HVA hosts benefit auction

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

By DOUGLAS P. CLEMENT

For the Litchfield News

WASHINGTON—Actress Christine Baranski, currently starring in “The Good Wife” on CBS, answered her cell phone while idling in the parking lot of the Northville Market Wednesday. Like many, she had been through an ordeal since so-called Superstorm Sandy swept into Connecticut Monday, Oct. 29. There was still no power at her house in Litchfield County — but that wasn’t about to stop her from taking time to talk about a cause of paramount importance.

It wasn’t the power outage, the storm damage in the region or the lingering impact in the region, but the storm and its devastation provided an unfortunate but perfect talking point for the real message: the importance of preservation, safeguarding the environment and supporting the work of the Cornwall-based Housatonic Valley Association.

“It’s chilling for people to realize that just in the last 12-month period there’s been three major storms,” said Baranski, the leading co-chairperson for the HVA’s Annual Auction to Benefit the Environment. The fundraiser, critical to HVA’s work in acting as an activist steward for the Housatonic River and its vast watershed, is being held this year Nov. 18 at the Washington Montessori School.

In a conversation that referenced the importance of HVA’s monitoring, water quality, preservation and educational efforts, and touched upon how the importance of the environment has seemingly fallen out of the national conversation among candidates for office and elected officials, Baranski asked apropos of the storm, “Is Mother Nature really just screaming at us to wake up and realize what’s going on? We have not experienced this in our lifetime.”

Lynn Werner, executive director of the HVA, which was founded in 1941 and “works to conserve the natural character and environmental health of our communities by protecting and restoring the lands and waters of the Housatonic Watershed for this and future generations,” said she understood the necessity of the government at the federal level being focused on “the concerns of making sure that people are able to pay their bills ... .”

And yet, as both Baranski and Werner explained, environmental protection — and, notably the issues of water quality and controlling the impact of water — are issues solidly tied to the health and well-being of the nation’s economy.

Werner elaborated.

“The way that we manage water, even when it just hits our backyard as rain, has a direct impact on that river,” she said.

By extension, the health and beauty of the river and all the communities it wraps into its watershed have an impact on the economy of Connecticut. Environmental prosperity equates to fiscal prosperity that is buoyed by the impact of money spent by residents and tourists.

Both the actress and the environmental health executive can keep the serious conversation flowing — but doing so, and keeping the good work going, depends on a lot of people in the region having a tremendous amount of fun at the upcoming benefit auction.

The committee assembled to help organize and guide the event is studded with stars. On the committee of honorary co-chairs are Chris Noth, another star of “The Good Wife,” who may always be known as Mr. Big for his role on “Sex and the City,” and actress Blair Brown, currently in the Fox series “Fringe.”

Very much like Baranski, they’re not window dressing. Noth has a home in the Berkshires and Brown has property in Litchfield County, and they too are concerned about the environment.

“It’s a great committee,” said Baranski. “This is the community saying, ‘We’re going to try to take things in our own hands here.’”

“It really comes down to individuals stepping up to the plate and supporting it on a community level,” she added. “I like to think of it as the great party of the year for our large neighborhood.”

And what a party it will be.

Guests at the 22nd annual benefit auction, according to a release, will have the opportunity to bid on vacation packages in the Bahamas, Paris, Provence, London, India, Indonesia and the Caribbean,.

A three-night stay for two is offered at Kamalame Cay in the Bahamas, two nights each at Hotel Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice, Paris, three nights at 45 Park Lane, London and four nights in your choice of an Oberoi hotel in Udaipur, Jaipur, Ranthambore, Bali or Lombok. The Provence vacation in a historic 13th century chateau and the one-week stay in a three-bedroom home in Vieques in the Caribbean are popular items with bidders each year, the release said.

Among other luxe travel options, again this year, honorary co-chairs Oscar and Annette de la Renta have arranged for a week’s stay in a deluxe villa in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Tim Luke, appraiser on HGTV’s show “Cash in the Attic,” will again be the auctioneer.

A special treat this year will be the pre-auction reception to be held at the Community Table restaurant with chef Joel Viehland and hosted by Baranski. The reception is open to auction guests attending at the $500 level and higher.

Local artists and craftsmen, shops and restaurants also contribute to the silent and live auction. The event begins at 1 p.m. with a reception catered by Executive Cuisine in New Milford and live music by Miles of Swing. The live auction begins at 3 p.m. Guests at the sponsorship level ($150 or higher) also dine at GW Tavern. Seating is limited. Reservations can be made online at www.hvatoday.org or by calling 860-672-6678.

In addition to those already mentioned, joining Ms. Baranski as co-chairs are HVA honorary trustee Diane von Furstenberg; founder of the French Culinary Institute Dorothy Cann Hamilton; Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and his wife Anna; interior designer Robert Couturier; Travel + Leisure magazine editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod; fashion marketing consultant Hamilton South; owner and manager of Second Act Farm in Roxbury, Anne Swift; HVA board member and retired fashion designer Linda Allard; Pam and Jack Baker, owner of Exurban Design and president of Crystal Rock Water Company, respectively; and owner of Klemm Real Estate, Carolyn Klemm.

“It’s a fun event with fabulous trips and great gifts — hard-to-get tickets for Broadway shows and sports events and one-of-a-kind offerings,” Baranski said in the release. “I think it’s a perfect way for everyone to help HVA look after this beautiful area.”

Auction proceeds allow HVA to fund programs that protect the water quality of local rivers and streams and preserve regionally important landscapes, the release explained.

HVA’s work, throughout the tri-state Housatonic River watershed from its headwaters in Massachusetts to Long Island Sound, includes combating climate change by promoting low impact development, monitoring water quality to safeguard drinking water, protecting significant farm and forest lands and raising awareness of the need for environmental responsibility.

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