Monday, November 28, 2005

Over the Long Weekend: Public Access, Shellfishing, Sewage, Threats to Hunters, and Shopping

Public access or houses for the wealthy? ... Connecticut is trying to decide what to do with 36 acres that it owns on Long Island Sound in Waterford. The only choices seem to be open space, which is fine (increasing access to the Sound should be a priority) or condos for well-to-do old folks. A different development proposal might make it a harder decision, but really, why should prime real estate that could provide access to the publicly-owned waters of the Sound be sold to a developer so he can get rich (or richer) by building places for other rich people to live?

A place to dump sewage ... Boaters on Long Island want more municipally owned and operated pump out boats in which to empty their heads. One boat club found that 60 percent of its boats can't get into the four-foot depths at the commercially-run dockside pump out facilities. Apparently the pump out boats pay off in a reduced amount of sewage being dumped into harbors and bays. Newsday reported:

The large jumps in the amount of sewage collected when the boats go into service tell officials that a lot of sewage had been going into the water. Becker said Southampton, which was collecting 600 gallons of sewage a year from land-based stations, saw the total increase to 68,000 gallons.

Pump out facilities are a prerequisite to formal no-discharge areas. Mel Cote, who heads the Ocean and Coastal Protection Unit for EPA's New England region (which includes the Connecticut portion of Long Island Sound) told me that it is the states' responsibility to establish no-discharge areas, but that the state's can do so only of EPA determines that there are enough alternatives for boaters. Mel also pointed out that it is already illegal to dump untreated waste from boats. The no discharge areas pertain to treated waste. Here's Mel's explanation:

EPA's primary role in designating no discharge areas is determining whether there are enough sewage pump-out facilities to serve the boats (with holding tanks) that use the area in question -- it is the state, often working with local governments, that determines whether they want the additional water quality protection and develops and submits to EPA the application stating the case for why those waters should be designated no discharge. For Long Island Sound, Connecticut has designated its coastal waters from the Rhode Island border to Groton as no discharge, has a pending application into EPA Region 1 to extend that designation to Guilford, and plans to submit an application next year for the remaining coastline from Guilford to Greenwich, completing the designation of all its coastal waters as a no discharge area. No discharge areas on New York's side of the Sound include Mamaroneck Harbor, Huntington Harbor, and Peconic Bay.

Shellfish ... The Connecticut Fishing blog has an interesting item about an effort in Madison to get more local residents interested in digging clams and other shellfish. Madison officials have transplanted 30 bushels of quahogs and reopened an area that has been closed to shellfishing for six years. There's also a link to a state shellfishing guide.

But you want to stay away after it rains ... Heavy rain last week forced health officials to close shellfish beds on Long Island. Pathogens of all sorts that get washed off streets and flushed out of decaying sewers contaminate clams and oysters, which feed by filtering water through their systems, the pathogens getting concentrated in the meat.

Threats to hunters ... An anonymous commenter claims that the Archdiocese of Rockville Center called off a scheduled deer hunt for its property because of threats from the same animal rights group that vandalized the house and car of the mayor of Lloyd Harbor. The comment also claims that Newsday "whitewashed" the incident. As someone who was a reporter for 17 years, it's hard for me to imagine that a newspaper would not publish a confirmed story about an important public policy decision being influenced by a threat of vandalism (or worse). On the other hand, I did think that the original Newsday story played down the fact that the Lloyd Harbor mayor's property was vandalized and that an animal rights group claimed on its website that it was responsible. Perhaps there was a newsroom decision not to over-publicize actions that to some extent were designed to get publicity.

Suburban sprawl ... I admit to having been amazed anew at the depths of the foolishness of my fellow humans when I read newspaper accounts over the weekend of people getting up well before dawn, like hunters who need to be ready for wary game, to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving. It has either become, as if from nowhere, a social phenomenon, or at least a PR firm somewhere has convinced some newspapers and shoppers that it's a social phenomenon, and it has it's own silly name, "Black Friday." (Midday update: The Political Animal blog has some interesting information about when the term "Black Friday" first appeared, what it means, and how its use has grown.) Apparently it's no longer enough for some people to go shopping on the busiest shopping day of the year, now they have to compete for the honor of going to the most idiotic lengths to save $20.

It turns out though that all those shopping center hunters and gatherers have too many places to park. According to two UConn researchers, Connecticut towns on average insist that shopping center developers pave over enough land to provide 5.5 parking spaces for every 1,000 feet of retail space they build. That's twice as much as is necessary.The Hartford Courant quoted one of the authors:

"Connecticut towns are demanding far too much parking, thus increasing development costs, wasting land, deadening our urban centers, discouraging walking and riding, and adding to the runoff into our streams and rivers," he said in a statement accompanying the report.

It also turns out that people find it more pleasant to shop in what's now called a traditional downtown (at least that's the opinion of an observer with an obvious bias):

Ronald Van Winkle, director of community services for West Hartford, agrees that an overabundance of parking can actually detract from the atmosphere of a retail center.

"Vast amounts of parking can make it easier for the car to come, but it makes it less friendly for shopping," Van Winkle said. Parking can often be tight in West Hartford Center, he said, but when people find a spot, they like the concentration and variety of shops within easy walking distance.

The traditional downtowns, Garrick said, tended to have more on-street parking, had a greater mixture of retail and office uses, and are closer to residential areas, so some visitors can walk, bicycle or use mass transit instead of driving cars.


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