Thursday, December 30, 2004

Ornithologists Against Terrorism

Growth Boundaries and Norse Myths

Back in 1997, I talked my editors into sending me to Portland, Oregon, for three days, so I could write about how that city's urban growth boundary was concentrating new development within a restricted (but nonetheless large) urban area while helping to keep new strip malls and subdivisions away from farmlands and forests beyond the boundary.

In three days of interviewing and observing, I couldn't tell for sure how it was working, except that it seemed like a worthwhile experiment. Downtown Portland was lively and easy to navigate and when you got to the boundary, 20 miles or so from the center of downtown, you crossed a line beyond which there was almost no development -- or rather, beyond which the land was developed as farms.

Malcolm Gladwell, the most interesting writer now working for the New Yorker, mentions the urban growth boundaries, which apply to all the state's cities, in the current issue: "The laws meant that Oregon has done perhaps the best job in the nation in limiting suburban sprawl, and protecting coastal lands and estuaries."

And yet on Election Day 2004, Oregon residents voted 60 percent to 40 percent for a ballot proposition, called Measure 37, that would require the state to pay landowners whose property values were hurt by the urban growth boundaries.

In other words, the boundaries are protecting the environment, but the state will have to compensate landowners whose property drops in value because of them.

"Measure 37 said that anyone who could show that the value of his land was affected by regulations implemented since its purchase was entitled to compensation from the state. If the state declined to pay, the property owner would be exempted from the regulations."
Gladwell argues that Oregon voters voted against their own interests.

"To call Measure 37—and similar referendums that have been passed recently in other states—intellectually incoherent is to put it mildly. It might be that the reason your hundred-acre farm on a pristine hillside is worth millions to a developer is that it’s on a pristine hillside: if everyone on that hillside could subdivide, and sell out to Target and Wal-Mart, then nobody’s plot would be worth millions anymore. Will the voters of Oregon then pass Measure 38, allowing them to sue the state for compensation over damage to property values caused by Measure 37?"

The context in which Gladwell discusses Oregon is a review of a new book, Collapse, by Jared Diamond. Diamond's thesis seems to be that societies are doomed if they fail to account for environmental realities. One example Gladwell cites from the book is the Norse, who built a beautifully-functioning, European settlement on Greenland a thousand years ago, only to see its residents die of starvation 400 years later because they failed to see that Greenland, with its thin topsoil, was different from the relatively mild and fertile southern part of Norway.

In both cases, people knew what was in their own best interests and yet they chose a different path. Gladwell's essay is worth reading, and my guess is that Diamond's book is too.

(However one example that Gladwell takes from Diamond's book is no longer viable, I can assure you. He writes that Norse settlers, having become culturally accustomed to eating beef, apparently refused to eat fish on Greenland, even though their survival depended on it. Based on the redolent fish that was constantly being cooked in the house shared by my Norwegian grandfather, Olaf, and his bachelor uncle, Halfdan, in the 1960s and '70s, I can vouch that this cultural taboo had been overcome 600 years after the collapse of the Greenland colony.)

A couple of final notes. There is some interesting discussion of the fish-eating question at Matthew Yglesias's blog. And another blog, called Winterspeak, muddles the Oregon issue by confusing it with regulatory takings -- government actions or regulations that render your property valueless and which, under the Fifth Amendment, require government compensation.
"A taking is a taking is a taking," writes Winterspeak. Of course it's not that simple. Lots of government regulations -- wetlands law, for example -- limit your potential to maximize profit from your land. Others -- four-acre zoning, say, which limits the supply of land -- increase your land values. He should have checked out the Cato Institute, which deplores government regulations as a matter of philosophy, and which explains regulatory takings fairly clearly.

Unspoiled Island

Unspoiled islands or coastal areas (or places that have been left alone for long enough that they seem unspoiled) present a well-known dilemma: you can discourage visitors and have the place remain beautiful or you can encourage visitors and risk ruining the characteristics that make it special. Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay sounds like one of those places.

Kennedy on Coverage of Environmental Issues

I heard Bobby Kennedy Jr. on "Counterspin," broadcast on WPKN, as I was driving to the Route 1 strip in Norwalk today to exchange a defective DVD player. He was talking about how his book (Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country and Highjacking our Democracy), and environmental issues in general, got little attention from the press during the presidential campaign.
I tuned in near the end and heard only a handful of examples: A producer from Aaron Brown's CNN show cancelled a Kennedy appearance at the last minute because she did not want to hear any Bush-bashing, he said. When he asked the Kerry campaign why they weren't talking about environmental issues more often, they told him that in fact they were but that the press was ignoring them. He said Bob Schieffer's debate questions sounded as if they were written by Karl Rove.
His summary: the press is supposed to speak truth to power but their coverage of the campaign was, in his word, disgusting.
I like Kennedy and I'm grateful that he wrote the foreword to my book (for free, moreover). I don't think there is a better spokesman for traditional environmentalism on the national level than him.
Here's a link to the Counterspin interview. Here's a link to Kennedy's book, and here's a link to a book that contains something he wrote that's a bit shorter and which is a lot lower in the Amazon sales rankings.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Dead Whale in Newport

A scientist whose job was to deal with stranded sea mammals once told me that a dead and decomposing whale was a pathogenic nightmare for workers. This one is in Rhode Island.

Low Risk is Not No Risk

Keep this in mind the next time you're at the Cape.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Lobstermen Say Malathion Label Should've Carried Warning

Five years before lobsters started to die in Long Island Sound, EPA told the company that makes malathion that the pesticide's label should say that it should not be used "around bodies of water where fish or shellfish are grown and/or harvested commercially."

That's what lobstermen are arguing in court. Newsday has the story.

The larger question is whether pesticides played an important role in the die-off. I've been skeptical since 1999, and I'm still skeptical.

Monday, December 27, 2004

This Just in On the Broadwater Proposal...

One of Sphere's vast team of correspondents sent in this report on the Broadwater proposal from the December meeting of the Long Islannd Sound Study's Citizens Advisory Committee. It's wry and well-written, and I'd be happy to identify him/her if he/she gives me permission:

"The LISS CAC had a presentation from the Broadwater Group on the proposed LNG facility in the Sound at the December quarterly meeting. Leah Lopez was also invited as a balance.

"They presented the facility as, “One of over 200 worldwide facilities,” and, “Based on proven technology.” However, when directly asked, “How many of the existing transfer facilities are barge based?”, the answer was “None.” Also, though the technology is based on North Sea oil platforms, they discounted an Atlantic site as having too many weather issues.

"In a discussion of taking a large portion of the central Sound out of recreational and commercial usage, they would not take direct responsibility, stating that, “The Coast Guard will set the size of the restricted area.” This zone could be up to a mile and a half, or a three mile radius. Given that the current shipping channel is about a mile and a half from the proposed location, this is probably the maximum. In terms of terrorism, this sort of works if the Coast Guard has the manpower to patrol 24/7, you discount wild cards like adrift barges or drunken captains, and the fact that you could stand on the shoreline of either CT or NY with a long-range shoulder-mounted rocket launcher and take the thing out without having to get your feet wet. In the event of an explosion, anything within a two miles will sustain third degree burns.

"On the bright side, it would create the first, if involuntary, LIS marine sanctuary.

"When asked about the impact of possible spills, they insisted that, “The gas is lighter than air and will evaporate.” They didn’t tell us how long it would take to dissipate, or if nearby boaters would find themselves trying to breathe without benefit of oxygen. When pressed about impact to the water, they stated that, “The gas is cold, so there would be some chilling.” This is the understatement of the year. If super-cooled gas is released, their barge would be sitting on top of an iceberg in no time flat, the central Sound temperature would plummet and the impact would be transferred through tidal currents to all portions of the Sound within hours. Not quite “The Day After”, but nasty and hard to predict.

"When asked about the current attempts to have all regulatory powers controlled by FERC, they said that they, “welcomed local input and were not in favor of this legislation.” Someone should tell their parent corporations.

"When asked why the current plan, calling for a 25 mile pipeline to connect with the existing cross sound line was preferred to a clearly shorter connection path, it was mentioned that it would make things simpler. Simpler apparently means staying out of CT waters and regulatory jurisdiction.

"The facility is also not going to replace older, dirtier technology, only add to the supply. Are there numerous possibilities for disaster? Yes. Are we being used as guinea pigs? You betcha. Would this facility allow us to go on acting like there is no limit to energy consumption? For a while. Will it improve air or water quality? No. But the bottom line is that the NYC metro market is such a big juicy plum that someone will try and pick it."

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Money for Nothing

If you don't oppose the LNG terminal I want to put in the middle of Long Island Sound, I'll give you money!

Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale:

"The reason we should take a position soon is that there a lot more LNG facilities being applied for than will be approved, and I think the theory is that they will approve the ones in the areas where the opposition is least organized," Mr. Cardinale told the Town Board.

There are more than 10 LNG facilities planned in the Northeast and more than 40 planned nationwide. Experts agree that not all of them are needed and not all of them will be approved.

Did I Eat an Endangered Species on Christmas Eve?

Two brothers, one from Massachusetts, the other from Maine, are trying to get American eel (a traditional Christmas Eve fish) listed as an endangered species. The Hartford Courant has an AP story (with one of those fake-clever first paragraphs that overworked and reporters fall back on -- and I should know, having fallen back on them more than once in the past). Read it and then scroll through the brothers' petition to the federal government:

"The American eel is in steep decline across its range in the United States of America. Juvenile recruitment to the St. Lawrence River system and Lake Ontario has virtually ceased during the past decade. The number of juvenile eels migrating into the St. Lawrence River has fallen from 935,000 individuals in 1985 to approximately 8,000 in 1993 and to levels approaching zero in recent years (ASMFC 2000)."


"U.S. harvests of American eel on the Atlantic Coast have declined 64 percent of the long-term average since 1950; almost 44 percent below the 20-year average; and about 30 percent below the five year average, based on 2002 harvest reports collected by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Geer 2004). "

The petition includes statements from Eric Smith and Gordon Colvin, who oversee Connecticut's and New York's marine fisheries programs, respectively, that seem to indicate that the problem is real, to say the least.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Debate Over Energy Issues

A fellow named Bob Whitson, who has a site called Howling at a Waning Moon, keeps track of national environmental news. This post, from the Chicago Tribune, summarizes energy issues for the next year or so, including LNG (although not Broadwater specifically) and the need for new terminals.

Hudson River Almanac

One of my favorite quick reads each week is the Hudson River Almanac, a compilation of nature notes from a couple of dozen observers who live as far south as the New York Bight and as far north as the shadow of Mount Marcy. Tom Lake and Steve Stanne compile them and e-mail them weekly. It’s concise, heavy on the details of sightings and observations, light on the poetic writing, and fun.

I particularly like the observations from the Adirondacks, although there’s plenty of good stuff from elsewhere as well:

12/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: At 11:15 AM, our thermometer read -11°F. It gave a low of -18°F overnight, although a neighbor of mine reported -22°F at his house. This morning the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the Hudson River still has open water under the Route 28N bridge.
- Ellen Rathbone

12/20 - Minerva, HRM 284: The bottom fell out of the temperature floor last night. It was in the mid-30's for a brief time, but then, in a fairly slow but sure way, the winds picked up, a few inches of fluffy snow fell down, and by the time I hauled myself out of bed this morning at 6:15, it was -16°F. Saranac Lake reported -30°F. I guessed the windchill factor to be around -35°F. It is winter in the North Country.
- Mike Corey

To subscribe, send an email message to and write E-Almanac in the subject line.

Old entries are archived here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Broadwater Security Team Takes a Hit

Bernard Kerik has resigned from Giuliani's security firm. I guess that makes this (scroll down) partially obsolete.

Who Influences FERC on LNG Decisions?

The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit organization that investigates how government decisions get made, looked into how energy companies are influencing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will be deciding on the Broadwater LNG proposal for Long Island Sound. Not surprisingly, the report found that the federal decision-makers spend a lot more time listening to industry officials than to those who oppose LNG terminals.

Here’s the jist:

After scores of private meetings with Big Oil giants such as Exxon/Mobil and ChevronTexaco, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is aggressively undermining the authority of state and local governments to reject dozens of proposed liquefied natural gas facilities all across the country.

The energy companies' influence with FERC and its chairman, Pat Wood III, is evident in schedules, letters, e-mails and handwritten notes obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Center for Public Integrity. The documents indicate an extremely close relationship between the commission and the industry it regulates.

Over the past three years, FERC's current four commissioners have met privately at least 83 times with executives and lobbyists representing oil and gas companies active in the LNG trade. In comparison, FERC has met privately only a handful of times with opponents of specific LNG projects.

Also not surprisingly, the industry likes to propose terminals for areas where they think opposition will be light.

Many of the new LNG facilities would be located near small communities like Fall River, Massachusetts, and Galveston, Texas—a tactic, critics say, designed to minimize opposition to the controversial facilities.

"I think it is no accident that the industry has chosen places like Fall River, which tend to be lower-income, working class communities where they don't expect educated opposition," said Mayor Ed Lambert. The New England mill town has tried to prevent a proposed LNG terminal from being built inside its city limits.

The report is dated December 7, so it isn’t new. But if you haven’t seen it or heard about it, read the whole thing.

Monk Parakeets

It turns out that the monk parakeets that are almost unavoidable in some Connecticut towns along the Sound are doing well in North America because the climate is similar to the climate in their native Argentina. I hadn't known that. Nor had I known that Milan Bull, who is now Connecticut Audubon's director of science and conservation (and who took me on a harrowing trip to Sheffield Island during gull-nesting season in 1986) first discovered them in Connecticut, way back in 1971. The Times has an interesting story about them today; a few weeks ago I contrasted the parakeets' situation with that of the two 5th Avenue Hawks, who apparently are getting a prospective new home.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christmas Birds, Boreal Owl

One of the two best writers* in the blog-world, or whatever this is called, participated in the Christmas Bird Count, and then went to see a boreal owl (which came close to being a boring old owl) in Central Park.

* Here's the other, in my opinion. (Neither write about the environment.)

What Would Happpen if a LNG Tanker Exploded?

This isn't the most comforting thing to read if you're concerned about the possibility of a liquefied natural gas terminal being built, say, in Long Island Sound. The news is worse for Providence though than for the Sound.


Sunrise: 7:18 a.m.
Sunset: 4:32 p.m.
The shortest day of the year -- and the coldest.
Temperature: 4 degrees F.
The tiny amount of snow that fell on Sunday night-Monday morning crunched under foot when I went out for the school bus this morning, and my mustache started to freeze -- a sure sign of real cold. It reminded me of when I used to live here.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Too Late for Greenwich's Deer-Killing Program?

Greenwich might be too late to get the necessary Connecticut DEP approval for its plan to hire sharpshooters to kill deer in three town preserves in February 2005.

"State officials said they want to take their time with this application because Greenwich would be the first municipality in Connecticut to seek to kill deer through means besides licensed hunting and trapping," the Greenwich Time reported.

Connecticut passed a law in 2003 that lets municipalities apply to the state for permission to kill deer, although "cull" is the word everyone seems to prefer.

Greenwich is hiring a non-profit company called White Buffalo, based in Hamden, Connecticut, to do the culling. Iowa City, Iowa, first hired White Buffalo in 1999, and Princeton, N.J., hired them for a four-year deer-reduction program that ended last winter.

The Washington Post quoted Anthony J. DeNicola, a biologist who runs White Buffalo:

"He advises communities to tag, mark and vaccinate the most approachable deer in a target population 'and kill all the others.' "

According to a newspaper called The Princeton Packet, White Buffalo worked on both private and public land in Princeton. In addition to using contraceptives, they

"...cull the deer at bait sites using sharpshooters as well as drop nets and captive-bolt guns to capture and kill the animals. Captive bolting is a slaughterhouse method that kills with a retractable metal bolt to an animal's head."

White Buffalo has a website, but its down now. My Google searches turned up a number of letters to the editor etcetera from opponents of the deer-killing programs, who argued that killing deer inevitably leads to population increases, and that if left alone, deer populations will stabilize.

I tend to doubt that a broad, sustained hunting program will lead to a population increase in the short term, although it's probably true that the hunting program will have to be repeated at regular intervals. And I my guess is that if deer populations stabilize by themselves, they stabilize at a level that is harmful to biodiversity, not to mention dangerous to motorists.

I would be interested in hearing some opinions from qualified biologists -- and by qualified, I mean people who know what they're talking about and don't have an obvious pro-hunting or animal rights ax to grind.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Who Will be the New EPA Administrator?

I've never heard that the EPA administrator has much involvement in the Long Island Sound program (which doesn't mean it doesn't happen -- it goes without saying that lots of things happen that I never hear about). Nevertheless the decision about who is to replace Mike Leavitt is an important one, and not one that is likely to thrill environmentalists. Here's Grist's speculation on who might be the nominee.

"A flea on the buttocks of Shell Oil."

You have to love any newspaper story about the Broadwater proposal (a Shell-TransCanada joint venture) that contains a quote from an opponent like this: "I see us as a flea on the buttocks of Shell Oil."

Thus did Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, announce his neighborhood's opposition to the LNG terminal in the Westchester section of tomorrow's Times (and I assume the Connecticut and Long Island sections as well).

Likewise the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Association (ABCO) and one of its members, the Rocky Point Civic Association, have announced their opposition.

ABCO's lawyer, Richard Johannesen, told the Times: "We just found out about this project two weeks ago, and so Broadwater got a two-year head start. They may not know yet that they have stumbled into a hornet's nest, but they will very soon."

Meanwhile, Broadwater's regional project director, John Hritcko, is edging toward the up-is-down, black-is-white method of public debate. Regarding his company's proposal to build a large industrial facility in the middle of the Sound, Hritcko said, "We don't agree that it is industrialization."

[I couldn't find the Times story online. If it appears, I'll link to it.]

And finally, here's a link to an old item, from Newsday, that discusses how language added to a House appropriations bill late last month could affect the states' abilities to stop the Broadwater proposal.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Town-Sponsored Deer Hunt on L.I.

Greenwich decided publicly and openly to do it. In Lloyd Harbor, on Long Island, they did it a different way. Newsday has the story.

About Sphere

A blog is a kind of scrapbook of things that interest the blogger and which, because a blog is public, the blogger thinks will interest his readers. I started Sphere a couple of weeks ago as a way to insert myself back into the public discussion about Long Island Sound, its watershed and their environmental issues, and to write about other fun things of more or less importance (and encompassed, also more or less, in the description under the title at the top of this page).

I read in another blog recently a list of one man’s rules for blogging: post every day, provide lots of links, include a blogroll (i.e., a list of other blogs, with links) of other interesting sites etc. I’ve tried to post daily and link often; I’ve found though that blogs that talk about environmental issues are few and far between, that they post little that interests me, and that many of them post only at widely-spaced intervals. Nevertheless I’ll be making an effort to link to more of them as time goes on.

As for Sphere, there’s a lot of new stuff here, so scroll down. Check in often because I’ll be posting as close to every day as possible. My e-mail address is along the right margin. Let me know what you think, send me tips, complaints and corrections. I’ll try to keep it lively and wide-ranging.

One more thing: I think there's still time to order this and have it arrive before Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Interesting Read, But What a Drag!

I once hired James Howard Kunstler to give the keynote talk at a conference put on by the organization I work for. He was original and engaging and very funny. He also has interesting things to say in his books about planning, New Urbanism, smart growth, architecture and design, and the way we've shaped out communities.

But, man, has he adopted a grim persona on his blog! Click here and prepare to be bummed out.

Sound-front Land Acquisition in Suffolk County

Here’s news of an open space acquisition on the Long Island shore of the Sound.

Do We Want to Turn the Sound into an Industrial Park?

I missed this op-ed on the Broadwater proposal that Leah Lopez wrote for yesterday’s New Haven Register. She makes all the right points:

Such a facility would set a dangerous precedent, allowing the industrialization of Long Island Sound. Corporate control of this natural resource conflicts with the reality that for hundreds of years these waters have been used for recreation, navigation, fishing, boating and sustenance. Additionally, the unknown environmental ramifications of the storage facility could be massive.

What we do know is that in addition to a large anchoring system, there will be 25 miles of trenching from the platform to a pipeline tie-in that would significantly disturb Long Island Sound’s bottomlands in New York waters.

We also know water quality in the immediate area could be affected by platform discharges, spills and runoff.

The list of unknowns is much longer. It includes economic impacts on tourism, on Connecticut’s gas prices and on property values. It includes the amount of noise pollution caused from platform operations and its impact on the environment and our surroundings. Other unanswered questions include the impact on fisheries caused by the taking on and releasing of ballast water by Broadwater and its ships, as well as unknown impacts to shipping caused by new, increased barge traffic to the facility.

There are also no answers to the question of how this massive industrial development would affect Long Island Sound as an industrial location.

PCBs in the Hudson

EPA has chosen two locations for the de-watering facilities needed to rid the upper Hudson of PCBs. One of the sites is in Fort Edward, which is where one of the General Electric factories that used and dumped the PCBs was located.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Longer Writings

When I give a talk – and I’ve given about 40 of them since 2002 – the most-asked question is: How long did it take you to write your book. The answer is, “Almost embarrassingly long.”

I started thinking about writing a book about Long Island Sound and collecting information for it in 1986. Yale University Press finally published This Fine Piece of Water: An Environmental History of Long Island Sound in 2002. I spent a good portion of the intervening years doing general research, learning all I could about the Sound, without really knowing how the book would take shape, or what its theme or story would be. I visited sewage treatment plants, got seasick waiting for researchers to pull up traps, and got threatened by a psychotic lobsterman who was unhappy that I wrote a newspaper story about his bust for taking illegal-sized lobsters. I tracked down days-old dead fish in tiny tidal creeks, got the worst head cold of my life while staying on a remote island, and had gulls crap on me and cormorants try to regurgitate on me. I had a commercial fishermen scowl at me and then ignore me for the five hours that we spent on a boat together. And then of course there was all the bad stuff.

Some of these things made it into the book but some didn’t – not because they weren’t interesting but because as I researched and wrote, a lot of the material simply didn’t fit into what was emerging as the book’s story and theme. Much of it is about what used to be called wildlife or natural history and which now goes by the name of “biodiversity.”

I’ve gone through my notes and files and discarded chapters, and pulled some of these stories and accounts out (as well as a couple of other stories). If you're interested, you can click here or go to the "Tom Andersen: Writings" link on the right.

Broadwater & the Best Use of the Sound

The New London Day has a backgrounder on the Broadwater LNG terminal proposal, quoting the usual suspects. As I've said before (more than once) the most important question here this: what is Long Island Sound best used for?

The reporter, Judy Benson, does a good job of allowing those she quotes to raise it.

For example, Nick Crismale, president of the Connecticut Lobstermen's Association: “It's the industrialization of Long Island Sound,” he said. “Is that what we want for one of New England's largest natural resources? We need natural gas. We need fuel. But there are other alternatives.”

Ed Monahan, director of Connecticut Sea Grant: “This would be a sea change in the use of the Sound. Most of us still look toward the Sound mainly for its amenity use, its recreational value. This would be industrial use.”

And Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Connecticut Seafood Council: “This is appalling that they think they can put this project in the middle of our Sound."

The story underplays the area of the Sound that would be affected by the terminal. Citing Leah Lopez, of Save the Sound, Judy Benson writes:

One of her chief concerns, she said, is that a one- to two-mile area of the Sound would become off limits to the public. For safety reasons, the Coast Guard would establish a no-passage zone around the barge.

“That part of the Sound would go out of the public realm forever,” Lopez said. “It could set a precedent for future projects.”

Leah's argument, though, is that an area of the Sound with a radius of 1 to 2-1/2 miles would be off limits. At a maximum that's almost 20 square miles of publicly-owned waters converted to private industrial use.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Why is it Legal to Destroy a Hawk's Nest?

Jane-Kerin Moffat sent an e-mail with an interesting question about the celebrated red-tailed hawks on 5th Avenue. For a long time it had been a federal crime to collect or destroy a bird's nest. But within the last decade or so the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reinterpreted the law to make it a crime to destroy a nest only during nesting season; in winter, you could take down a nest with impunity. But of course some birds build new nests every year and others return to the same nests over and over -- that's the whole rationale for building the nesting platforms for osprey that have become relatively common along the Sound, for example.

Jane asks the logical question: "Why have F&WS regulators chosen to lump the nests raptor species that habitually return to the same nest and build them up further year after year, with the nests of migrants which abandon their nests
for good at the end of the nesting season?"

Why indeed.

Another question: Manhattan's red-tailed hawks are already showing signs of courtship and are bringing sticks to their nest site. Aren't courtship and nest-building definitive proof that for the hawks, nesting season has begun? If so, why would the Fish & Wildlife Service approve the destruction of the 5th Avenue nest?

If anyone knows the answer to either of these questions, I'd be happy to hear about it.

Meanwhile, the owners of the building on 5th might be caving

Town-Sponsored Deer Hunt in Greenwich

Deer are a major environmental problem -- perhaps the major unacknowledged problem in the region. They are so numerous that their browsing has changed the composition of the forest. In my town -- and this is based only on my memory -- we've gone from having forest floors covered with wildflowers in May and June to essentially having no wildflowers, in just 20 years. Trout lily, wood anemone, pink lady's-slippers, hepatica -- gone. We have fewer ovenbirds and rufous-sided towhees perhaps because deer have eaten the understory they nest in or use for cover.

Greenwich is trying to do something about it, and their experiment bears watching. The town's Representative Town Meeting voted last night to hire sharpshooters to kill deer in three town parks in February. The proposal apparently needs only a permit from the state DEP to proceed. Greenwich would then be the first town in Connnecticut to undertake a deer hunt.
Will it work? The argument against any individual town tackling the deer problem on its own is that killing 20 or 40 or even 100 deer in an area will create a vacuum into which deer from other areas will move and thrive.

This story in the Greenwich Time gives no indication of how many deer they think they're going to kill in Greenwich. But if the hunt proceeds successfully, it might encourage neighboring towns to do the same. So maybe Greenwich's decision is a first step. Just as likely it will bring out animal rights protesters to disrupt the hunt.

(The Representative Town Meeting, by the way, is a descendant of the old fashioned New England town meeting, and it makes Greenwich just about the most democratic place around. The RTM is essentially a local legislature, with 230 members from 12 districts, representing 60,000 town residents.)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Broadwater & Community Participation

I got a call at work the other day from a fellow who identified himself as Joel Rinebold. He told me he was being paid by Broadwater to do community outreach and that he had looked at this blog. He was wondering if I was interested in being part of a committee or community group or something that would share ideas about the proposed LNG terminal, in hopes of making the facility better.

Generally I support these attempts to get the community involved in shaping development projects that are in one form or another inevitable. The unspoken reason for participating, from the developer's point of view, is this: We can either do it with your help, in which case the project might be better than it would otherwise be, or we can do it without your help, but one way or another we're going to do it. My friends at the Pace University Land Use Law Center, in White Plains, promote this kind of mediation. When done right it has the dual benefit of improving a development proposal and making different stakeholders satisfied that their concerns were taken into consideration.

Rinebold and I talked about it for a few minutes. I'm not immune to flattery, and I was pleased that someone thought I might be influential enough in some small way to want me on his side. (A woman named Amy Kelly, who also works for Broadwater, had called me several weeks ago to say that I was among a group of influential people who were getting a Broadwater information package sent to them by overnight mail. So clearly I'm on someone's list, which is fine as long as they buy my book.)

The problem is that I'm pretty sure the LNG proposal is a bad idea. I'm not against LNG terminals in general, or against the use of natural gas. But it seems clear to me that Broadwater chose the middle of Long Island Sound as a location for the terminal because it calculated that that there would be far less opposition than if they had proposed it for a waterfront community in New York or Connnecticut.

In other words they thought it would be easier to win approval if they proposed using the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound.

I think publicly-owned waters should be used by the public, and therefore I think that the basic premise of the Broadwater proposal is a bad one.

If I participate on a committee that improves the Broadwater proposal, and perhaps does away with some of the opposition, then I've helped facilitate the approval of something I think should never be built in the first place.

I told Joel Rinebold that I'd think about it and let him know. He seemed like a nice enough guy, not a smooth-talking shill by any means. So with all respect to him here's my answer: I'm not going to be participating on any Broadwater committees.

Meanwhile, here's today's Broadwater story, from the New Haven Register.

Update: I didn't know who Joel Rinebold was when he called me, although if I had been more on top of things I would have recognized his name. He suggested I Google him, which I did. Here's a brief bio from Save the Sound's roster of speakers at the recent LISWA conference.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

De-nesting Season

What do you do with birds (red-tailed hawks, say, or monk parakeets) that are nesting in inconvenient places? Here's one solution, and here's another.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Suburban Sprawl, Cultural Landscapes

There are parts of the Sound’s watershed in Connecticut that are so hideously ugly that it’s hard to imagine how the state got a reputation for being bucolic and "New England-y" (which in any case is a tourist-bureau myth, given the state's industrial history). These places are the epitome of the “there is no there there” nature of sprawl-type strip development. Route 7 north of Danbury. Someplace near New Britain where I got off the interstate to get gas and was pulled over by a cop for running a red light (I did in fact run the red light but he let me off the hook). East of New Haven along I-95 and somewhere else in the eastern part of New Haven along a state highway. Route 1 in most of Fairfield County. These places were so awful that I didn't bother to note what town or city I was actually in because it didn’t matter.

And yet somehow beautiful places survive. The New London Day reports on a “cultural landscape study” of the Eightmile River watershed just east of the Connecticut River. The cultural landscape study is part of a larger projectcalled the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Study. A Day reporter named Patricia Daddona writes:

“The Eightmile River watershed has more general stores and rural businesses than convenience stores, more forest cover than 60 years ago, and a virtually intact colonial road system tying it all together.

“Those are the findings of a cultural landscape study authorized by Congress three years ago that makes the 62-square-mile, unspoiled watershed an ‘outstanding’ ecosystem and a cultural resource that may be worthy of federal ‘wild and scenic’ designation. The designation would permit long-term protection and management of natural resources here.”

The Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Study website says this:

“Cultural landscapes are special places created by human interaction with the environment. They are comprised of the cultural and natural resources associated with historic events, activities, or persons, and serve to both define the current character of a community and reflect its past.

”Quantifiable features of a cultural landscape include structures such as houses, churches, and public buildings as well as cemeteries, stone walls, views and vistas, vegetation and topography, and the distribution of transportation systems and land uses. Also considered is the spatial organization of features across the landscape, for example the location of
hamlets such as the Eightmile's Millington Green or Hamburg.”

Who knows why this little watershed near the mouth of the Connecticut has avoided the plague of suburban sprawl? There must be other places in the lower part of the Sound's watershed that have been similarly spared but it's hard to think of too many. Perhaps the west branch of the Farmington River in Connecticut qualifies. It's the only river in the area that has the formal "Wild & Scenic" designation that the Eightmile River advocates are seeking.

I haven't spent much time in the Eightmile River watershed. But my guess is that, as the Michelin people say, it merits a detour.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hawk Watch

The Times reports that federal wildlife officials OK'd the removal of the red-tailed hawk's nest in Manhattan, which is disappointing. But for a good, lively, gossipy look at the hawk issue, check out a blog called Curbed. Among other things, it has a partial list of those, besides Mary Tyler Moore, who live in the hawk's building.

Giving Away Public Waters to Broadwater

I argued a few days ago that the key issue concerning Broadwater's proposal to put a major industrial facility in the middle of the Sound would not be one of safety but rather would be the question of what Long Island Sound is best used for. Leah Lopez, Save the Sound's director of legislative and legal affairs, wrote to me and said that on the contrary, the two issues are the same. And she has good point.

Leah argues that because the LNG plant is a safety risk, an area of the Sound with a radius of 1 to 2.5 miles would have to be made off-limits to boats, fishermen, etc.

This "would result in public trust waters being removed from the public's use -- something that radically changes the way the Sound has been used for hundreds if not thousands of years. These policy shifts absent a sustainable plan are very poor procedures and very damaging precedents."

She is referring to the Public Trust Doctrine which, as I understand it, basically holds that the waters and the shores of the sea (among other things) are held by the government in trust for use by the public.

If I have my geometry right, a circle with a radius of 2.5 miles encompasses about 20 square miles. In other words, if Broadwater builds its LNG terminals, as much as 20 square miles of public waters will be usurped by private industry. Twenty square miles is almost two percent of the surface of the Sound.

So in addition to having to look at this LNG terminal, which Save the Sound says would be “10-stories tall, four football fields long, and 180-ft. wide – larger than the QE2,” boats will have to stay away from it.

One would think that boat clubs, boating associations, marinas etc. would be unhappy about that.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Is It a Crime to Destroy a Hawk Nest?

We have broad-wing hawks nesting in our neighborhood each summer. A couple of years ago, they made their nest near the road and regularly strafed joggers and walkers. Getting nicked was a badge of honor. Not so in Manhattan apparently.

Someone destroyed a celebrated red-tailed hawk nest on Fifth Avenue recently. The Times has the story (registration required). Lots of people – including Mary Tyler Moore (but not, apparently, Dick Van Dyke or Ed Asner) – were outraged but no one spoke up to support the destruction. I was under the impression that nest-taking violated federal wildlife laws, but maybe not. Here’s the Times citing Marie Winn, who wrote a book about the red-tails several years ago:

“Ms. Winn said the federal Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in the 1990's that the nest was covered by a treaty adopted in 1918 to protect migratory bird habitats and could not be destroyed.

“But she said that more recent interpretations of the federal rules may allow people to interfere with migratory bird nests if they do so in the winter, when the nests are not used to raise offspring. Phone messages left for officials at the agency late yesterday were not answered.”

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Long Island Sound Stewardship Act, II

I have a friend who has long experience in getting things done politically, at the local, state, and federal level, by working behind the scenes. He’s a moderate Republican, and very active on environmental issues. We were talking recently about a bill that had just passed Congress. One of the reasons it passed was that he had prevailed on a local representative, also a Republican, to push it strongly. The House leadership backed her, he said, for one reason: “She does what she’s told.” By doing what she’s told, she had built up the political capital to get an environmental bill passed when it really mattered.

I bring this up because of its relevance to the failure of the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act. You may remember a big to-do a couple of weeks ago when the House GOP caucus decided against forcing leaders to step down if they should be indicted. The fear among House Republicans was that Majority Leader Tom Delay would be indicted.

The few Republicans who broke ranks and opposed the leadership on this came to be known as the “Shays Handful” – so named by blogger and journalist Josh Marshall because they were led by Rep. Christopher Shays, the Connecticut Republican.

Look now at who killed the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act: Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican from northern California

The Hartford Courant described Pombo this way (the emphasis is mine): Pombo is a northern California rancher, with a history of questioning what he sees as too much government intrusion into private property rights. He is also a protege of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, heading a committee that has a strong influence on forest, energy, parks and other environmental policy.”

So an environmental bill sponsored by Christopher Shays, the leader of the “Shays Handful,” was killed by a protégé of Tom Delay.


They Feel Strongly Both Ways

The Connecticut Attorney General and the Mayor of New Haven held a press conference yesterday to tell us they're not in favor of the LNG terminal but they're not against it either.

Update: Leah Lopez of Save the Sound informed me that her organization, which is affiliated with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, held the press conference and invited the public officials to join them.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Riverkeeper on NYC's CSOs

Riverkeeper has put its comments and a good deal of information about NYC's combined sewer overflows (CSOs) here and here.

Dolphins in RI

A group of a dozen or so dolphins are in Rhode Island. The Providence Journal (registration required) doesn't say what species though.

Update: The Cape Cod Stranding Network sent me this e-mail:
The dolphins that were in the Sakonet River in Rhode Island were Common Dolphins, Latin name: Delphinus delphus. They looked fine, appeared to be feeding, actively swimming. Last we heard, most of the dolphins had moved on and there were only a few left in the river (as of yesterday morning). Thanks for your interest.
Cape Cod Stranding Network Staff

California Republican Kills Sound Stewardship Act

Rep. Richard Pombo, a northern California Republican and protege of Tom Delay, has killed the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act, despite the unanimous support of the Sound region's Congressional delegation. Pombo's spokesman "said Long Island Sound was not a top priority for Pombo," according to the Hartford Courant. Chances of it being revived next year don't sound great either.

Global Energy, Local Headache

With public meetings scheduled for today and tomorrow in New Haven on Broadwater's LNG proposal, the Connecticut Post has a good explanation of where the LNG would come from and what the approval process will be. Read it here.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Endangered Endangered Species Act

No one should be surprised by attempts in Washington to circumvent or emasculate the Endangered Species Act. One of the regular contributors to Daily Kos has some thoughts on salmon. And the Times reports on the subversion of scientific opinion by a non-scientist on the question of federal listing for the sage grouse.

LNG Terminal: What is Long Island Sound for?

The Hartford Courant is on the LNG terminal story today. To me, the key issue won't be the risk of explosion or the possible effect on lobsters, both of which the Courant mentions, but rather the appropriateness of Long Island Sound becoming an industustrial site. Not the Sound's harbors or cities, mind you, but the Sound itself.

Do we want businesses to be able to establish major industrial facilities on the Sound, and do we want to look at major industrial facilities on the Sound. I argue in my book that it was attitudes about what Long Island Sound was best used for that allowed it to become the place where we dumped our industrial waste and then our household waste (that is, our sewage), which in turn led to the pollution problems we're trying to fix now.

The Broadwater LNG terminal would not be dumping into the Sound, but the proposal embodies an attitude about what Long Island Sound is best used for that hearkens back to the bad old days.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Greek Revival Modern

We love Greek Revival architecture and we love places like Stonington, Connecticut, where most of the buildings in town are authentic Greek Revival (John Massengale, an architect and planner whom we respect, thinks it's one of the best towns in the country). We also love Modern domestic architecture; some of Philip Johnson's houses are true gems. But what happpens when Philip Johnson -- or his firm, at least -- gets a commission for an important municipal building in Stonington? Take a look (firefighters and all).

Lobster Die-off Payoff

Considering that pesticides were at the very bottom of a long list of reasons that Long Island Sound's lobsters started dying-off in 1998, my guess is that this can only be considered a way to get rid of a lawsuit that had become a pain in the neck.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Is Opposition Standard Being Set for LNG Terminal?

Save the Sound/Connecticut Fund for the Environment has become the first environmental group to take a position on a major industrial facility proposed for the middle of the Sound. My guess is that if one influential organization says they're against it, others will jump on board quickly. Here's Save the Sound's statement.

Chesapeake Cleanup Earns a 'D'

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation thinks the Bay cleanup is going badly. The Baltimore Sun reports it here, and the Foundation itself discusses it here


The amount of sewage that gets into Long Island Sound through combined sewers (sewers designed to flow to treatment plants in dry weather but to bypass the plants and empty directly into waterways when it rains) is massive. New York City's state permits for these so-called combined sewer overflow, or CSOs, is up for renewal, and Soundkeeper has submitted comments.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Dredging the Hudson

EPA’s new regional administrator says Washington is still behind the Hudson River PCB cleanup.

The Songs of Suburban Sprawl and Urban Renewal

For a couple of years now I’ve kept in my head a short list of songs that deal with one of the common experiences of Post World War II urban and suburban life – the demoralizing changes that bad development has on our experience of where we live, where we call home.
Baltimore is one, and from a more ironic point of view, so is (Nothing but) Flowers.
The starkest that I know of is My City Was Gone

“I went back to Ohio
But my city was gone
There was no train station
There was no downtown
South Howard had disappeared
All my favorite places
My city had been pulled down
Reduced to parking spaces

I heard – for the first time in maybe 20 years – the Kinks’ Muswell Hillbilly on the radio this morning and added it to the list:

“They're putting us in identical little boxes,
No character just uniformity,
They're trying to build a computerised community,
But they'll never make a zombie out of me.

“They'll try and make me study elocution,
Because they say my accent isn't right,
They can clear the slums as part of their solution,
But they're never gonna kill my cockney pride.”

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