Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween Lady Bug Party

Yesterday my son, Kaare, who is 7, walked into the upstairs bathroom, looked around, and declared, "The lady bug party has started!" The bathroom has bright walls, faces west and gets plenty of sun, and each fall, lady bugs gather there by the dozen, huddled into corners and scattered along the tops of the walls. We counted 24 yesterday. Today I counted 76.

I'm fairly certain they are the multicolored Asian lady beetle, or Halloween lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis. They were introduced in the U.S. in past decades to control pests such as aphids, and the websites I've read say they're doing a pretty good job. In fall they start to look for hiding places in which to overwinter. In some places they become so numerous they get into people's hair and fall into their food and drinks, although I think if one plunked into a martini it would suffer more than the martini.

Homeowners often express concern and aggravation with these nuisance pests. During late autumn, homeowners complain that multicolored Asian lady beetles cluster on the sides of houses; "crunch" under foot; get into food and drinks; alight on hands, arms, and other parts of the body; and sometimes enter the ears and mouth. The lady beetles can be so numerous that they appear to be "raining" outdoors or swarming like bees.

We first saw them in the mid 1990s. They show up every year on a warm, sunny day, always gathering in the same room -- the upstairs bathroom, where we live now, and on a west-facing, glass-enclosed porch in our old house. A few of them hang around through the winter; the others, I suppose, find a better place to hibernate than the bathroom.

We generally don't mind bugs coming into the house, although we don't go as far as some of insectophiles I've read about. William T. Davis, a pioneering entomologist who lived on Staten Island 100 years ago, used to keep a bowl of sugar water on his desk so bees would visit while he was working, and I think I've read that the writer Guy Davenport does something similar. We draw the line at mosquitoes and deer ticks, but the lady bugs are welcome. Our habits amount to a mutual agreement -- I have my drink downstairs, and they hold their lady bug party upstairs.

The Old Days on Davids Island

With Davids Island in New Rochelle on its way to becoming a Westchester County park, people who lived there when it was Fort Slocum are waxing nostalgic. Read this story, in the Journal News, and you get an idea of what a different world the Long Island Sound area was, even within the memories of lots of people who are still around. A fellow who lived there has a website devoted to the old days.

Over the Weekend...

Farming the coastal waters ... Work is beginning in Washington on the next Farm Bill, and Abigail Anthony, a fellow of the University of Rhode Island's Coastal Institute, says it is important for Narragansett Bay and other coastal areas of RI. In yesterday's Providence Journal, she writes:

Rhode Islanders need to be aware of the significance of the 2007 Farm Bill, because its impact on the state would be much broader than price supports for soybeans and subsidies for winter wheat. As important as the Farm Bill is for conventional agriculture, its reach extends to the core of what we value in Rhode Island.

... The Farm Bill's Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) provides funds for restoring marine habitat around Narragansett Bay. Restoration efforts have been under way for several years, with significant results.

Any reason her point shouldn't apply to Long Island Sound as well?

Vote Pombo Out ... The New York Times took a break from Scooter and Karl and Dick to write an editorial yesterday about one of the nation's leading environmental villains, Representative Richard Pombo.

Pombo, you may remember, is the Californian and DeLay ally who thinks the Long Island Sound Stewardship program is a bad idea (here and here). He also wrote the revised Endangered Species Act, the one that will hasten the extinction of endangered species. The Times summarizes the some of this charlatan's other bad ideas. Here's the Vote Pombo Out website.

Eggs and mushrooms ... In June, a female box turtle shows up near our house, and a number of times we've watched her dig a hole and lay her eggs. Box turtles can lay infertile eggs, though, and so I've never been sure if we have anything like a sustainable population around here. Yesterday, in the warmth of the late-morning sun, I found a half-dollar sized hole at the spot where she laid her eggs in June. My son and I excavated and found the shell of one egg. Would an empty shell below a small hole indicate anything but a successful hatch and emergence? Expert opinions solicited.... This picture, by the way, is not of the turtle egg. It's tonight's dinner, two puffball mushrooms we found growing along the road.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Long Island Shellfish Wars, Past and Present

In April 1993 a lobsterman named Abel Miguel and his nephew, Luis Mendes, were in their boat pulling traps off Sands Point when another boat raced up to them. The three men in the other boat were wearing masks and carrying guns. They opened fire, hitting Miguel three times in the abdomen and groin. Mendes jumped overboard and avoided being shot. Police said Miguel was a victim of a territorial dispute among lobstermen.

Six or seven years earlier I had been in the bar of a restaurant on City Island, listening to a lobsterman brag about how he had pulled a shotgun on another lobsterman because the other guy had been moving in on his territory. Of course there are no legal territories -- anyone can legally trap lobsters anywhere in Long Island Sound that he wants. But over time informal territories get established. The men who shot Miguel were found guilty, but the convictions were overturned because of a judicial error; a second trial ended in a hung jury; at a third trial they were acquitted. Miguel recovered and returned to lobster fishing.

I thought of all this this morning when I read a story in Newsday about a clammer on Oyster Bay who was arrested for ramming his boat into another clammer's boat, causing the second guy to whack his head. The clammers were pissed off at each other because their boats' wakes were making it hard to work.

The guy who did the ramming is named Jeff Armstrong. Newsday reported:

"It's wasn't about a turf war," said Mike Aronsen, a Nassau police spokesman. "It's over a wake."

Investigators weren't sure who became most upset over the wakes....

Baymen unloading bushels of clams Friday at Oyster Bay's Theodore Roosevelt Park sympathized with Armstrong, blaming the incident on the other bayman, and said violent clashes on the water were rare.

"There are words. Usually everybody takes care of themselves, but you do get people who push hard. They're just being idiots," said one bayman, who declined to identify himself.

Brian Murphy of Huntington said "this stuff has been going on for years," even boats running into each other intentionally.

But he added that he hadn't heard of an incident like this recently. "It's been pretty quiet," Murphy said. "There's not many guys left in the business. It's too hard to make a living.

Amstrong was charged with second-degree assault and criminal mischief.

Connecticut Asks FERC for a Formal Role in Broadwater Review

Because the LNG terminal proposed by Shell and TransCanada would be in New York's part of Long Island Sound, the state's coastal zone management staff (part of the Department of State) will get a chance to review the project (whether they can stop it is a question I can't answer).

But Connecticut's coastal zone program won't have a similar opportunity. Yesterday though the state formally asked FERC to allow it to review the proposal for the huge LNG facility.

DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy wrote to FERC, according to the New Haven Register:

McCarthy’s request cited a recent case in which federal officials allowed a New York agency to review a proposal to designate disposal sites for dredged material, even though the sites were all in Connecticut waters.

"FERC’s Broadwater licensing process poses an exactly parallel situation, given the potential effects of the construction and use of such an extensive facility on the resources and uses of all Long Island Sound, and given the remarkable level of public concern that has been expressed on both sides of the Sound," McCarthy said.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Congressional Committee Authorizes Some Money for EPA's Long Island Sound Program

A Congressional committee authorized five years of additional funding yesterday to continue EPA's Long Island Sound program.

Authorization of money by a committee isn't a huge step -- the entire House still has to authorize it, and then the Senate, and then Congress has to appropriate it -- but presumably this means things are on the right path for a worthwhile program.

The New London Day wrote about it here. Read it and then ask yourself what key piece of information about the authorization you still don't know. (Answer below...)

Finished? OK. How much money was authorized? Oops. I guess the reporter and editors forgot to ask.

In any case, some amount of money was authorized. We'll have to assume it was enough to keep the program going.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

An Old White Sox Fan

I’m not going to claim to be one now, but I used to be a Chicago White Sox fan. When I was a kid I bought this 1967 yearbook, on a trip to Cooperstown. That was just about when the Mets were getting good, and as New Yorker and the son of a National League fan (the New York Giants, in particular), we became Mets fans. In 1969, of course, the Mets won the World Series.

Three White Sox in the ’67 yearbook were on the ’69 Mets: Al Weis (“German ancestry”}, a good-field, no-hit infielder who nonetheless had an RBI single in the second game and a game-tying home run in the fifth (and final game); J.C. Martin (“English-German ancestry”), a catcher who, with the fourth game tied in extra innings, tried to sacrifice bunt and was hit with the throw as he ran to first, allowing the winning run to score; and Tommie Agee (“Negro ancestry”), who led off the game for the Mets with a home run and made two great catches in the outfield.

A former Yankee (Moose Skowron) and a future Yankee (Tommy John) were also on that Sox team.

The ancestry information, by the way, comes from the yearbook’s biographical profiles. Brent Musberger, the TV sports broadcaster, was covering the team for the Chicago American. And the Pepsi ad on the inside back cover asserts: “The girls girl-watchers watch drink Diet Pepsi.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Norwalk Starts Filtering Contaminated Stormwater

Norwalk’s experiment with a filter than removes pollutants from stormwater – dubbed the Smart Sponge – began yesterday. The amount of contaminants that reach Long Island Sound is so great the heavy rains automatically force officials to shut down shellfishing beds and some beaches. Norwalk of course has hundreds of acres of oyster beds, and it’s possible that if the filters work, the beds will be able to stay open more often (although I hasten to add that health officials are exceedingly cautious about keeping oysters safe). The Stamford Advocate has a story today, and here’s what I wrote back in July.

Mercury in the Sound's Watershed

A trip north reveals high levels of mercury at the source of the Connecticut River, on the New Hampshire-Canada border. The Hartford Courant reports:

At tiny Fourth Connecticut Lake on the Canadian border, the very beginning of the 410-mile-long Connecticut and accessible only by a hike of more than a half-mile through spruce forest, the sediments are laced with mercury.

... Mercury in rivers is so pervasive that 47 states now have posted advisories either statewide or for specific waters instructing people to limit their intake of freshwater fish. The New Hampshire fish consumption advisory is statewide, and even stricter for fish taken from several impoundments of the Connecticut in New Hampshire and Vermont. Predator fish species from those impoundments carry high levels of mercury in their flesh.

Read through the story for some interesting information about airborne nitrogen. The nation's rivers are essentially conveyor belts of nitrogen to estuaries and coastal waters.

Quote of the day:

"It's an incredible commentary on where we're at in America, environmentally," said Brian O'Donnell of Enfield, Conn., who had just climbed up the bank of the Connecticut River after a morning of fishing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Nor'easters, Cyclones, Pinballing Storms: The Silly Language of Weather

What kind of storm are we having today? The newspapers that cover the Long Island Sound region all say it's a nor'easter. The Stamford Advocate says so, as does the Hartford Courant; the Journal News quotes a meteorologist saying so; the New London Day asserts that it's a "near-Nor'easter," assigning an upper-case N and thus elevating it to the status of proper noun.

All these references sent me to the archives of The New Yorker, where I found this Talk of the Town piece from a couple of months ago, about a crank in Maine who has taken it upon himself to eradicate the abominable contraction, nor'easter. When Edgar Comee reads, or hears on the news, an account of a nor'easter, he sends out a postcard he has had printed:

“Now hear this!” the card begins. “The use of nor’easter to describe a northeast storm is a pretentious and altogether lamentable affectation, the odious, even loathsome, practice of landlubbers who would be seen as salty as the sea itself.”

Comee claims that a coastal storm with winds pushing back toward land from the northeast is a northeaster. If a contraction is necessary, he says, it's probably "no'theaster," which approximates the way some New Englanders might pronounce it.

I have a theory, based on no research, about how "nor'easter" became so common. It has to do with the most odious of assignments for a newspaper reporter: the weather story.

Editors of mediocre dailies (and I should know, I worked for one for 17 years) have an almost pathological attraction to stories about the weather. They see them as a way to write about the things readers are talking about. Reporters see weather stories for what they are -- filler that states the obvious: "See that white stuff out there? It's snow."

Editors and reporters are constantly in conflict about this. Unfortunately, newsroom battles are always won by editors, and reporters have to make the best of it.

Back in July and August of 1993, I had a streak of about two months where literally one-third of the 30 stories I wrote were about how hot it was. I was supposed to be covering the environment, and the constant weather assignments were one conflict in along-running feud between me and my editor, a true mediocrity whom the reporters dubbed "Alfalfa" because of a vague resemblance to the Little Rascals character and who I had detested for years on the basic principle that he was an idiot.

Each time I saw Alfalfa approach me in the newsroom, I figured I was about to get another assignment to write a story saying how hot it was in summer. If I saw him in time, I could try to take evasive action. On one occasion I succeeded -- I must have persuaded him that I was already working on a story for the next day. Back then, the newspaper had a primitive e-mail system that allowed reporters to communicate with each other via two- or three-line messages. When Alfalfa walked away and I returned to my story, I fired off a message to a colleague: "Dodged another weather story!"

At the end of the year I received my annual performance evaluation. Parts of it did not make me happy and I attributed those parts to my personal conflict with Alfalfa. So I went in to discuss it with the executive editor. This fellow was a smarmy and very smart lifer at our newspaper chain, who quickly became known and loathed for his fake collegiality, and he is now the executive editor of one of the biggest papers in the country.

Among other things, we began to discuss my disenchantment with having to write so many weather stories. It was as if he had been waiting for me to fall into his trap. He went into his file and pulled out a piece of paper. "But you were trying to get out of writing weather stories! Back in August you sent a message that said, 'Dodged another weather story!' " I immediately realized my blunder. In my exultance over not having to write about how hot it was, I had dashed off the message and sent it not to a trusted colleague but to Alfalfa himself. As if to prove just how petty editors can be, he sent it to Mr. Fake Collegiality, who actually kept it to use against me.

This pretty much sealed my fate. About a month later, wishing to leave the viper pit I was caught in, I asked to be transferred from the environment beat to the village of Mount Kisco, an internal exile and demotion that perfectly encapsulated my professional despair. But I outlasted Mr. Fake Collegiality and Alfalfa. Both left after about three years, and the new editors -- both of whom are still toiling productively at the paper --- declared me rehabilitated and returned me to the environment beat.

But I digress....

The conflict over weather stories causes a defense mechanism among reporters. Unless a storm is really severe, they can't take the assignment too seriously, so they look for ways to liven things up, both for the readers and for their own sanity. They quote colorful characters, the delve into the science of meteorology, and they use inflated language. Today, for example, two newspapers refer to Wilma not just as a hurricane, but as a cyclone. Why? Not because any reader needs to start thinking of hurricanes as cyclones that happen to be in the Atlantic, but because it keeps the reporters from going crazy with boredom.

From Newsday: Today's storm is "a bona fide nor'easter, a low-pressure system crawling up the Atlantic coast and getting a burst of energy from the departing cyclone."

New Haven Register: "But the still-powerful cyclone will come close enough to boost an incoming storm into a brawny nor’easter ..."

Note the "lively" writing. The "brawny" storm is "crawling up the Atlantic." (The New London Day, observing the same storm, says it is "pinballing" up the coast.) The storm is not just powerful but "still-powerful" and it also happens to be "bona fide."

Which brings us to "nor'easter." When a reporter writes that word in a newspaper story -- and I did, more than once -- he doesn't even care if it's the right word. All he cares about is getting through deadline so he can move on to something that's not about the weather. It's a defense mechanism. Newspapers all over the country are run by middle-management editors like Alfalfa (not to mention petty tyrants like Mr. Fake Collegiality).

The silly language of the weather story is a reporter's way of dealing with them.

(November 4 update: Mr. Comee died on October 14, 2005.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hartford Courant Flooded with Complaints, but Not About Flawed Broadwater Story

The Hartford Courant received at least 7,415 complaints via phone and e-mail last week; 7,414 were from readers pissed off that the paper’s Sunday magazine stopped running its weekly cryptogram. One was from me.

What was I pissed off about? Reporter Ellen Jan Spiegel’s page 1 story from a week ago Sunday about Broadwater’s proposal to put a LNG facility in the middle of Long Island Sound.

As I noted here, the story claimed that there is significant support for the proposal, but then cited only one person who supported it. And here, I noted that the reporter generally chose dismissive words to characterize the statements of the project’s opponents, while the words she chose to characterize the project's sponsors were generally neutral.

I wrote my posts about the story a week ago, and at the end of the day sent off an e-mail to the Courant's "reader representative," Karen Hunter. What is a “reader representative”? (some papers use the word “ombudsman”; the Times prefers “public editor.”) Here’s what the Courant says:

Karen Hunter, The Courant's reader representative, reports on the fairness and accuracy of news coverage. Contact her at 860-241-3902 or from outside the Hartford area at 800-524-4242, Ext. 3902, or by e-mail at

By late Thursday I hadn't heard back from her, so I re-sent the e-mail with a note saying that perhaps it hadn't gotten to her. She replied, "Hello. I did receive your previous e-mail. I am considering your comments."

In yesterday’s Courant magazine, the cryptogram was back – the people had spoken and their collective voice was heard!

But while the woman who reports on fairness and accuracy of news coverage was dealing with the paper’s angry, cryptogram-less readership, my complaint about the fairness and accuracy of the paper’s news coverage was on the back burner, if indeed it was on the stove at all.

And unfortunately on Saturday, the Stamford Advocate, which like the Courant is owned by the Tribune Co., put Ms. Spiegel’s flawed story on page 1 of its print edition.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

For an Uninformed Opinion of the Endangered Species Act, Ask the Farm Bureau

The New London Day published a story on Friday that reminded me of the good news, in my opinion, that Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee is chairman of the Senate Committee that will oversee any revision of the Federal Endangered Species Act. Chafee is a moderate Republican, and his spokesman made it clear that the pro-extinction bill that passed the House recently will not be introduced in the Senate.

What also interested me was that some people feel free to express an opinion even when they have no idea what they are talking about. Consider, for example, Al Bettencourt of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau and Bonnie Burr of the Connecticut Farm Bureau.

Neither state has any federally listed species, endangered or threatened, that lives on farms.* Nothing that happens on farms in Connecticut or Rhode Island would have any effect on an endangered species, except possibly if a farm produced so much contaminated runoff that it killed shortnose sturgeon in the Connecticut River, assuming any even spawn in the Connecticut River anymore.

Yet that didn't stop Al Bettencourt and Bonnie Burr from mouthing off (it also raises the question of why a reporter would ask them their opinion, but that's for another time). Here's what they said:

"Anything that loosens up the Endangered Species Act, we're in favor of," Al Bettencourt of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau said. "We don't think they should be telling us what to do with our land."

"We certainly support what's happened in the House," said Bonnie Burr of the Connecticut Farm Bureau. She compared the present law to eminent domain, "in the sense that the government tells you what you can and cannot do with your land."

I'm glad we heard from these two experts. Next time there's an issue that has no affect on them, maybe reporters will call again for an irrelevant quote.

* Federally listed species in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Endangered: roseate tern, leatherback sea turtle, Atlantic ridley sea turtle, shortnose sturgeon, dwarf wedge mussel, sandplain gerardia, right whale (RI only), finback whale (RI only), humpback whale (RI only), American burying beetle (RI only), Northeastern beach tiger beetle (RI only). Threatened: bald eagle, piping plover, loggerhead sea turtle, Atlantic green sea turtle, hawksbills sea turtle (RI only) bog turtle (Ct. only), Puritan tiger beetle (Ct. only), and small whorled pogonia and seabeach amaranth.

Friday, October 21, 2005

How to Save Long Island Sound

In the effort to keep Long Island Sound from dying, this is the standard by which all others will be judged. From the Stamford Advocate:

The upgrade expanded the 1974 plant's treatment capacity from an average of 17 million gallons per day to 24 million gallons per day and a maximum peak flow capacity of 68 million gallons per day.

The plant now removes 90 percent of nitrogen, which significantly reduces the amount of oxygen crucial to fish and other aquatic life, from the treated sewage before it is discharged into Long Island Sound. Before the upgrade, treatment removed 65 percent….

"It actually meets a standard agreed to by New York, Connecticut and the EPA that doesn't need to be in place until 2014," McCarthy said of the new plant.

Because Stamford's plant exceeds nitrogen reduction standards, the city gets cash payments as part of a state program allowing other cities that don't meet the standards to buy credits from those that do. When the new plant's nitrogen reduction is calculated next year, Stamford will likely become the highest seller of nitrogen credits in the state, said Brian Gackstatter of CH2M Hill, the engineering firm overseeing the project.

Jeanette Brown, director of the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority, deserves most if not all of the credit, although I know she'd demur.

Fire or Ice: The Worst-Case Scenarios of the LNG Debate

Thousands of people with no jobs. Schools closed. No electricity. People freezing to death. ... Scared yet?

That's the worst-case scenario envisioned by the Providence Journal in an editorial excoriating the "worst-case scenarios" (terrorists, explosions, balls of flame -- you get the picture) put forth by opponents of LNG terminals.

If we don't build more LNG terminals (and soon! -- the editorial laments the inability to build one for this winter) here's what might happen:

Sometime -- say, this winter -- the natural-gas pipeline from the Gulf Coast, which supplies much of the Eastern Seaboard (supplemented by natural gas from Canada), could go empty, especially if the winter is colder than usual.

The possibility is not far-fetched. It almost happened in January 2004. Today, supplies are already stretched, because of hurricane damage to terminals and other energy facilities on the Gulf Coast.

And it's too late this season to set up new terminals! We could see a Katrina-sized disaster. Manufacturing and other industries might have to shut down, throwing thousands out of work. People might lose their home heating. Schools and offices might close. The lights might start going out -- 40 percent of New England's electricity is generated with natural gas. Prices of many things would skyrocket.

Ultimately, many people would have to seek shelters, because 46 percent of our region's population depends on natural gas for heat. Some people might freeze to death.

The editorial notes that we should approve more terminals because, among other reasons, LNG tankers have an extraordinarily good safety record. The tankers have had so few accidents that we should allow more of them into our bays and harbors and shipping channels. I haven't spent too much time analyzing the Eastern Seaboard's energy needs and supplies. Nor have I been worrying about the safety of LNG tankers.

But if you have one car traveling on a stretch of highway, the transportation safety record is going to be much better than if you have 100. If you have one nuclear power plant, the chances of a radiation leak are going to be much less than if you have 100. If you roll the dice 10 times, you have a much better chance of getting snake eyes than if you roll them once. More LNG tankers will mean more chances to hit a reef, more chances for a captain to nod off when he should be paying attention, more chances for any number of potential calamities.

It still might be an acceptable risk, as the editorial says, and it could be that Providence is a good place for an LNG terminal. The Providence Journal is in a far better position to judge that than I am. But forget the idea that if we put more tankers on the high seas, shipping LNG is going to be as safe as it is now.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Developments that Don't Pollute

About a decade ago, EPA funded an experiment in eastern Connecticut to determine if you could design a subdivision so that less contaminated storm water would run off into local waterways than from a conventional subdivision. Most of the time, storm water is a small but important contributor to the Long Island Sound’s pollution problems, and during extraordinarily wet periods – like last week – it can be a big but important contributor.

Essentially two developments were built side by side in Waterford – one conventional, and one using innovative methods.

The results were announced yesterday, and they are eye-opening. The conventional subdivision resulted in 100 times more runoff than the innovative subdivision, the New London Day reported.

The environmentally friendly half … produced no more runoff than if the land were left as forest.

A UConn associate professor named Jack Claussen designed the experiment:

About 100 times more water is running off the traditional part, carrying with it pollutants from lawn fertilizers, dog waste, petroleum residues from cars and other sources, Clausen said. By contrast, the other section soaks up virtually all the rainwater that lands there, containing any pollutants at the same time. The homes in that section are arranged in a cluster instead of on typical single-family lots, leaving more land as open space.

Read the New London Day for more details.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Heavy Rains Caused Sewage Treatment Plants to Overflow

The sewers in our region are so old that many of them are crumbling. Rainwater can easily get in and flood sewage treatment plants. The treatment plants are forced to either bypass the mixture of rainwater and sewage, or risk having the bacteria that are the basis of the treatment process get washed out to sea.

I'd be very surprised if that didn't happen on the Sound as a result of last week's rains, but I haven't heard about it. It happened in Rhode Island though. The Providence Journal reports:

Heavy rains caused extraordinary havoc at sewer plants along Rhode Island waterways over the weekend, forcing state officials to take the unusual step of closing both Narragansett Bay and all coastal ponds to shellfishing.

And the worst isn't over. Woonsocket's damaged wastewater treatment plant continues to dump millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into the Blackstone River.

State officials say they can't recall so much storm-related environmental damage in one period in Rhode Island.

Did it happen on the Sound and we just haven't heard about it?

Long Island Sound Citizens Summit is Saturday -- Sign Up & Go

I haven't been to every Long Island Sound Citizens Summit, but every one I've been to has been worthwhile. This year's is in White Plains, on Saturday. The topic is "Eco Choices for Home & the Sound."

Check it out here, and consider going.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Bias in the Language of the Hartford Courant

When you read yesterday’s Hartford Courtant story, look carefully at the language the reporter, Jan Ellen Spiegel, uses when characterizing what Broadwater’s people say compared to what opponents of the proposal say.

The Broadwater folks explain “in simple terms who they are and what they want to do.” Broadwater officials “note” information and facts. John Hritcko, Broadwater’s front man, “states” and “mentions” and “tells.”

The opponents, though, use “buzz phrases.” When they are questioned, they "haul out all the classic responses.” We can’t even be sure from Spiegel’s writing if Broadwater opponents can think for themselves. She implies that those who oppose Broadwater (not to mention the cross Sound cables and pipelines) have "drunk the Kool-Aid," presumably a reference to the mass suicide in Jonestown in the late 1970s.

In other words, Broadwater opponents are being told what to think and what to say and what to do. Spiegel doesn’t say who the puppeteer is, but someone is telling us what to think. (Maybe it’s Leah Lopez Schmalz, of Save the Sound, or Adrienne Esposito, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Or maybe it’s me!)

How Many People Think Broadwater is a Good Idea?

Yesterday’s Hartford Courant story asserted that the Broadwater proposal “doesn't … bug as many people who make their living on Long Island Sound as one might expect. … local users of Long Island Sound - as accustomed as they are to battling the seemingly never-ending siege of cables, pipelines and other projects - appear to be split when it comes to Broadwater.”

When you read the story though you might be surprised by the number of people the author cites to back up her assertions: it’s 1. The claims that Broadwater doesn’t bug as many people as you’d expect and that local users of the Sound appear to be split are based on the opinion of one man.

That man happens to be a Long Island Sound pilot from Branford, named Ken Warden. The story doesn’t mention that the Long Island Sound pilots would benefit because each tanker would have to hire a pilot to shepherd it in and out of the Sound.

How Much of Long Island Sound Does Broadwater Want Us To Hand Over?

Can you envision a situation where the Race – the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound – would have to be shut down to shipping several times a week? That’s what the Coast Guard says it might have to do when a ship carrying liquefied natural gas to the Broadwater energy factory approaches the Sound. Shut it down – no bass fishermen, no container ships, no tankers, no submarines – two or three times a week. And not just shut it down, but also impose an off-limits zone around each tanker that covers 12 ½ square miles of the Sound.

That's what I learned from the big story about Broadwater in yesterday's Hartford Courant. The story describes the situation well. The author, Jan Ellen Spiegel, quotes Lieutenant Commander Alan Blume of the U.S. Coast Guard:

"The question is how do you manage the waterway, the traffic on the waterway, so that all those uses can be realized?"

There are some who think you can't. Their poster child is the Race.

The Race is the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound, so named because of the strength of its currents. It's a 2- to 4-mile opening between Fisher's Island and Plum Island, depending on how you measure. Its most navigable portion, the north channel between Valiant Rock and Fisher's Island, is only 1½-miles wide. It is popular with fishermen. Thousands of vessels including hundreds of major commercial ships, thousands of barges and tugs, fishing vessels and an untold number of recreational boats travel through it each year.

So do submarines heading in and out of Groton. They travel in a Navy-imposed security zone - which means other vessels have to steer clear of them in the narrow Race.

At other U.S. LNG facilities, vessels have exclusionary zones around them as much as 2 miles on each side. There are many who believe that with zones that large, the Coast Guard will have no choice but to recommend the Race be closed when an LNG tanker is in it. And they believe that restriction alone will make Broadwater untenable.

All this relates to one of the biggest concerns with LNG – its flammability. It takes just the right mixture of oxygen and an ignition source to get LNG to burn, but when it goes, it goes. That's the theory, anyway. There have been no major carrier accidents in the 50 years LNG has been in use, and only four major LNG accidents, none related to the actual delivery process or regasification.

…Opponents say … the Race would have to be closed whenever a tanker goes through - an unacceptable impact on other commercial traffic. They also say that if there were to be an LNG tanker accident in the Race, the impact on critical gasoline and heating oil deliveries to New Haven, New England's second largest port, could be devastating. And they point out that the scheduling required to accommodate Race closings would constitute a security risk.

So in order for Shell and TransCanada to build a huge LNG facility in the middle of the Sound, we’d have to give away access to the Sound. And, as each tanker cruised toward the terminal, we’d also have to give away a large section of the Sound. Spiegel notes that at other LNG facilities, boats can come no closer to an LNG tanker than two miles. In other words, each tanker is surrounded by an off-limits circle with a radius of two miles. If my geometry is correct (to calculate the area of a circle, multiply pi times the radius squared), 12 ½ square miles of the Sound will be off limits to boats each time an LNG tanker enters the Sound, and that the circle will move with the tanker.

The terminal itself would require an area of at least 3 square miles to be off limits. The Race would be closed each time a ship entered. And each ship would be encircled by a 12 ½-square-mile off-limits area.

That’s a lot of public resources to have to give up.

"Whose Sound is it? ... It's all of ours."

Yesterday’s big Hartford Courant story about Bropadwater is worth reading, if you haven’t already. I have a few things to say about it, including a criticism of a subtle bias in the writing, and I’ll post something soon. But this quote, from a fisherman named Larry Williams, jumped out at me:

"Whose Sound is it?" Williams asks. "The ultimate answer - it's all of ours. It's the people of the state of Connecticut. It's the people of the state of New York. But in the broader sense, it belongs to the nation.

"It's a tonic for people. ... It's almost a spiritual experience. We're trying to hang onto something with a real quality to it. If you lose it, you can never really replace it."

Williams says Broadwater has become an emotional and cultural fight – the kind of fight that facts don't easily counter.

"I'm still scratching my head," he says. "I think they underestimated the passion involved here. ... It's about Long Island Sound, it is not just about Broadwater; it's not. It's about Long Island Sound, the direction it's going. It's how much can we put into it and the cumulative aspects of these installations."

The Weather Shifts and Bird Migration Takes Off

The endless wind and rain of last week kept southbound birds from migrating, but the shift in the weather on Saturday set them free. At Bluff Point, in Groton, yesterday birders counted 1,600 warblers of 10 species. At Silver Sands State Park, in Milford, the Connecticut Ornithological Association chose yesterday to hold a sparrow identification workshop. For anyone who previously had trouble distinguishing a savannah sparrow from a song sparrow, it was the place to be: birders counted 800 savannah and 200 song sparrows (not to mention Lincoln's sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and salt-marsh sharp-tailed sparrow).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Let the Rain Fall and the Raw Sewage Flow

Every time it rains heavily, raw sewage flows from the sewer pipes in New York City, Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury (and a handful of smaller Connecticut cities) directly into local waterways, including Long Island Sound. In fact, it is estimated that each year New York City’s combined sewers allow 27 billion gallons of untreated sewage to overflow.

That would be bad enough, except that the sewers are designed to do exactly that.

The sewer systems under those cities were built to combine sanitary sewage with stormwater. When there’s no rain, the sanitary sewage flows into sewage plants, where it is treated and discharged. But when it rains, the amount of water in the combined sewers is so great that it would flood the treatment plants if it got in, so the system is designed to overflow into local waterways.

Hence the name “combined sewer overflows.” And hence the routine decision to shut down shellfish beds and close beaches after a rainfall, because of the bacteria, viruses and other pathogens and contaminants that the sewage contains.

The good news is that everyone recognizes that this is a problem, and work is being done to separate the combined sewers. The bad news is that some people, including Soundkeeper Terry Backer, think the work isn’t moving quickly enough.

In weeks like this, I tend to agree with him.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Bird Blogging

Every couple of weeks bloggers who are also interested in birds link their best posts together and put it out in a so-called blog carnival, called I and the Bird. The one that just came out includes my post from last month about barred owls. Click here to see them all (you may have to scroll a bit to find it), and if you like one let the author know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Reviled Striped Bass Success Story

Striped bass are so abundant that they are destined to become reviled as the white-tailed deer of our coastal waters. Striped bass are so abundant that their recovery from severely depleted stocks 20 years ago "is one of the biggest success stories of the trial-and-error history of fisheries management."

So asserts the New London Day in this story by the usually-dependable Judy Benson. So which is it -- is the abundance of striped bass good or bad?

Far from being a success story, the job the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has done with striped bass shows that we really have no idea what we're doing or what the consequences will be when our experts try to manage the natural world. Everything is connected to everything else, Barry Commoner wrote ages and ages ago (or so it seems). It's a lesson we haven't come close to learning.

As long ago as the mid '90s, commercial shad fishermen on the Hudson were complaining that they couldn't catch shad because there were too many striped bass in the nets. Striped bass are blamed for the disastrous drop in the number of anadromous fish in the Connecticut River. And now they're starting to be considered in the same category as white-tailed deer.

Wisely, the ASMFC members from Connecticut are advocating an increase in the allowable striped bass take by recreational fishermen. It would be nice to know if they had any evidence that an increase in the daily limit would do any appreciable good. Nevertheless considering the problems the striped bass recovery plan has caused, catching more fish on rod and reel is probably a good place to start.

Curing Narragansett Bay's Pollution Problems

Dissolved oxygen problems on Narragansett Bay prompted the Rhode Island legislature to require sewage plants to remove half the nitrogen they currently dump into the bay as part of their wastewater. Fifty percent is not quite as difficult as the 58.5 percent reduction that treatment plants on Long Island Sound are responsible for, but it’s a big deal nonetheless.

Curt Spalding, executive director of Save the Bay, explains why it’s needed and also says that four treatment plant operators have appealed the new limits.

Filing permit appeals can be a step toward finalizing the consent agreements and settling details of timing and technical requirements. Or appeals can mark the beginning of a fight over limits, which indefinitely prolongs the status quo.

A legal fight over the limits would be a disaster for Narragansett Bay.

Read what he has to say in the Providence Journal.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Providence, the Night the Sox Won the World Series

A year ago I was in Providence on the Wednesday before Halloween, which happened to be the day the Red Sox won the World Series. I thought about it the other evening, after the Sox lost.

I was there for a conference and had gone to dinner at a place called Al Forno, which is fairly well-known. Al Forno is on the east side of the river that divides the city. Afterwards I found my way back to my hotel by honing in on the red neon “Biltmore” sign on top of the Biltmore Hotel, a block away from the place I was staying at, the Westin.

I turned on the game and checked the minibar. I called home, then got undressed and watched the first inning. The Red Sox immediately scored a run. I knew I didn’t want to watch the game alone, so I got dressed again and traced a route across I-95 to Atwells Avenue, a broad street lined with restaurants and bars and food shops, not to mention two or three tattoo parlors.

As I passed each bar I peered through the door or window, to see if the game was on and if it was the kind of place I’d want to watch in. A door to one of the bars opened and three guys tumbled out onto the sidewalk, looking into the sky and talking about the lunar eclipse. I looked up too. The moon was growing dark and clouds were passing in front of it.

I kept walking. A fellow on the street said to me, “Did you see the eclipse?”

“Yes,” I said. “But what I’m really looking for is a place to watch the game.”

“Opa,” he said.

“Opa? Is that a bar or restaurant?”

“Yes,” he said.

He pointed back down Atwell’s and said it was across the street. I started to walk toward it.

Opa was a small restaurant with a small bar. The tables were taken up by people eating leisurely meals, men mostly, many of them smoking cigars. The woman behind the bar asked me pleasantly if I wanted something to eat. I explained that I really just wanted to watch the game, and I ordered a club soda. The only untaken stool at the bar was behind a pillar and I had to bend around it to see the television.

Two young women with dark hair came in and sat next to me.

“What do you want to drink, honey?” the bar woman said. She added, “You see the moon?”

“We were just at the beach – couldn’t see much,” said the woman who was next to me.

“You guys going out tonight?” the bar woman asked.

“We just came from a – a friend died. We were at a service at the beach.”

“What did he die of?”

“Killed himself.”

The woman who had been at the beach asked for some bread; the barwoman brought her a plate of flat bread cut into triangles and some dark sauce to dip it into.

At the nearest table to me, six guys were eating a big meal and smoking cigars, enjoying themselves, watching the game. The owner brought them a big, beautiful whole fish.

One of the guys at the table put a piece of fish on his fork, got up, and approached the fellow sitting at the bar to my left.

“This is the whitest fish I’ve ever tasted – it’s so white,” he said with much admiration, and offered him the fork. They had caught the fish themselves and the chef at Opa had cooked it for them.

The bar woman brought the women on the other side of me a dish of something with lots of melted cheese. The woman farther away from me offered a taste to the woman next to me.

“Oh my God,” she said. “That sticks right to your otteries.”

The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead, and the Cardinals were not even hitting the ball hard. The Red Sox fans at Opa grew more relaxed. In the eighth inning, Trot Nixon hit a double and the fans were feeling confident.

“Who we playing next?” one fan called out.

“God,” another answered.

A third said, “Bring Schiraldi in.”

This made me laugh. Calvin Schiraldi was the relief pitcher who lost to the Mets in the 10th inning of the sixth game of the 1986 World Series, when the Red Sox were winning by two runs and had two outs on the Mets and two strikes on the batter.

As we watched at Opa, the Red Sox did not score again, but neither did the Cardinals.

The game ended and I could sense true happiness in the room – much hugging and cheering and shaking hands. The owner of Opa opened three or four bottles of bubbly and gave everyone a glass. I clinked glasses with the guys who ate the big fish. I told them I was a Mets fan but that I was glad the Sox won.

The woman sitting to my right took out her phone and made a call.

“They did it,” she said to her mother. “Grandpa must be so happy.”

The night was warm, and I walked back along Atwells, stopping to buy a slice of pizza to eat as I walked. I looked at my watch. Midnight. Helicopters were flying overhead. People were running through the streets – not mobs, not throngs, but happy groups. Horns were blowing throughout the city. A young man, full of energy, ran past me.

“Let’s go Red Sox, baby,” he called out, and stuck a cigar in his mouth.

“Let’s go Red Sox,” I responded.

“Better hurry up,” he said as he ran off. “The bahs are closing.”

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Saga of Long Isand Sound's Sea Turtles

An extremely rare sea turtle found in Long Island Sound almost a decade ago and kept since at the Mystic Aquarium was flown to a new home in Florida recently. The turtle, a Kemp's ridley (also known as Atlantic ridley), got caught in the Sound as water temperatures began to drop. It was rescued and kept alive by the Riverhead Foundation and taken eventually to Mystic. The Palm Beach Post wrote about it today.

Twenty years ago there sea turtles in Long Island Sound captured a lot of attention. Dozens of them began washing up on beaches on the north shore of Long Island, killed or rendered comatose by cold water in November.

Kemp's Ridley Turtle poster

I spent a lot of time researching and writing about them, and wrote a chapter of my book about them. But it didn't really fit thematically, so I pulled it. I just put it on my other blog. It's really long but when I re-read it this afternoon, I was fascinated by the Kemp's ridley phenomenon all over again. Click here to read it.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Only One Local House Member Voted for the Endangered Species Extinction Act

Only one member of the House of Representatives whose district borders Long Island Sound voted in favor of the revised Endangered Species Act (more properly called the Endangered Species Extinction Act) that passed the House last week. That was Peter King, a Nassau County Republican whose district includes Oyster Bay, Cold Spring Harbor and the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The sponsor of the bill was Richard Pombo, the California Republican who killed the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act earlier this year.

Needless to say in this era of right-wing dominance, the new ESA would be a disaster for endangered species.

Here’s what the bill does, according to Defenders of Wildlife:

-- replaces the current mandatory critical habitat system with a system of purported recovery plans that are discretionary and fail to protect habitat essential for recovery;
-- allows federal agencies to avoid consultation, resulting in agencies with little to no experience in wildlife issues deciding if projects will harm wildlife;
-- exempts all pesticide decisions from ESA compliance, taking away the ability under the ESA to stop pesticide use even when necessary to prevent extinction;
-- requires the federal government to use taxpayer dollars to pay developers for complying with the law, setting no limits on these payments.

It also removes protections from threatened species, which under the current law are treated the same as endangered species.

In this post, from January, I counted up the listed species in the Sound’s watershed. Endangered: roseate tern, leatherback sea turtle, Atlantic ridley sea turtle, shortnose sturgeon, dwarf wedge mussel, and sandplain gerardia. Threatened: bald eagle, piping plover, loggerhead sea turtle, Atlantic green sea turtle, bog turtle, Puritan tiger beetle, and small whorled pogonia and seabeach amaranth.

All of these plants and animals will still be protected by New York’s and Connecticut’s endangered species laws, but of course those protections would not extend beyond the borders of the states.

It being a Republican bill, you’d expect the region’s Democrats to vote against it, and all did. The other three Republicans from the Sound region voted it against it too – Christopher Shays, Nancy Johnson, and Rob Simmons, all of Connecticut.

The Endangered Species Extinction Act still has to pass the Senate, and I haven’t heard or read much about its prospects there.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

More Charges Coming in Fishers Island Ferry Sewage Case?

The Coast Guard is continuing to investigate the Fishers Island sewage dumping case and the New London Day repeated what it said in Saturday's paper -- more charges or charges against others might be coming.

After saying there might be more charges, reporter Judy Benson says in the next sentence that the town of Southold, on Long Island, runs the ferry operation (despite being far closer to Connecticut, Fishers Island is part of New York). Should someone in the town government have noticed that the town was not paying for sewage disposal for the two boats?

She also notes that the Connecticut DEP is not investigating the incident. What a surprise.

New Waterfront Park in Greenwich

Give Greenwich credit for planning to turn an old power plant into a waterfront park. From the Greenwich Time.

I Saw in Mystic, Connecticut, a Live-Oak Being Used to Restore an Old Whaling Ship

Mystic Seaport is planning to restore a historic whaling ship with planks from live-oaks toppled in the south by the two hurricanes. From the nearly-indispensible New London Day.

Oyster Bay: Long Island Sound's Endangered National Wildlife Refuge

The Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge has made Defenders of Wildlife's list of 10 most endangered NWRs. The reasons: pollution from failing septics, runoff, poorly-treated sewage, motorboats, and proposed developments.

"The primary way to save Oyster Bay is to slow the pace of development," the Defenders of Wildlife Report says, as well as to declare the area a no-discharge zone for boats (it's mind-boggling to me that it isn't already).

Kyle Rabin, executive director of Friends of the Bay, said in a press release: "The easiest steps to begin to better safeguard the bay are to construct infrastructure to filter stormwater runoff that is currently flowing directly into Oyster Bay and for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare Oyster Bay a 'no-discharge zone' to help discourage the dumping of raw sewage and oil from motor boats."

The other nine NWRs on the list are Florida Panther; McFaddin, Texas; Mingo, Missouri; Pocosin Lakes, North Carolina; Browns Park, Colorado; Buenos Aires, Arizona; Sonny Bono Salton Sea, California; Moapa Valley, Nevada; and the Arctic NWR, Alaska.

Newsday covered it. Here's the Defenders' report and Friends of the Bay press release.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hard of Hearing? Save Your Snakeskins

About a year ago we hired some guys to wash the windows of our house. I’m not sure where they were from originally, somewhere south of the border. My wife told me that when she got home from picking up the kids, the leader of the crew greeted her and said something about snakes helping you hear better if you put one in your ear.

She wasn’t sure if she misunderstood his broken English, so she humored him and moved on to her next task. A few minutes later he asked her if he could buy some snake from her. She asked him to show her what he was talking about.

He led her to a small greenhouse-window in which we display our natural history relics – deer antlers, empty box turtle eggs, fossils, etc., including a couple of snakeskins.

He pointed to the snakeskins and said that when the snakes “undress,” you take a small amount of skin, ball it up and stick it in your ear. During the night you will hear a dull thumping. The next morning you will be able to hear someone sneeze in Australia, he said.

He added, it worked for his grandfather, so it must be true.

She broke off a small piece of the snakeskin and gave it to him.

I was reminded of all this by a post on a blog called Rurality.

Broadwater Says the Beauty of the Sound Isn't that Important

If the big liquefied natural gas facility that Shell and TransCanada want to put in the middle of Long Island Sound is hideous to look at and mars our view of the Sound essentially for ever, that shouldn’t bother us enough to make us oppose the facility.

Do you buy that? Broadwater wants you to.

John Hritcko, senior vice president for Broadwater (an Orwellian name if ever there was one), is now arguing that the beauty of the Sound shouldn’t be an important consideration.

Here’s what WTNH in New Haven reported:

Broadwater also told us that the issue of visual pollution on the shoreline is not really relevant.

"This is going to be a facility to provide a dependable supply of natural gas for the people of Connecticut and has broad impact, so we can't just make a decision based on the fact that it might look ugly."

The next time you are crossing the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge, look north into the Highlands, one of the most beautiful places on earth. What you do not see is the Storm King power plant, which Con Ed proposed almost 50 years ago and which was defeated largely because activists along the Hudson were appalled at what the plant would do to view.

Now look south, where the river opens up at Peekskill Bay and narrows again at Verplanck’s Point. It’s a beautiful riverscape too, except that your eye inevitably falls on the two big industrial facilities that somehow were allowed to be built on the bank of the river – the giant garbage incinerator that serves Westchester County and the Indian Point nuclear power plants.

There were a lot of reasons to oppose those two facilities, but if the people who approved the construction had paid more attention to the way they would mar the beautiful river, their decisions might well have been, “Sorry, come back when you’ve found a more appropriate place.”

Hritcko doesn’t want us to make up our minds now, because it’s premature – the environmental studies haven’t been done yet. And he doesn’t want us to emphasize the way an industrial facility in the Sound might look.

Those of us who oppose Broadwater should come to an agreement with John Hritcko. We won’t make up our minds on the environmental issues if he doesn’t either. And as a tradeoff, we won’t let aesthetic issues cloud our judgment if he doesn’t let corporate profits cloud his.

In the meantime, the Stamford Advocate thinks the LNG terminal is a bad idea too.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Broadwater Theater of the Absurd

Connecticut's LNG task force met in Hartford yesterday to talk about the Shell-TransCanada proposal to put a huge LNG facility in the middle of Long Island Sound, the so-called Broadwater proposal, and representatives of the energy company declined to participate, refused, blew them off -- pick your verb depending on your perspective.

And of course task force members were shocked, shocked! that Broadwater decided not to go along with this this theater of the absurd.

Why theater of the absurd? Because as sure as Long Island Sound is long, the task force is going to come out against the LNG proposal.

Here's what Broadwater's John Hritcko told WTNH in New Haven:

"We have also witnessed members of the task force announcing their intentions to do what they can to stop Broadwater, even before the review and analysis by FERC. This has raised continued concerns about the impartiality of the task force, and this forum," says John Hritcko, VP Broadwater Energy.

WTNH noted:

Both co-chairs, Republican Senator Len Fasano of North Haven, and Democrat Andrea Stillman of Waterford have openly and publically said they oppose the project but tried to assure Broadwater that they can still be open minded about it.


"What are they trying to hide, or, conversely, are they simply saying that we will have no input here and that FERC is going to make the call, whether we like it or not? I found that reprehensible," says Julie Belaga, Broadwater Task Force.

Julie Belaga, of course, is the former US EPA regional director and is now on the board of Connecticut Fund for the Environment, which is staunchly opposed to Broadwater's plan (and, I hasten to add, properly opposed -- it's a terrible idea for Long Island Sound).

At least some of the Broadwater fight will be a public relations fight, or a fight for public opinion. If so, who won yesterday's skirmish?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Environmental Enforcement by the U.S. Attorney Vs. Environmental Enforcement by the State of Connecticut

How seriously do some agencies take pollution prevention in Long Island Sound? Here's a contrast.

When the U.S. Coast Guard learned that the operations manager for the Fishers Island ferry was allowing his boats' toilets to drain directly into the Sound and the Thames River, they sent the case to the U.S. Attorney. Yesterday the operations manager, Mark Easter, pleaded guilty; he will pay a fine and will go to jail for up to 30 days.

When the Connecticut Attorney General found out that New Haven had spilled 12 million gallons of raw sewage into the Sound last spring, he said the Department of Environmental Protection was investigating and that when the investigation was done he and the department would decide what legal action was appropriate. That was five months ago and nobody has said anything since about the investigation or the legal action, although the DEP's Dwayne Gardiner did say that the 12 million gallon spill really wasn't a big deal because "Mother Nature will take over and correct the problem."

Could it be that the current federal government takes environmental enforcement more seriously than the state of Connecticut?

Here's how the New London Day explained the Fisher's Island case:

The sewage should have been kept in holding tanks, pumped out periodically by tanker trucks and brought to a treatment facility. Coast Guard investigators, however, found during an unannounced inspection on July 13, 2004, that the tanks had only been pumped out a total of seven times between January 1999 and July 2004, and that the discharge valves on the tanks were consistently left in an open position so that the effluent would flow directly into the river or sound.

Pump-outs should have been occurring about twice a week, Coast Guard investigators determined. According to court documents, Easter had been directing ferry crew members to close and lock the valves just before Coast Guard inspectors arrived for routine, announced inspections, and instructed that they be reopened afterwards.

The case against Easter was brought by Kevin O'Connor, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut. Calling it a “crime against the environment,” O'Connor said it was impossible to accurately quantify how much sewage from the ferries polluted the river and the sound, but that the amount is significant. The ferries make about 20 trips per day during the summer between the island and the ferry terminal in downtown New London, and about four trips per day during the rest of the year. The 132-foot Munnatawket can carry up to 150 passengers, while the 183-foot Race Point can carry up to 200 people. Both also carry vehicles.

... O'Connor said after the court proceeding Friday that evidence found by the Coast Guard indicates that the ferries have been systematically dumping raw sewage overboard for many years, but because of a statute of limitations charges cannot be brought over violations that occurred more than five years ago.

The ferry is owned and operated by the town of Southold, on Long Island. No one from the town would speak to the Day reporter. One wonders of town officials are culpable because they should have been keeping track of pump-out payments, or the lack thereof.

The Day went on to report:

As part of the plea agreement, Easter faces up to 30 days in prison as well as fines. The amount will be determined after court officials review Easter's personal finances, O'Connor said. By law, he can be fined up to $25,000 per day for each violation. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 3.

O'Connor said that while 30 days in prison may seem like a light sentence, receiving any prison time for environmental violations such as these is rare.

“We wanted to make sure there was some prison time,” he said. “We want to get the message out” that environmental crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
eXTReMe Tracker