Senate puts Coltsville on verge of national park status

Washington – The Senate voted 85-14 Thursday to clear a procedural hurdle that was holding back final approval of a massive defense bill that would turn Hartford’s Coltsville neighborhood into a national park.

Only 60 votes were needed to stop debate on the bill, which had been blocked by conservative Republican senators who objected to including a federal lands package in a defense bill. The lands package includes the provision designating Coltsville a national park.

The lopsided vote means the $577 defense bill is likely to be easily approved by the Senate Friday, when only a simple majority will be needed to pass the legislation. Since the House approved the defense bill last week, the years-long effort to turn Coltsville into a national park is on the verge of success.

“It’s about as close to a done deal as it gets around here,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “With all the talk about disfunction and gridlock, we’re getting something done that can be seen from I-95.”

The Coltsville legislation has been championed by Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, since 2008 and supported by the entire Connecticut congressional delegation. The only national park in Connecticut right now is Weir Farm, the summer home of painter Julian Alden Weir in Branchville.

The bill would also rename the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor in northeast Connecticut as “The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor”

Ironically, the senator who had tried to block the defense bill because he objected to the lands package, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., gave his retirement speech after the vote, warning his colleagues those would not be the last words from him “because I have some adamant opposition to some of the things we’ve been doing.”

“It’s nice to be able to do things for your state but that isn’t our charge,” Coburn said. “Our charge is to defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Before the vote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., alluded to Coburn, saying the Senate had been subjected to “a permanent wrecking crew led by one person.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also objected to the lands package, but failed to enlist many GOP colleagues.

“Usually, I prefer to keep defense authorization bills as clean as we can,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “But there have been a lot of problems with lands over the years.”

Congress has not approved a lands bill since 2009. In addition to authorizing the Pentagon’s programs for a year – and approving billions of dollars to spend on Connecticut’s defense industry next year, the bill it would create 14 new national parks besides Coltsville, mandate studies for eight more and designate hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness.

Efforts have been going on for years to turn the 260-acre site on the bank of the Connecticut River into a national park memorializing the iconic Colt Armory complex as one of the cradles of the American industrial revolution. The armory run by Sam and Elizabeth Colt was a pioneer in precision manufacturing and industrial production.

The Coltsville park boundaries would include the complex of 19th century factories; the Colt residence, called Armsmear; the Church of the Good Shepherd; Colt Park; the Potsdam cottages; and the James Colt House.

The site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2008.

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