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Legislation authorizing a study of gravel mining on watershed land owned by the New Britain Water Company appeared to fail Monday night in the House of Representatives, a victory for an environmentalist, Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford.

But Mushinsky, who has served longer than any other House member, knew better than to celebrate when the leadership failed to announce the vote. The machine stayed open, a few votes flipped and a tally was announced. A bill sought by New Britain and surrounding towns passed, 73 to 70.

“I actually had the votes to kill it, and they held the machine open. And they started flipping people. It was going down,” Mushinsky said.

The near-defeat was a surprise, given that the measure had passed the Senate unanimously with the blessing of major environmental groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters and the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut.

The environmental groups opposed the original legislation, which would have authorized the water company to lease 131 acres of land it owns in Plainville to Tilcon for a stone and gravel quarry, whose excavation eventually would produce a major new reservoir.

Rep. Mary Mushinsky
Rep. Mary Mushinsky

They dropped their opposition after the legislation was rewritten to require New Britain to commission an independent study of the project. Two state environmental groups, the Water Planning Council and the Council on Environmental Quality, must approve the party conducting the study.

New Britain would have to hold a public hearing on the report, and the findings would be reported to the legislature’s Environment and Public Health committees.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and officials in nearby towns of Southington and Plainville sought the authorization for leasing the land. Tilcon would close a quarry closer to a residential neighborhood and donate 275 acres of open space.

Mushinsky said she opposed the study as a first step toward a new quarry that she says would degrade watershed that now protects the Shuttle Meadow reservoir. And late Monday night, she nearly convinced a majority of the House to join her.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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