications Entertainment v. University of Connecticut, 2000 Conn. Super. LEXIS 770. In this case, the definition of “water company” set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 25-32a does not specifically refer to the State or its agencies and it is, therefore, inapplicable to them. In contradistinction, the State is specifically referenced in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 25-32(a), as amended by Public Act 00-90, subjecting the University to the State’s regulation of the purity and adequacy of the water that it supplies to its students.

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. I am confident that these significant state policies, designed to further both education and the environment, can be harmonized for the benefit of all Connecticut citizens. Indeed, protecting natural resources -- watershed areas specifically and the environment generally -- can enhance your educational mission by setting a good example of advancing the spirit of the law, as well as complying with its letter.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL


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