Scouts Choose Their Own Board Member Over Conservationists

Clark Judge, April 5 2022

Optimism for the protection and preservation of the Deer Lake Scout Reservation as open space sank Monday when its owner – the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America – rejected an offer to keep the 255-acre property out of the hands of a private developer.

The decision was made with no negotiation or counter-offer, said Ted Langevin. He’s the chairman of Pathfinders, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Deer Lake as green space. He made an offer last week that he considered competitive with a $4.625-million proposal made in February by Fortitude Capital LLC and that the Council conditionally accepted – with the condition that “superior offers” could be made by a March 31 deadline. Langevin expected to hear a response late last week but was not contacted by the Council’s real-estate representative until Monday.

What he heard was troubling. The Council, he was told, had voted not to accept it.

“The offer was rejected without an awful lot of feedback,” Langevin said, “and Pathfinders will be meeting to formulate a response. I am disappointed that the Scouts were not able to work with us more closely and hope that we will be able to meet their requirements to purchase the property.”

The Council’s move comes after an aggressive last-minute fundraising campaign produced Pathfinders’ proposal hours before the March 31 deadline (since moved to May 1). It is not known what that deal was, but Langevin felt so comfortable with it then that he said, “We consider it a superior offer.”

Apparently, the Boy Scouts did not.

“We’ve encouraged our realtor to work with the Pathfinders,” said a Council spokesperson, “and any other interested party to submit a superior offer until May.”

“I’m totally disheartened,” said Killingworth First Selectwoman Nancy Gorski. “We have a situation here where the Boy Scouts’ mission is conservation, yet they’re not even acknowledging what’s happening here. They’re just going to go forward with this offer to develop.”

Not so fast.

There is, as mentioned, a May 1 deadline. That was not self-imposed by the Boy Scouts or its Connecticut Yankee Council. It was imposed by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong in cooperation with the Council while, according to a prepared statement, he reviews “questions regarding the legal status and sale of the property.”

One of those questions could be the involvement of Fortitude Capital’s founder and CEO Margaret Streicker. She not only is the highest bidder for the property, nearly doubling an offer of $2.4 million made in February by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a nonprofit whose mission is to “create parks and protect land for people;” she is one of 42 members of the Connecticut Yankee Council’s Board of Directors.

But she’s more than that. She sits on its Executive Board.

“That is more than messy,” said a local attorney. “That is irresponsible.”

In an interview with the New Haven Register last weekend, Streicker insisted that it’s not; that she recused herself from all Council meetings and discussions of the Deer Lake sale to avoid a possible conflict of interest. However, in conversations with various attorneys, political figures and conservation advocates, they are more than skeptical and invited Tong to dig into possible wrongdoing.

In fact, one conservation organization reached out Monday to Tong’s office, raising its concern about a conflict of interest.

“It seems to me,” a spokesperson said, “this should raise the ire of the Attorney General.”

Streicker seems unconcerned. In her interview with the Register, she called on the state Attorney General’s office, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Gov. Ned Lamont “to put their money where their mouth is and actually raise the offer of the Boy Scouts” – a comment that drew widespread criticism (one individual called it “political baiting”) for its lack of understanding a political process that can, at times, move at a glacial pace.

“The speed at which this needs to move,” said one lawmaker, “is not the way this process works when it comes to state and federal funding. There’s a window with which to apply for grants and to receive them, and they’re not there right now. We’re still hard at work on this, and I know the state … given the time … could help make this a true treasure for its residents. But it’s really a matter of time. We need leeway way to get this done.”

In other words, that won’t happen before May 1.

Then there’s the matter of fair-market value for Deer Lake. When TPL had the property assessed, its figure was $2-2.4 million. The Boy Scouts’ appraisal, done as part of a national inventory of Scouts’ properties related to bankruptcy proceedings, was considerably higher at $3.7-4.2 million. Until Pathfinders joined the bidding last week, they were the only two parties that made offers – with TPL, handcuffed by fair-market value, at $2.4 million and Fortitude Capital at $4.625 million.

With Streicker seemingly on the verge of acquiring the deal, she drove to Killingworth last Tuesday to confer privately with Gorski. During a 50-minute meeting, she indicated what the First Selectwoman termed as her “intentions” with Deer Lake, but neither would divulge the contents of that conversation.

However, Streicker’s appearance two days in advance of what was then the Council’s deadline seemed to indicate confidence in acquiring the property.

One day later, that changed when Pathfinders’ made its offer, and the deadline was pushed back a month. Now it’s the confidence of local conservationists, preservationists, advocacy groups and, frankly, Killingworth’s Town Hall that has been disturbed. But it’s more than that. It’s disappointment and anger.

Where last week they believed the Connecticut Yankee Council might be receptive to Pathfinders’ offer and that Deer Lake could be protected in perpetuity as green space, today they’re not so sure.

What is certain is that the story won’t go away. What once was a local issue now has statewide and national attention. The Hartford Courant ran it on its front page. It led an Associated Press story last month on the sale of Boy Scouts’ properties. And on Monday, Gorski and Langevin were asked to join National Public Radio for an interview.

“It takes a partnership to put all of this together,” said state Rep. Christine Goupil. “You would think one nonprofit to another would be trying to do what is in the best interests of their charter or by-laws or whatever it is they follow for the general public. That generally is the interest of the nonprofit: The collective. Whatever happened to the collective?”