Tuesday, May 31, 2005


A lobsterman from Guilford is optimistic because he's catching a few big, healthy specimens. Dave Simpson, of the Connecticut DEP, says the rate of decline of the lobster population has slowed, which is an improvement.

This story, from the New Haven Register, offers a bit of optimism about the Long Island Sound lobster population, which suffered a major die-off starting in late 1998 (here's a summary of what happened and why). But the story cites only one lobsterman and one government fisheries biologist, so I don't draw and sweeping conclusions from it. And in fairness, the story doesn't draw any either.

Monday, May 30, 2005

A Hudson River Fisherman Explains What's Happening to Shad and Herring

What's happening to American shad and its smaller cousin, the blueback herring? We're on the cusp of June, the spawning run has all but ended, and only about 70,000 shad and 236 blueback herring have been counted this spawning season on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts.


From 2000 through 2004, the number of shad counted on the Connecticut were 229,000, 281,000, 377,000, 289,000, and 193,000; the number of blueback herring were 10,600, 10,600, 2,000, 1,400, and 156.

I posed the question to John Mylod, a commercial fisherman from Poughkeepsie, on the Hudson. I used to call John when I was a reporter and he was both a fisherman and the head of the Clearwater environmental group. I e-mailed him the other day because I knew I'd get a straight and complete answer.

His nut-graf, as they say in the newspaper business:

... there is no simple answer to your question of what is happening to shad and herring in the Hudson. Temperature, stripers, large and continuing fish kills at power plants, low recruitment due to contamination or other environmental factors, all contribute. ,,, Coastwise, the declines are, perhaps, also due to some of the same factors in the other estuaries where bass are back and power plants are situated in the wrong places for anadromous fishery runs.

Here's his whole response:

Yes, both runs [ed. -- that is, shad and blueback herring] have been down this year in the Hudson River and elsewhere. Commercial markets in NYC and New Jersey were so desperate for fish that they were even calling me. Part of that is due to the run and part to the fact that the downriver fishermen have stopped fishing for shad for the most part due to the excessive numbers of striped bass. (Of course, there are only a few these days anyway.)

The fact that the "intercept" shad fishery -- coastal fishers targeting shad offshore -- was closed this year, the first year of the new ban, did not have a significant, positive impact on the Hudson River run. [ed. -- For years ocean-going vessels would catch shad in late winter as they gathered off the mouths of east coast rivers, "intercepting" the fish before they could spawn; regulators put an end to the practice this year.]

Although the run began for me in the mid-Hudson reach of the river at about the same point has for the last several years, about April 8, it showed some promise, with a larger number of bucks entering the system than in the recent past, but as the roe began to even out the catch, the numbers of both fish began to drop away. To meet orders I was forced to fish up river north of Hudson where there were fewer striped bass and a greater chance of finding enough roe to satisfy my local markets.

The promise of the slug of bucks in the early season gave way to a drop in abundance within a fairly short span of about two to three weeks. Historically, say the 1970s, we caught a great deal of shad and the usual rule of thumb was that an early run of bucks would eventually even out in the catch with roe and then drop precipitously so that the haul back was predominately roe.

The striped bass coastal management plan was instigated and, over the years, the Hudson River stocks rebounded to record levels so that now it is difficult to fish for shad. We have switched our methods of fishing to try and avoid stripers, but this counterproductive approach means less Shad, too. We can'; put out enough net to catch meaningful numbers of shad in the Mid-Hudson reach because of the threat of striped bass. So, now we, my shad partner and I in the M/T Net Co., fish from the top of the river down twenty feet and only fish about 600 to 900 feet of net whereas in the past we would fish at least twelve to fifteen hundred feet of net and we were also down deep so that the top of our net was twenty feet below the surface.

In addition to causing a reduction in shad fishing effort, striped bass abundance in the Hudson is also leading to an increase in mortality of eggs, larval stages, and young of the year shad and herring. Stripers also hammer early growth stages of blue crab as well. (Through anecdotal information I have learned that a fair to large percentage of stripers processed by DEC for PCB analysis have quarter- and half dollar-size blue crab in their stomachs. Not good news for the few of us who also fish commercially for blue crab.)

The runs of alewives and blueback herring have been slow and, like low shad abundance, may have been negatively effected by the cold spring and slow rise in water temperature. The Hudson at Poughkeepsie did not reach 60 F until late May.

Of course, there is no simple answer to your question of what is happening to shad and herring in the Hudson. Temperature, stripers, large and continuing fish kills at power plants, low recruitment due to contamination or other environmental factors, all contribute. And this has been happening for a number of years so that the trend is to see a decline in the numbers across the board. Coastwise, the declines are, perhaps, also due to some of the same factors in the other estuaries where bass are back and power plants are situated in the wrong places for anadromous fishery runs.

There has also been a decline in effort on the river due to the fact that there are few people fishing commercially for shad. Most of the fishers in the Tappan Zee and Haverstraw Bay are discouraged by the abundance of bass and the frustration of putting out a few hundred feet of net only to have it fill up with stripers. A couple have turned to herring for bait to meet the sport fishing market, but with the decline upriver, too, due to age and a fatal auto accident, the "traditional" shad fishery on the Hudson isn't what it used to be.

Hope this helps a little. There is a DEC Hudson River Estuary Management Advisory Committee meeting here in Poughkeepsie on June 15 at the Pirate Canoe Club where fishery and other Department managers will also meet with the Committee and present reports and, perhaps, address some of the questions you are posing.

My thanks to John Mylod for the complete account.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Picking Up Other People's Garbage on West Haven's Land

After 45 minutes of picking up trash during the beach cleanup at Sandy Point, in West Haven, I was in a good enough mood to make pseudo-sociological observations based on garbage. For example, the people of the New Haven area -- or at least the subset inclined to litter -- rarely have protected sex and do not drink much alcohol. The basis for this conclusion is the scarcity of beer or liquor bottles and the absence of condoms. Those same people, however, seem to survive on a diet of salty snacks and candy that come in small plastic bags, and drinks that come in small plastic bottles.

After another half hour my good humor and my willingness to look at the situation lightheartedly had disappeared. The supply of other people's garbage was endless and the dozen or so people who were volunteering to clean it up could have worked for a week and would not have gotten it all.

Which is a shame because Sandy Point is wild and beautiful and we'd hardly tolerate such treatment if it occurred at a woodland nature preserve or a freshwater marsh. I became interested in Sandy Point after hearing last month that in the opinion of some the city of West Haven wasn't doing enough to protect the piping plovers -- a threatened species -- and least terns that nest there. So when yesterday's beach cleanup coincided with a Saturday with no Little League game, my son Kaare, who is 7, and I decided it would be an interesting way to spend a morning. The proximity of a skate park, which he had seen when we visited Sandy Point in April, added to the appeal for him and gave me an easy bribe.

k at sandy point

We arrived shortly after 9:30 and were greeted by Sherrill of Save the Sound, which was organizing this party of free labor for West Haven. Kaare and I were assigned to work with a young guy named Nick who was a ninth grader at the Sound School in New Haven. We were given garbage bags and a sheet of paper on which to record what we found, and sent off along a path that followed the shore.

The morning was mild and pleasant, with a soft breeze blowing in off the water. I was surprised by the bird activity (although I shouldn't have been; Sandy Point has been named an Important Bird Area by Audubon Connecticut) and quickly stopped to scan a tidal pond for birds. Black skimmers were criss-crossing the area, barking and dropping to the surface to dip their lower mandibles in the water as they flew. I pointed it out to Kaare and Nick, and Nick told me the skimmers eat small fish and algae that they skim from near the surface. Least terns and common terns flew about noisily. It was low tide and birders with big scopes scanned the flats for shorebirds. A woman said that four willets* were at the point, which was unusual, and I gave a glance to a shore bird that looked like a black-bellied plover that was not quite in breeding plumage.

Our instructions were to walk to the end of the trail and then pick up trash as we walked back. Kaare did most of the trash-picking at the start and Nick wrote down what we found, which was unremarkable. He said most of what is dumped at Sandy Point flows from the Quinnipiac River, which discharges in that direction. He told me that New Haven Harbor isn't in great shape, judging from what they've learned at the Sound School, which surprised me because it's broad, has a wide opening to the Sound, which is in fine shape off New Haven, and is shallow, which should make it productive biologically. With two or three tributaries, it reminds me of a tiny Chesapeake Bay. But I suppose the intensive development of the harbor's watershed, and the sewage and stormwater runoff that goes with it, has taken its toll. Chesapeake Bay isn't exactly in great shape either, so maybe the analogy is apt after all.

There were a good number of birders on the point. To a person they ignored us, except for the woman who told me about the willets, who said we should be commended.

But whether our hard work was noted or not, our enthusiasm began to flag when we reached an area of marsh grass with a line of tide wrack in the sand nearby. The amount of debris was astonishing, and I wondered what was more scandalous -- that companies like Frito-Lay make so many products in throw-away containers or that people apparently feel free to chuck them onto the streets and sidewalks. It kept popping into my head that those of us participating in this beach cleanup were not only taking on West Haven's responsibility as steward of this city-owned nature preserve but we were letting the perpetrators of this massive violation of the anti-littering laws (not to mention the corporations that make big money producing the junk in the bags and bottles) off the hook by cleaning up after them.

By 11:15 I was hot and sweaty and the beach cleanup was no longer fun. Kaare had given up, which I understood completely. He lay in the sand and suggested that I pick him up and dispose of him.

Three guys walked in from the point. One was carrying a spading fork and among them they had four or five plastic jugs of pink flatworms. I haven't encountered many things in the natural world that creep me out, but flatworms are among them. I asked what they were going to do with them. Use them for striped bass bait, they said.

"We use eels. They're better," responded a woman picking up trash.

Nick, Kaare and I decided it was time to lug out what we had gathered. I grabbed two big bags. Kaare carried two long poles made of foam. Nick rolled and dragged a couple of tires. Then I went back for one last bag, which I decided to drag rather than carry. By the time I reached the road, where some of the trash was being piled for the DPW to pick up, the bag felt considerably lighter. I looked behind me. The bottom had broken and everything we had picked up was spread in a line along 50 yards of trail. I got another bag and picked up the aftermath of my lazy blunder.

I didn't stick around to see how much garbage we collected all together. The stuff was piled in at least two locations and some people were still out on the point when Kaare and I and Nick left. I tried not to begrudge my free labor because I had willingly decided to spend a beautiful Saturday morning cleaning up after people who had willingly violated the law against littering.

But someone told me recently that city officials in West Haven haven't exactly made it a high priority to meet with environmentalists to come up with a plan to better protect the plovers and terns. I couldn't help but think that if we were going to give the city of West Haven what I estimated to be the equivalent of three days of work for free, city officials ought to at least return the favor by protecting the birds.

* The daily ctbirding.org e-mail, which reports interesting bird sightings from around the state, said the four birds were whimbrels, which is undoubtedly correct. Either the woman on the beach misspoke or I misheard.

Friday, May 27, 2005

New Haven Sewage Spill Investigation is Continuing

I understand from Hartford that the investigation of last month's 12-million-gallon sewage spill in New Haven is active and ongoing.

That's good news. It would be nice if the findings and the punishment, assuming there is any, were made public soon. It might encourage sewage plant operators elsewhere to take greater care, particularly with the coming of warmer weather, when the potential for damage is greater.

It's Long Island Sound Day

It turns out that today is Long Island Sound Day in Connecticut, as every Friday before Memorial Day since 1997 has been:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

Subsection (a) of section 10-29a of the general statutes is amended by adding subdivision (42) as follows:

(NEW) (42) The Governor shall proclaim the Friday before Memorial Day of each year to be Long Island Sound Day to encourage citizens to acknowledge and celebrate the economic, recreational and environmental values of the Sound. Suitable exercises shall be held in the State Capitol and elsewhere as the Governor designates for the observance of the day.

Brass bands are starting to warm up for the big parades at this minute.

Unidentified Bird

I went out to look for birds yesterday after a few days of wet cold weather and mind-numbing tasks at work. It was about 6:30, still cool, and the sky was low and gray with clouds that reminded me of early fall in the Adirondacks. I went to a place in town where a large swamp drains into a shallow lake which itself drains into a small stream that flows through New Canaan and Stamford to the Sound. Lily pads turn the pond into a mat of green, and it's a good place to see and hear birds close to home. We see otters here sometimes and on sunny days, painted turtles and maybe musk turtles line the rocks and fallen limbs like pottery on a shelf. I parked on the side of the road and scanned the water. Rough-winged swallows were as thick as mosquitoes. I could hear wood pewee, yellow warbler and black-and-white warbler, Baltimore oriole and warbling vireo. Grackles and red-winged blackbirds raised a fuss.

I followed a buzzy little sound high in the trees that I listened to over and over until I finally remembered -- blue-gray gnatcatchers. I scanned the water for ducks but there were none. I heard a high pitched little song and recognized blackpoll warbler. I walked toward where it was singing from high among the red maples in a swamp. Before I could spot it, though, I heard a loud flutter, and a large bird flew in to the top of a red maple. Wood duck, I thought. But I caught it quickly in my binoculars; it was not a duck. In my first glimpse it was bluish-gray, and I thought "blue jay" for a fraction of a second. But it was much too large. Its head and the transition from head to bill were pigeon-like, but the bird was too big to be a pigeon. Was it a cuckoo? If it was, it was a black-billed, because the bill appeared to be the same slate-gray as the head. But this bird was not slender, as a cuckoo is, and its bill had a very different form.

It was the size of a grouse, or gallinule, and in fact looked chicken-like at times. I watched and watched, afraid to look down to rest my neck because as soon as I'd do so, it would leave. But it didn't leave. It looked around a bit. Every once in a while it would grab a bug from a leaf. But it never tried to better its perch. I moved under it for a different perspective. Its sides were grayish with lighter gray markings. Its underside and tail were dark. Nothing I did spooked it. I did my best imitations of a screech owl and a barred owl -- the latter prompted two barred owls up the road to erupt in responses for a couple of minutes -- but neither disturbed the bird. A runner came by and then another. The bird didn't stir. A car stopped and a woman said, "What are you tracking there?" I told her and she looked but couldn't see it. A big silver pickup stopped underneath and idled as its driver talked on his cell phone. The bird didn't move.

After a half-hour, I drove home to consult my field guides. But nothing -- and I mean nothing -- looked like this bird.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Beach Birds and Beach Cleanup

The Connecticut DEP is asking beach-goers to help protect piping plovers and least terns, rare birds that nest in a handful of locations along the Sound. The New London Day has a story that sounds like a DEP press release.

You'll probably get a chance to see both birds if you participate in Save the Sound's beach cleanup at Sandy Point, in West Haven. You'll also get a perspective on New Haven Harbor like no other. The e-mail announcement that came my way says:

Meet in parking lot across from Captain Galley's at 9:30am. Contact Sherill at sbaldwin@savethesound.org or 203.354.0036.

Here are a couple of links to earlier posts about plovers, terns and Sandy Point.

Habitat Restoration at Cove Island in Stamford

Stamford wants to clean up and restore 10 acres of Cove Island Park to make it more attractive to birds, which tend to like the park anyway – 283 kinds of birds (not to mention 53 kinds of butterflies, which seems unbelieveable to me) have been identified at the park. The city is using a $492,000 state grant for the work, which it wants to finish before fall. Some neighbors though don’t love the plans. One thinks it’s too park-like; Jeff Cordulack, of the Environmental Council of Stamford, doesn’t like the wide, loop trail.

I suspect that these are quibbles and that the city and the residents will agree on a restoration that will make Cove Island a better place.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

LNG Around the Region

The amount of time, money and energy being spent around the region thinking about, responding to, and fighting proposals for liquefied natural gas proposals is mind-boggling. For those following the issue beyond Long Island Sound, here are recent newspaper pieces from Portland and Bangor, Maine, Fall River, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island.

These proposals, along with the TransCanada/Shell proposal for the Sound, are just a small percentage of all the LNG proposals being reviewed now.

It's become common to complain that it would be easier to deal with these if the country had a coherent, progressive energy policy.

Equally useful would be a coherent, progressive agreement among environmental groups and aggrieved state and local governments to review and fight the proposals together.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Protecting Gardiners Island, Sort of

The owners of Gardiners Island -- not exactly newcomers: they've owned it since the early 1600s -- have come to some kind of temporary preservation agreement with the Town of Southampton. From this Newsday story, it sounds like a 20-year conservation easement. But the story contains this sentence, which makes little sense:

No town government could afford to purchase it, and only the owners of Gardiners Island have the power to prevent new houses or other new development from being built there until at least 2025.

So if the island is being protected for 20 years, how is it that only the owners have the power to prevent new houses?

gardiners map1

Gardiners Island is between Long Island's two forks.

Falcons in Hartford

Four young peregrine falcons were banded yesterday 21 stories above Hartford. You can see them here, on FalconCam.

(Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but FalconCam seems to me to be static images rather than live shots of the young falcons.)

If Norwalk is Going to Encourage Suburban Sprawl, it Should at Least Insist on Public Access to the River

Even though the Norwalk River is relatively small, this development proposal might be a good chance to get some public access, even if just for fishing. The Norwalk River Watershed Association should make sure Norwalk officials insist on it.

On the other hand, everyone could just agree that the entire proposal is a bad idea: A 262-car parking garage 44 feet from the river? A combination office and residential complex, isolated from downtown Norwalk, virtually guaranteed to worsen the area's already-bad traffic?

There's a phrase for that kind of development: suburban sprawl.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Chuck-wills-widow, Goatsuckers, Ivorybills & Elvis

The appearance of a chuck-wills-widow in Old Lyme has drawn a lot of attention from Connecticut birders, who have been visiting Nehantic State Park since May 15 to see and hear (mostly hear) it. A relative of the whip-poor-will, the chuck-wills-widow generally begins singing shortly after 8 p.m., at least according to the accounts on this website.

The chuck-wills-widow is hardly a rarity in real terms but the local fascination seems to arise from the possibility that the bird, a southern species, might soon nest in the state. Patrick Comins, of Audubon Connecticut, told me in an e-mail:

It is pretty rare in CT with only sporadic reports every other year or so. They do seem to be increasing in regularity. It hasn't been documented as nesting in CT yet, but they have been expanding their range northward and now nest on Long Island. It is possible that they will start nesting here reasonably soon and this bird staying so long in suitable habitat is an encouraging sign. They are a really neat bird, though like most nightjars much more often seen than heard. They do seem to be a little more cooperative than Whip-Poor-Wills in this respect though.

… Whip-Poor-Wills and Common Nighthawks have really declined in the last few decades, so it is good to see that Chuck-Will's-Widows are increasing. Hopefully they will start nesting.

Chuck-wills-widows, along with whip-poor-wills common nighthawks and others, are in a category call nightjars. They’re also called goatsuckers:

With an entirely insectivorous diet, it tends to feed in areas with a good food supply; in the past, this often meant foraging around livestock, including goats, especially in places where the animals had been corralled for the night. During the summer, it would not be uncommon for at least some of the livestock to be in breeding condition or have newly born offspring, and females would therefore often have milk dripping from their teats. The shepherds and country people, seeing the shadowy nightjars around their animals at dusk and noticing the milk early in the morning, put the two circumstances together and believed that the birds were sucking milk during the night and that, as a result, their animals would eventually be sucked dry and go blind.

The chuck-wills-widow is not so rare, obviously, that its presence has to be kept secret. The ivory-billed woodpecker, on the other hand, is. Here’s the story of how the discovery of the ivorybill, code named Elvis, was kept secret.

Bronx River Bio Blitz

The Bronx River is one of the westernmost tributaries of Long Island Sound. In a couple of weekends, naturalists will be poring over it, in it and probably under it looking for every living thing they can identify. The effort is being coordinated with a similar one in Berlin. Here’s what Jeff Main wrote in a comment to an earlier post:

The Bronx River Alliance, N.Y. City Parks, and Westchester Parks will be hosting a Bio Blitz for the Bronx River on June 10th and 11th, from 12:00 noon Friday to 12:00 noon Saturday. The data we collect will be useful in guiding future restoration efforts. We are coordinating our effort with another Bio Blitz taking place simultaneously in Berlin, Germany at their Tiergarten, essentially the "central park" of Berlin. Communication, in real time, between these two efforts will be made during the day through the efforts of Geo Magazine, which is the European version of National Geographic. We are still accepting volunteers, both with a professional science background or avocation, and those enthusiastic enough to poke around and help collect specimens and data. If you're reading this and are interested, please contact Jeff Main, Westchester Parks Senior Curator at (914) 864-7051 or by e-mail: jmm0@westchestergov.com.

Among other things, I’ll be interested in hearing about what fish they catch near the mouth of the river, at Hunts Point and Classons Point, which presumably has some estuarine characteristics.

Stamford to Try Harbor Management

Stamford has decided to do what 18 other Connecticut communities have done and enact a harbor management plan, to give it more control over recreational, commercial and industrial activities. The Stamford Advocate gives a couple of examples of how it might help:

When a power company in 2003 proposed putting on barge-mounted gas turbine generator in the East Branch with an underwater cable that would deliver electricity to shore, the city had no authority to stop it, he said. State authorities rejected the plan.

A few years ago, when a barge moored offshore just in time for July 4 with a massive banner advertising a Web site, the city had no legal right to take action. The harbormaster, who reports to the state commissioner of transportation, did have the right to step in, Lyons said.

FERC Opines on LNG Terminals in RI, Mass.; Hilary Clinton Lukewarm on Broadwater

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued reports saying that a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for Providence, Rhode Island, could not be operated safely unless the applicant, KeySpan, bought up nearby properties. But another proposal, for Fall River, Massachusetts, would be safe, FERC said. The reports -- final environmental impact statements -- were made public Friday.

The Providence Journal said:

Despite the report's findings, KeySpan expressed no signs of abandoning its project. A statement issued by the company highlighted favorable aspects of the report.

"The FERC staff agrees with our view that the LNG project is a key part of helping Rhode Island meet its growing energy needs," David J. Manning, executive vice president and chief environmental officer at KeySpan, said in a statement.

He added that "overall, it makes a very strong statement on behalf of our project."

In an interview, Manning declined to say whether KeySpan would try to apply the current safety regulations to its proposal.

However, a correspondent of mine, who appears to know what he's talking about, came to a different conclusion:

FERC said KeySpan won't fly unless they upgrade the entire existing facility to current standards, which KeySpan won't do because it's too expensive. It would seem that KeySpan Providence is effectively dead
(Hurrah!). Weavers Cove, on the other hand, was given the green light by FERC (not good).

Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton was on Long Island yesterday and seems to be ready to line up behind Chuck Schumer in opposition to the proposal to put a LNG terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound. According to Newsday, Clinton said:

"Broadwater seems very unlikely to be a smart solution for Long Island's energy needs."

Bioblitz Anyone?

There was a bioblitz at a nature center on Long Island yesterday. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who knows of bioblitzes being held elsewhere in the area.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Big Plans for Bridgeport's Steel Point

A lot of old industrial cities on Long Island Sound and the Hudson River are a mess, none more so perhaps than Bridgeport, Connecticut. This proposal for the city's Steel Point waterfront sounds promising though, if the Connecticut Post is to be believed:

"We want to make something that's pedestrian-friendly, with retail at the base of every building," said Daniel Pfeffer, president of Midtown. "There will be 20-foot sidewalks where people can shop, with cafes spilling onto the sidewalks."

These two blogs, by the way, generally do a good job covering the question of how to make cities good places to live: City Comforts and Planning Liveable Communities.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Invasive Tunicates May Be Thriving on High Nitrogen Levels, Warmer Waters

A rather unpleasant organism -- a tunicate of the genus Didemnum -- is spreading like crazy throughout northeast coastal waters. Mary Carman, a research associate at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, speculates that it's doing so well for all the usual reasons around here.

From the New London Day:

Carman traces the growth explosion of the Didemnum squirts (there are other, less problematic varieties previously identified) to the 1980s, when “something happened to the environment, to the climate. Nitrogen levels grew to an all-time high. Algae blooms and algae growth are increasing. We're in a rapid warming trend,” she said. “Is it just coincidental?”

It's worth a read. As usual, the Day does a good job.

Dredge Compromise

EPA and the two states announced a compromise yesterday on the issue of where to dump material dredged from local harbors: New Rochelle, Rye and Norwalk can go ahead with projects they already have permits for and dump the dredge spoils at Long Island Sound's two longtime dump sites.

After that, the Times reports:

Decisions about future projects will be made by a team of state and federal experts who will first look for treatment options and disposal on land.

And Newsday added:

Under the agreement, both states and the EPA will have to develop a plan to promote alternatives to on-water dumping, such as using dredged materials to cap landfills or build beaches. The plan also will promote technologies that remove toxins from dredged material.

The two dump sites can be closed down by EPA if the new procedures are not followed or if adverse environmental impacts are detected, EPA spokesman David Deegan said.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment had been pushing hard for a ban on dumping in the Sound, and I know that some people in the environmental community in both states had raised their eyebrows at the zeal with which CCE was pursuing the issue. But CCE seems to be able to live with the compromise:

"We're playing in the realistic world here, and this is a realistic agreement," said Adrienne Esposito of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

The Stamford Advocate covers the Norwalk angle here. And here's EPA's press release.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Riverkeeper Dinner: Caution, Serious Name-Dropping Ahead

My wife and I were invited to the Riverkeeper fundraising dinner at Pier 60 in Manhattan last night by two old friends, Liz Barratt-Brown and her husband, Bos Dewey. We arrived at the same time as Dana Reeve, a neighbor of ours and a slight acquaintance. Dana got out of her car and entered along the carpet, pausing so a densely-packed group of photographers could take her picture. News photographers have a trick, when staking out a celebrity, of calling out the person’s first name in a friendly voice; reflexively the person looks up, at which point the photographer can take a good shot of what might otherwise be an unwilling subject. Even with a willing subject last night they used the technique, calling out “Dana!” and “ Dana!” over and over, presumably so they each could get a picture of her looking into their lens.

But what was Dana Reeve doing at the Riverkeeper dinner, and why were the paparazzi there? I knew the answer of course. Back in October of 1997, after the publication of The Riverkeepers, the book that Bobby Kennedy Jr. wrote with John Cronin, I was working on a profile of Kennedy, and I drove with Cronin to a book party on 57th Street. I was to meet Kennedy there and then drive back up to White Plains with him. Cronin’s cell phone rang when he was on the FDR Drive and someone told him that Bobby wouldn’t be able to make it to the party. John was clearly upset and anxious. If Bobby couldn’t make it, John Cronin would be the show: “And Ivana Trump’s not coming all the way across town to see me,” he said.

Last night the same principle held true – Dana Reeve and a long list of others weren’t coming all the way across town to see anyone but Bobby Kennedy. It made for an interesting evening and a great deal of enthusiasm for environmental protection, but it left me with two unanswerable questions: Who could be Long Island Sound’s Bobby Kennedy? Can anyone be Long Island Sound’s Bobby Kennedy?

While Dana was occupied by the photographers, Gina and I managed to walk in unnoticed. I shook hands with Alex Matthiessen, who replaced Cronin as Riverkeeper and who was greeting people as they arrived. Cocktails were in a pleasantly crowded lounge with views across the river and to the north. We met Liz and Bos almost immediately, and as we were talking I noticed that Tony Bennett was standing near the wall. He appeared to be with another man, and was not attracting much attention, and I made a mental note to go over and shake his hand, but cocktails were soon over and the crowd moved into the dining room and I lost him.

The podium was against the south wall of the room, which ran out from the West Side Drive into the river. Four large video screens projected the goings-on. First up was John McEnroe, who is on Riverkeeper’s board and was the master of ceremonies. McEnroe’s talk wasn’t particularly funny, and it sounded as if he had had someone write it for him, and judging from the fact that he read it from a handful of sheets of paper and occasionally stumbled over phrasing and emphases, he clearly had not spent much time reviewing it beforehand.

Matthiessen, on the other hand, gave a good, casual talk, and promised that Riverkeeper’s attorneys would soon stop the big development at Bellayre, in the Catskills, and would shut down Indian Point within two years. This latter promise seemed to be optimistic, to say the least. When Alex circulated later, walking from table to table to meet people, I asked him if his father, Peter Matthiessen, was there and if he was, could he introduce me, but he said no, his father rarely came into town for these kind of events.

The dinner’s main course was fish, which, for a few ghastly seconds, we all thought might be Chilean sea bass, the most unacceptable of fish for environmentalists to eat. Liz asked the waiter, who took a menu out of his pocket and told us the fish was cod, which isn't exactly thriving but which I guess isn't in as bad a shape as Chilean sea bass. Someone cracked that maybe the next course would be snow leopard chops, which made me wish I had been quicker so I could have said leatherback turtle eggs were next.

McEnroe introduced Kennedy by saying he hoped one day he’d be our governor or senator or president. Kennedy said the problem with politics is that you have to spend a lot of time with people you don’t like, whereas with Riverkeeper he spends a lot of time with people he likes, people who are really part of his extended family.

Next came the auction, which consisted solely of Ipods, each programmed by a different performer – Sheryl Crow, Bennett, Elvis Costello, Jon Bon Jovi, Lenny Kravitz. They fetched up to $20,000 each. The auctioneers were Uma Thurman, who was very pleasant to watch but not very good at keeping the bidding going, and Cedric the Entertainer, whose real name is Cedric Kyles and who introduced himself as Cedric Kyles Kennedy, an allusion to Bobby’s remark about his extended family. Uma wondered aloud why a joke like that would land with such a thud, although Bobby himself, when he took the stage later, thanked "Cedric Kennedy."

During the auction of Ipods, Gina went to the powder room and ran into Elvis Costello in an upper lobby, pacing and working off nervous energy in preparation for performing. She shook his hand, addressing him as Mr. Costello, and told him she was a big fan, and he spoke cordially and casually and said he had become a big supporter of Riverkeeper. When I went to the men’s room a few minutes later, Lorne Michaels was talking on a cell phone on the stairs and Elvis was pacing in the main corridor, drinking from a bottle of Keeper Springs water and unselfconsciously singing “boo-boo-boo-boo-boo” over and over in different notes to warm up his voice. He was shorter and stockier than I had expected, and wore a suit that looked like the one he wore on the cover of This Year’s Model and a fat pink tie with red and blue stripes. His wife, Diana Krall, was prettier than I had expected.

Kennedy said Elvis and Diana had interrupted a rare string of days off and had flown in from Hawaii to be at the dinner, and I remembered that McEnroe had made the point earlier that Bobby has a way of getting people to readily agree to do things they might not otherwise be inclined to do.

Elvis played his acoustic Gibson and sang four songs – “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding,” “Milk of Human Kindness,” and two others I recognized but didn’t know the names of. The truth is, I thought Elvis was great in the late 1970s and through most of the 1980s, but I stopped buying his stuff after Spike and lately I think he’s easier to admire than to like. But he played and sang beautifully last night and I admit to having been excited when I saw his name on the program and thrilled again when he was on stage. While he sang, Dana Reeve, who was sitting at Bobby’s table, got up and left, although I don’t think it was because of any dissatisfaction with Elvis.

When the party was over, I wanted to say hello to Hamilton Fish, who had the bad form to lose to Sue Kelly in a Congressional race that I covered 11 years ago when Kelly was swept in during the “Gingrich revolution,” but I had to wait for him to finish a tete-a-tete with Arianna Huffington (I had tried to say hello to him earlier but he was having a tete-a-tete with Uma). Ham is a true blue-blood whose direct lineage goes back to a Nicholas Fish, I believe, an aide to George Washington who named his son after Alexander Hamilton, thus starting a long line of Ham Fishes (a friend of mine who worked for his campaign proposed this for a slogan – “Ham Fish: Two of the Basic Food Groups”). Nevertheless he’s a good guy. Even 11 years later he bemoaned the fact that his vanquisher is still in office, and he said he is pessimistic that Democrats will ever overcome the right wing.

For one night though, all was well in the world of environmental advocacy. Kennedy knows how to flatter his supporters, how to choose inspiring rhetoric (he’s been giving the same basic speech since the first time I heard him talk, in 1988, at Rye High School), and he knows how to demonize the forces of greed and despoliation. So despite Ham Fish’s pessimism, I left feeling good. The event raised well over $1 million for Riverkeeper. Too bad Long Island Sound has nothing comparable.

Greenwich Has Already Killed 20 Canada Geese But Didn't Bother to Tell the Public

First Greenwich's health director wrote in an official government document that Canada geese were a health threat in her town even though she knew -- or should have known -- that there was no evidence to back up that assertion, which she was using to justify the town's application to kill 200 geese.

Now, according to the Greenwich Time, she has revealed that Greenwich has already gone ahead and had 20 geese kiiled -- gassed, last year.

Neither Caroline Calderone Baisley nor anyone else in town government told anyone:

"Why would I bother (publicizing it)?" she said.

Exactly. Especially when she could be sure that a large number of people might oppose it on the grounds that the reason she gave is false.

I wonder if the town's first selectman, Jim Lash, mentioned the killings when he heard from these constituents?

Suffolk County Wants to Hang up on Broadwater

Is it time for TransCanada and Shell to pack up their Broadwater LNG plan and go home?

It is hard to find anybody who isn't on Broadwater's payroll who thinks it's a good idea to put a huge LNG plant in the middle of Long Island Sound. Yesterday the Suffolk County Legislature voted to oppose the plan and to spend $100,000 on lawyers to fight Broadwater.

Among other things, the legislators were unhappy with Broadwater's recent phone campaign.

As usual, according to Newsday, Broadwater's John Hritcko. Read the story here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

When Will Blumenthal and the DEP Finish the Sewage Spill Investigation?

How long does it take to investigate a 12-million-gallon sewage spill?

It’s been 18 days since 12 million gallons of raw sewage from a New Haven treatment plant spilled into Long Island Sound. Fourteen days ago, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a written statement to Sphere saying the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection was investigating, and that when the investigation was completed, the AG and the DEP will determine what legal action against New Haven is appropriate.

Questions to be answered:

Should New Haven should be fined for violating its state permit to discharge pollutants?

Is New Haven responsible for damages to natural resources such as shellfish beds?

How long does it take to figure these things out?

No Reason to Oppose LNG Proposal Yet? Broadwater is Wrong Again

When Chuck Schumer announced yesterday that he would oppose Broadwater's plan to build a liquefied natural gas facility in the middle of Long Island Sound, the company's response was that there is "no rational justification" for opposing the project before preliminary studies are completed.

As usual, Broadwater couldn't be more wrong.

Here are two rational justifications:

1. Long Island Sound is a public resource. It is owned by the people of New York and Connecticut. A major industrial facility should not be built in the Sound because it would usurp publicly-owned waters.

2. Construction of a major industrial facility in the middle of the Sound could easily set a precedent for future proposals.

We don't need preliminary studies to oppose the LNG terminal on that basis. (It is guaranteed, by the way, that when the preliminary studies are done, Broadwater will say there's no reason to oppose the project until the final studies are done.)

Schumer said yesterday he'll stop the project, which is a joint venture of TransCanada and Shell, by pressuring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to Newsday:

"FERC is very susceptible to what Congress wants. We set its budget and approve its members," Schumer, a Democrat, said. If FERC approves the project, Schumer added, he will push for special legislation to block it.

Maybe Broadwater should get him on the phone and then transfer the call to the Suffolk County Legislature, so he can discuss it with the local pols.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hello, Broadwater Calling

In case you thought TransCanada and Shell were sitting back and doing nothing lately, think again. The big energy and oil companies, which want to usurp a part of Long Island Sound so they can build a liquefied natural gas terminal, have been pulling off a neat trick to give the impression that people are in favor of the terminal.

On Long Island, they've been calling residents and then transferring the calls to members of the Suffolk County Legislature. Newsday found out and wrote about it:

Jean Thatcher, of Lloyd Harbor, received a call Friday morning from a woman who identified herself by name but offered no other information.

According to Thatcher, the caller misrepresented Legis. Jon Cooper's (D-Lloyd Harbor) position on Broadwater, saying he was calling for a "full and fair hearing" on the matter, when Cooper is an ardent opponent. Cooper Friday said he was upset that the callers were misrepresenting his position.

Thatcher said he challenged the caller but was automatically transferred to Cooper's office. "I was shocked that they patched me through," she said.

TransCanada/Shell's name for their LNG project is Broadwater. Amy Kelley, Broadwater's flack, wouldn't give details of this fake grassroots effort. Newsday says Adrienne Esposito, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, has given the company a new nickname: Fraud-water.

Parks, Kayaks, Ferries: More Public Access to the Sound

Marlene Kolbert, a veteran of the effort to stop Davids Island (which is off New Rochelle) from being developed and to turn it into a park, writes about the issue in the Larchmont Gazette. She writes:

People see Davids Island as one of the last potential sites for public access to Long Island Sound. (Marlene's daughter, Elizabeth, is the author of The New Yorker's recent global warming series.)

Marlene is on the Larchmont Village Board of Trustees. After you read her piece calling for public access to the island in New Rochelle, scroll down and read David Hellerstein's piece implictly calling on Marlene (and her fellow board members) to do more for public access to the Sound in Larchmont. He writes:

For most villagers, except those fortunate enough to own waterfront property or to belong to exclusive clubs, we might as well be living in the middle of South Dakota.

David Hellerstein is a kayaker, and his piece is about finding places to put his kayak into the water. But the point is the same, whether you want to paddle about or just put your feet in a tidal pool:

... think regionally. The issue of water access to the Sound should involve collaboration between all shorefront municipalities.

Meanwhile in Stamford, a fellow wants to run a ferry service for day-trippers to Northport. More kayakers, more parks, more ferries -- we need them all.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

New Canaan, Connecticut

I have mixed feelings about New Canaan, Connecticut, where I lived for 13 years and where I made the mistake of not buying a house or a building lot, which I could have sold by now for a pile of money given the Himalayan heights of property values there and retired early on the profit to blog fulltime thereby filling the void caused by the appalling state of environmental reporting in the region.

But that’s not why I have mixed feelings.

I have mixed feelings because New Canaan has a downtown that is pleasant (although expensive) to visit, and it has houses and apartments close enough for people to walk to shop. There’s a pretty good bookstore and a good place to buy wine (Franco’s) and a Ralph Lauren shop that I like because Ralph himself is occasionally strolling along the sidewalk to and from the store and he’s much shorter than you’d think.

But beyond the business area, the town has gone through an appalling change. Fields and woods have been carved up into emerald subdivisions with 8,000 square foot houses and three acres of lawn on which immigrants from Central America spend more time (usually with hurricane-force leaf blowers) than the owners. Farmhouses of heart-aching charm have been bought up, torn down, and replaced with enormous houses designed to showcase their owners considerable wealth and execrable taste. The changes on Oenoke Ridge Road and White Oak Shade Road constitute a crime against local character.

New Canaan also has more than 70 classic, mid-century modern houses, designed by Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Elliot Noyes and others. There had been more than 100 but, like the farmhouses, a good number - perhaps as many as 30 - have been razed and replaced. I’ve written elsewhere about why I think these modern houses are important, but mainly I just like the way they look. It’s a matter of taste, true, but it’s a big world and when it comes to domestic architecture there’s room for more than just faux-Colonials.

So I was pleased to hear this week that a Johnson and a Breuer that local aficionados had feared would be torn down apparently aren’t going to be. The Johnson house is called the Alice Ball House and it’s easily visible on Oenoke Ridge Road, across from Hemlock Hill Road. It’s tiny and would make a nice place for one person; apparently the new owner is going to convert it into a pool house adjacent to another house she wants to build nearby. The bad news is that she apparently will erect a wall between the house and the road, for privacy. So the Philip Johnson house will be saved but the opportunity to see it from the road might be soon lost.

The Alice Ball house was part of the New Canaan Historical Society’s Modern House Day tour last October. The Breuer house was not, but the tour guides made a point of driving past it and noting that it was for sale - and someone on the tour bought it, which is what the tour organizers secretly hoped for. This New York Times piece from last Sunday mentions that architect Toshiko Mori, who was one of the speakers at the MHD symposium, is updating a Breuer house in New Canaan. (The house that is pictured on the link is a John Black Lee house that Mori updated within the last decade or so; it's on Chichester Road in New Canaan and is worth driving past if you're interested in such things and are in the area.) I don’t know if the Breuer house that she is working on is the same Breuer house that the people on the tour bought, but in either case, it’s satisfying that not every person wealthy enough to buy a place in New Canaan is completely devoid of aesthetic sensibility.

Logo for the Modern House Day Tour and Symposium in New Canaan, CT
(This beautiful logo is by Gina Federico Graphic Design.)

Greenwich Reconsidering Goose Hunt

Greenwich might be pulling back from its plan to kill Canada geese. Animal rights activists and environmentalists (which of course are not the same thing) met with Greenwich officials to persuade them to try a non-lethal control method.

The Greenwich Time has a follow-up to earlier stories. But it lets the town and the state DEP off the hook by not raising the question of why officials said in their application to kill the birds that the geese were a health threat when the officials knew, or should have known, that there was no evidence to support that assertion.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Art History

Somewhere in a file I have a clip from the New York Times, from about 25 years ago, that talks about a guy who bought a Winslow Homer painting at an antiques store for about $5. I was reminded of it this morning when I read this story in Newsday. Imagine opening an old storage locker of your parents, stashed away on the eastern end of Long Island, and finding 32 Jackson Pollocks?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Morels and Box Turtles

The first time I was in the woods with Michael Klemens, he was making a quick biodiversity survey of an area near my home. Michael is a herpetologist and ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, and he is the executive director of the Metropolitan Conservation Alliance, which is based in Rye, New York, and which is a project of the WCS. We've since become friends, although at the time he was someone whom I had heard of and met once or twice but did not know very well. Our trip to the woods was back in 1999, and it was as enlightening and eye-opening as reading a difficult poem or novel with a first-rate professor.

Box Turtle

The first hill we crossed that day, dotted with junipers and tufts of little bluestem grass, wasn't merely a hill -- it was excellent box turtle habitat. The grass that grew in patches throughout the woods was evidence of fire within the last 15 years or so. The little brown thing he found amid a scoop of what seemed like nothing but muck from a vernal pool was the larva of one of the lungless salamanders -- and who even knew that salamanders did or did not have lungs? The little white fragments on a sandy scar on top of a hill were the remnant shells of turtle eggs.

I was happy that I could identify the song of a common yellowthroat, or the shaggy bark of an American hop-hornbeam, which grew in a hillside grove, but this other stuff was new to me.

At one point, walking along the side of a wooded hillside on which a handful of very old apple trees grew among the maples, I found a grove of morel mushrooms.

"Look at this," I called out. "More - eels!" (I preferred the quasi-French pronunciation, which I picked up from my wife.)

I slipped my pack off my back to get ready to pick some for dinner.

Michael Klemens gave a look.

"Wonderful!" he said. "Box turtles love to eat them."

I put my pack back on and made believe I had never intended to pick any.

But I remembered where they were, and last year and the year before I went back with my son, who is now seven. Two years ago we found a bunch, picked a few, and left most. Last year we were too late -- the mushrooms were just about as plentiful, but slugs and bugs, and I hope turtles, had gotten to them first. None were worth picking.


When I got home from work this evening, I mentioned to my son that we'd have to go back there soon because it's morel season again.

"Oh, Dad, I found some on our property."

"What? You're kidding me."

He led me to a spot alongside the driveway, near where a storm had toppled a decrepit apple tree several years ago, and there, no bigger than golf balls, were two morels. I covered them with deer netting in hopes that they'd grow bigger.

But I'm not sure who I'm saving them for. We'd love to eat them. But two tiny morels don't add up to much. And one of the great things about our property -- one of the things I brag about to Michael Klemens -- is that we have box turtles here. And box turtles love to eat morels.

Dispatches from the Vanishing World

A website almost isn’t big enough for Alex Shoumatoff. He writes long, long pieces that seem to contain everything he learns about a subject and yet avoid seeming like an information dump – which is one of the things that make a good non-fiction writer. Shoumatoff used to work for The New Yorker. Most of his work, including relatively up-to-date things, appear on his website, Dispatches from the Vanishing World.

When he lived in New Rochelle in the 1980s, I tracked him down and contrived to go interview him about something-or-other, mainly because I was a fan and wanted to meet him. He then moved to the Adirondacks and coincidentally settled right up the road from where I used to live.

I like his stuff because, among other things, as he has gotten older he has become more steadfast in his belief that the natural world and important cultures are being destroyed by the forces of “progress” and he says it in compelling ways, with compelling stories and descriptions of trips he has taken. Someone once said of Jonathan Schwartz, the disc jockey, that he takes himself seriously but he takes his listeners seriously too – which is rare. Substitute “readers” for “listeners” and the same applies to Shoumatoff.

Scroll around his site and find The Garter Snake Dens of Manitoba, and his dispatch from the Gulf of Maine. One of my favorites is an old Talk of the Town piece, from ’85, about sea turtles in Long Island Sound, which prompted me to write a chapter about sea turtles for my book (I ultimately dropped it because it didn’t fit it very well).

He has a new piece, not yet on his site but online at NRDC’s journal, about a power company’s plan to desecrate an incredible wilderness in Manitoba.

These aren’t the quick hits of a blog, but they’re well worth reading and his site is worth knowing about.

Norwalk River Monitoring to Continue

Private donors and the town of Weston have come up with the money to keep Dick Harris's Harbor Watch/River Watch water quality monitoring program on the Norwalk River alive.

A few weeks ago the state DEP said it would no longer fund the program. It has a legitimate reason -- the program had met its goal of determining water quality in the river so the department could set limits on pollutants. That seems like a smart decision and I have no problem with the state doing what it said it was going to do in the first place and not wanting to fund programs forever.

But a testing program that relies on a group of volunteers is worthwhile not just because it records water quality data but also because it gets a group of people physically in touch with the river. Finding local donors and a municipality to help with the funding might actually help strengthen that connection.

Here's the Stamford Advocate's story.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Did Greenwich & DEP Exaggerate Health Risk to Justify Killing Geese?

The Greenwich officials who want to kill Canada geese in town admit now that even though they said that the geese are a health threat, there really is no evidence to back that up. However, they blame the Connecticut DEP for requiring them to make such a claim in their application for permission to eliminate the geese.

The town's application, which it quietly submitted earlier in the year, says, "The increase in coliform counts and the risk of infection due to droppings is a serious health concern for the Greenwich Department of Health."

But apparently there are no studies anywhere to back up that assertion, according to the Greenwich Time. What does the town have to say about that? The Greenwich Time reports now:

Caroline Calderone Baisley, the town's health director, said claims about a threat to public health are not central to the plan. "If it was a health issue, quite frankly, I would have moved on this quite some time ago and ordered their removal, and I wouldn't need a consensus to do that," Calderone Baisley said.

Rather, claims about a health threat are in the application because the state environmental officials reviewing it wanted them there. To meet state requirements for permission to kill Canada geese - as outlined by state waterfowl biologist Min Huang - a case must be made that public health and safety issues are at stake, Calderone Baisley said.

So the town's health director made a claim in an official document that geese constituted a health threat even through there was no data to support that claim. And a state official told the health director to do it.

Assuming the Greenwich Time has this right, aren't there professional standards in the Town of Greenwich and the Connecticut DEP that should prevent public officials from making claims that are at least exaggerated on official documents? Or claims that as professionals they should have known there was no evidence for? And are there disciplinary actions that should be taken as a result?

The Greenwich Time didn't cover this angle. Here's hoping they don't let it drop.

Here's an earlier post on the issue, and a follow-up.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Birds & Bats

I never was much of a "list chaser," to use the term that the late ornithologist and writer Bob Arbib used when I interviewed him way back in 1983. I used to keep a life list but I misplaced it, and although I assume it will turn up someday, I have no idea where it is. Nevertheless, I like to be able to identify the birds in my neighborhood, and I like to know which birds are around generally.

For example, a couple of birds I've never seen -- an American golden plover and a prothonotary warbler -- showed up yesterday at Hammonasset, in Madison, Connecticut, and in Fairfield, Connecticut, respectively, and a least tern, a relatively rare and elegant seabird, was in Milford, Connecticut.

I learned this through a website and e-mail service that gathers bird sightings from competent birds around Connecticut. Patrick Comins, Audubon Connecticut's director of bird conservation, told me about it the other day. If you're interested in birds in Connecticut or along the Sound, it's worth a look.

Also worth a look is this story, from today's Greenwich Time, about bats in Greenwich:

Earlier this year, as part of a biennial survey of bats in the state, DEP biologists visited a half-dozen hibernation spots in the state ... and counted an estimated 4,300 bats.

That's an average of 717 bats per site, and considering that one of them was in Greenwich and harbored only 162 bats, the others must be teeming with them.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Almanac, May 6, 2005 -- II

The three-masted sharpie schooner SoundWaters has been sailing the Sound and trawling the harbors and bays in search of benthic treasure. We carry an educational collection permit which allows us to trawl certain sections of LIS and then practice "catch and release." We catch stuff and then use it as a teaching tool with classes of school children.

Last week in pea soup fog inside the breakwater in Stamford we picked up not one but two tractor tires in the cod end of the net. After much cursing and mechanical advantage and splattering mud, we got the tires aboard and found many treasures inside the trash. It is quite amazing that the net didn't rip as we pulled the tires along the bottom and then up to deck. Two lobsters were found hiding in the mud inside the tires. One had been in quite a fight as it was missing both its claws. We catch very few lobsters in Stamford (our home port) so it is always a thrill when we do; these two just took way more effort than usual.

-- Shane Walden & the SoundWaters Crew

Sound Program Funding Still in Doubt

The word from people who know what’s going on in Washington is that funding for the Long Island Sound Study isn’t in jeopardy as long as a Herculean effort is made to persuade lawmakers to increase the Bush administration’s pathetically low proposal.

What prompted my inquiry was an e-mail that went out this morning to the Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance from Robin Kriesberg at Save the Sound:

We were recently alerted to talk in Washington about substantial decreases in funding for the National Estuary Program and LIS.

Please fax the US Representatives from your State and let them know how important it is to fund LIS clean up. Attached please find example letters to house Reps and Senators that can be personalized and tailored to be from you or your organization. Also attached is a list of the most important NY reps to reach and their addresses and fax numbers.

You may remember (here, here and here) that there was a question about whether the administration’s proposal was a serious threat to the Sound program. My Washington source says today that the threat is real if the Sound’s constituents are complacent:

Sadly this is pretty much how it goes every year (or at least how it has gone every one of the 8 years I've been doing this). Big cuts in the Administration budget followed by herculean efforts like this one to restore funding. In that effort it is very important that every Connecticut and New York lawmaker hear from lots of constituents about how important this issue is. They don't just need to ask for the funding, they need to fight for it and make it a high priority amongst their own appropriations requests.

Just because it happens every year doesn't mean it's easy to correct every time!

If you’re on the LISWA e-mail list, you’ve already gotten the names and fax numbers of the pols you need to contact (regular letters apparently take weeks to be delivered because they’re scanned for anthrax).

If not, write to Robin and ask her to send them to you: rkriesberg@SAVETHESOUND.ORG.

Almanac, May 6, 2005

I spent part of yesterday afternoon looking for turtles with a herpetologist in a marsh that forms the headwaters of a tributary of a tributary of the Sound. In an area where red maple swamps and vernal pools and man-made ponds are common, there's nothing else around like this marsh -- broad, open, protected by rocky ridges of oak forest. We found only one turtle -- a spotted turtle hatchling -- and one turtle track in a tiny apron of muck. At 4:30, as we started back toward our cars, the sound of a bird stopped us. Raven? We listened and it called again and again from the woods to the south. A common raven indeed, though not so common at all around here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Blumenthal: DEP is Investigating the 12-Million-Gallon Sewage Spill

Connecticut's Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, says that DEP is investigating the New Haven sewage spill and that when the investigation is done, he and the DEP will decide if legal action is appropriate.

Here's his statement, which came to Sphere via e-mail rather than the promised phone call:

The sewage spill in the Morris Cove neighborhood of New Haven on April 30 is a very serious and urgent concern. I understand that DEP is continuing its active investigation. This factual investigation should provide a full understanding of the cause, nature and extent of the spill. We then will determine, in cooperation with DEP, what legal action under the water pollution laws may be appropriate. I am strongly committed to the protection of Long Island Sound from all encroachments and damage, whether from sewage or unnecessary and inappropriate utility projects. Long Island Sound is a precious and irreplaceable resource, and I will continue to fight to protect it.

E-mails tend to hinder follow-up questions that logically arise during an interview.

So the questions still to be answered are: How long will the investigation take? Once it's finished, how long will it take to decide if legal action is appropriate?

The bigger questions are:

Should New Haven should be fined for violating its state permit to discharge pollutants?

Is New Haven responsible for damages to natural resources such as shellfish beds?

The local papers aren't covering this, so check back here for updates.

Shifting Baselines II: The Mannahatta Project

When I was much younger, I used to ride the Staten Island Ferry just to be awed by the situation -- the freighters moored near the Narrows, the arch of the Bayonne Bridge, the inaccessible islands whose old names my grandfather had taught me (the Statue of Liberty was on Bedloe's Island), the upper Bay itself almost perfectly enclosed, the skyline. As awesome as it was, how awesome must it have been centuries ago? I would try to imagine forests instead of skyscrapers, beaches instead of bulkheads, shoals instead of shipping channels.

Among the most satisfying parts of "This Fine Piece of Water" to research and write were the chapters in which I tried to show what the region must have looked like to Adriaen Block when he and his Dutch crew first sailed through Long Island Sound in 1612 or 1613. Last week I wrote here about the idea of shifting baselines. What Block found, and what the Native Americans lived, was the baseline for Long Island Sound and its watershed.

A couple of years ago, the Regional Plan Association produced this map, which shows the extent of tidal wetlands in the late 1700s and 1800s. Notice the green splotches at Flushing Meadows and Eastchester Bay, and think of what the western Sound's ecosystem would be like had those wetlands not be destroyed (and to truly boggle your mind, look at the vast green area of the New Jersey meadowlands).

historic wetlands map

Jon Christensen, who writes The Uneasy Chair, directed me this morning to something that I had heard about but had yet to check out: the Mannahatta Project, which is being undertaken by researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society. It's well worth a look:

The aim of the Mannahatta Project is to reconstruct the ecology of Manhattan when Henry Hudson first sailed by in 1609 and compare it to what we know of the island today. The Mannahatta Project will help us to understand, down to the level of one city block, where in Manhattan streams once flowed or where American Chestnuts may have grown, where black bears once marked territories, and where the Lenape fished and hunted. Most history books dispense of the pre-European history of New York in only a few pages. However, with new methods in geographic analysis and the help of a remarkable 18th-century map, we will discover a new aspect of New York culture, the environmental foundation of the city.

It's absurd, of course, to think we can ever get back to those ultimate baselines. They're fascinating and fun. But they're useful too, if only to show us how much we have lost, and to remind us of the fallacy of thinking that what we remember from our youth was an ideal worth aspiring to, a paradise worth regaining. Instead, it's merely one of the points of a shifting basline.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Waiting for the AG

Richard Blumenthal's spokesman, who says that I can't mention his name because the only person who can speak on the record for the attorney general is the attorney general (and who in fact asked me to remove his name from the previous post, which I reluctantly did), called this afternoon to say that Blumenthal was backed up this afternoon and would have to postpone the call until tomorrow.

If he calls, and if he has any news about fines or other compensation for the 12-million-gallon sewage spill in New Haven over the weekend, I'll report then. Sorry for the false alarm.

Coming Soon: The AG's Response to the New Haven Sewage Spill

A spokesman for Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has promised to call me later this afternoon to talk about the AG's response to the 12 million gallon sewage spill in New Haven over the weekend. I'll be posting something after our talk.

Protecting Oyster Bay and Its Wildlife

A proposal to put 68 units of senior housing on a tract that overlooks the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge is attracting some attention on Long Island’s north shore. Friends of the Bay and its exec director, Kyle Rabin, are trying to persuade the town and the county to buy the land and protect it as open space.

The Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge surrounds Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt’s home. The NWR consists of 3000-plus acres of “of bay bottom and adjacent shoreline up to the mean high tide, plus the channels and marshes of Frost, Oak Neck, and Mill Neck Creeks.”

“Marine invertebrate and fish communities support a complex food web from waterfowl to fish-eating birds, to marine mammals. Waterfowl use of the Refuge peaks from October through April. Over 20,000 ducks have been documented on the refuge during one survey. Over 25 species of waterfowl, along with numerous other waterbirds, depend on Oyster Bay for survival. The most common marine mammals at the refuge are harbor seals - which have become more noticeable during recent years. Sea turtles and diamondback terrapins can also be sighted at the Refuge.”

I’ve never been there so it’s hard for me to speak definitively, but it sounds like a worthwhile preservation project.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Should the New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority be Fined for the Sewage Spill?

A person could logically expect that a sewage spill of 12 million gallons constitutes a violation of the state permit under which the New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority operates its sewage treatment plant.

Does the Connecticut DEP plan to levy a fine for the permit violation?

A person could also imagine that the damage done to shellfish beds in the New Haven area requires compensation to the fishermen who for the time being are prohibited from harvesting shellfish.

Is the Connecticut Attorney General contemplating a natural resource damage suit?

This reminds me of what John Cronin, who was the Hudson Riverkeeper from about 1982 until 2000, once said:

“Everybody wants to be an exception, and the government goes along. Big business thinks they’re an exception because they employ a lot of people and are important to the economy. Small business thinks they are an exception, because – hey, the point isn’t to go after the little guy, is it? Municipalities insist that they have to be exempt because they represent the taxpayers who the laws are meant to protect. So the result is, nothing much ever gets done.”

Thoughts on the Sewage Spill

These comments about the sewage spill, from someone who remembers when sewage spills were routine, are well worth reading. Click here.

New Haven Sewage Spill: No News

The estimate of the amount of raw sewage that spilled into Long Island Sound over the weekend from a broken pipe in New Haven is now 12 million gallons.

The only news story I could find about it this morning is this piece from Channel 8 in New Haven. In my opinion it's frivolous, but it's all we have.

Perhaps They Thought Twice

Thinking about the big sewage spill in New Haven over the weekend, I was reminded of sewage spills on Long Island Sound back in 1987.

In 1987, dissolved oxygen levels in the western half of Long Island Sound dropped to zero so quickly in late July and early August, that fish and lobsters and crabs died throughout the region. The next summer conditions were almost as bad but dissolved oxygen never reached zero. The western half of the Sound was virtually lifeless, but no fish kills were recorded.

What was the difference?

In 1987, a couple of large sewage spills had preceded the dissolved oxygen drop. Back then, Barbara Welsh, a scientist at the University of Connecticut, speculated that part of the difference was luck, part of it was that the people who worked at the sewage treatment plants behaved more responsibly in '88 then in '87.

In 1988, "There were no sewage spills, so the line between a stressed environment and an environmental disaster was never crossed. Or perhaps, she speculated, the outrage and worry of 1987 -- the headlines and broadcast reports and talk that the Sound was dying -- had struck the people who run the sewage treatment plants with a greater sense of responsibility. Perhaps they thought twice before opening the bypass valves to let raw sewage thunder into the Sound's waters."

Sunday, May 01, 2005

10 Million Gallons of Raw Sewage, and Who Cares?

One of the biggest raw sewage spills in years is taking place now in East Haven -- as much as 10 million gallons pouring from a broken pipe into Morris Creek and New Haven Harbor.

Who cares?

Not Raymond Smedberg, general manager of New Haven's Water Pollution Control Authority. Smedberg says it's not a threat to the public and Long Island Sound will clean itself.

Not someone named Dwayne Gardiner, who works for the Connecticut DEP. He's confident "that Mother Nature will take over and correct the problem."

Not somebody named Dwight Juranie, who lives near Morris Creek. After all, Long Island Sound is a big place: "Twelve thousand gallons, twelve million gallons, it isn't much for Long Island Sound."

Not the local newspapers. The Connecticut Post didn't see fit to write about it. Either did the Hartford Courant, which supposedly covers the Sound shore. The Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time didn't even publish AP stories, assuming AP cared enough to file a story (and there's no evidence that it did).

The New Haven Register wrote about it here. The Register reporter was content to let the man most likely to get blamed for lack of oversight -- the aforementioned Raymond Smedberg, general manager of New Haven's Water Pollution Control Authority -- tell him that it was no big deal.

Channel 8 News had a report and managed to find Dwight Juranie, a well known expert on Long Island Sound conditions, who told a reporter that it "isn't much for Long Island Sound." (Oh, wait a minute! Dwight Juranie isn't an expert on the Sound! He's just another guy who doesn't know much but has an opinion. Sorry!)

Here's a tip to local newspapers and reporters: When 10 million gallons of raw sewage spills into the Sound, it's news. Not only is it news, but it's a scandal.

Looking for some knowledgeable people to express concern if not outrage?

Try Soundkeeper Terry Backer: Phone: (203) 854-5330 or 1-800-933-SOUND.

Try Save the Sound: 1-888-SAVE-LIS.

Or try Nick Crismale, the president of the Connecticut Lobsterman's Association who is now trying to earn a living harvesting clams from Morris Cove only to have the sewage spill force him to suspend its work.

Anyone else want to volunteer to be outraged, not just at this assault on the Sound but at the complacency?

(In its first-day story, on Friday, Channel 8 did a good job tracking down and quoting Crismale and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, both of whom are more concerned about the spill than the man in charge, Raymond Smedberg, general manager of New Haven's Water Pollution Control Authority, or DEP's Dwayne Gardiner. Here's the link.)

(Thanks to Robert Funicello for alerting me to the spill.)

Greenwich's Plan to Kill Canada Geese is Unjustified

Tom Baptist, executive director of Audubon Connecticut, sent me an amplification of his opinion about Greenwich's decision to seek a state permit to kill geese:

Unlike the deer issue, where overwhelming evidence resulting from scientific inquiry amply justifies the reduction of the number of deer for ecological stability and public health purposes, no such science-based support exists for the planned killing of geese. In connection to nuisance populations of geese, no human health risk has been clearly defined, evidence of ecological damage is lacking, and there is little proof that killing geese as planned will accomplish the stated goal.

The lack of documentation in support of the planned kill suggests that the Town of Greenwich is opting for the most expediant, inexpensive way to address understandable aesthetic concerns regarding quantities of geese feces at certain public parks. Each of the subject parks maintain habitat attractive to geese, i.e. lawns are mowed to the edge of waterbodies. Until steps are taken to reduce the viability of those areas to geese, then geese will continue to frequent them regardless of the planned kill.

Greenwich is sending the wrong message, opting for the killing of the offending birds apparently for aesthetic reasons, rather than employing proven non-lethal control methods. Actions like this are ultimately erosive to thoughtful environmental protection. The better course is one that respects nature, values nature, and defends nature.
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