Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My Norwegian Uncle

When I was a kid my Great Uncle Dan -- who was born in Norway and whose first name was actually Halfdan – lived in a basement apartment in the house built by my grandfather, his brother Olaf, in the Westerleigh section of Staten Island, a neighborhood that, while not ethnic, nevertheless had a number of Norwegian immigrants. It was in this house that we had Christmas Eve, the parties redolent with julekake (Christmas cake, pronounced like yule kagga), and crispy Norwegian cookies shaped like cones, and lutefisk, a dish of cod that had been soaked for weeks in a lye concoction in the bathtub until it was gelatinous and odiferous, and which wasn’t quite as good to eat as it sounds. Dan stayed on in the apartment after Olaf died and Olaf’s daughter, Edith (my aunt and Dan’s niece), and her family, moved in. He was a constant presence, kind and gentle, speaking (although he was hardly garrulous) in a Norwegian accent (as did Olaf) that was easy and fun for us kids to mimic. When I was a boy he seemed old, and he seemed old when I was a teenager, and by the time I was in my 20s, he seemed really old, although when he died, in 1983, he was only 86. His basement apartment always smelled like boiled coffee and cooked fish, which he loved and which he would fry on a small stove. He had a dog named Peppy, an energetic mutt that he doted on; later, when Edith and her family lived there and my cousin had a yellow Lab, named Bunzy, Dan liked to feed him Chiclets, which Bunzy would chew for a few minutes and then expel, leaving them for Edith to find later.

When Dan got too old to handle the responsibilities of an apartment, he moved to a Norwegian old folks home, on Lighthouse Hill. He liked it there and had a pleasant, homey room to himself in the part of the institution that seemed as if it actually had been someone’s home, and he liked to hike on the trails of the Greenbelt, a big nature preserve that was nearby. On the day after Christmas, 1980, I visited him at the home. I brought him a Christmas card written in Norwegian, and some julekake that I had bought at Hansen’s, a Scandinavian deli in our neighborhood.

I don’t remember what I asked, but somehow he started talking about his days as a sailor. He told me he first went to sea at age 17, as a deck boy, doing the jobs nobody else would do. It was probably 1913. The sailors considered him to be good luck for their ship. Dan said it was not true, but he then told me a couple of stories that explained how the notion survived.

There was the time, for example, when he sailed to Italy on a ship carrying soldiers’ paychecks. The most direct route passed through a part of the Atlantic where enemy submarines were presumed to be patrolling, and the captain had instructions to avoid it. Ignoring the orders, he sailed straight through, reaching Italy unharmed and far quicker than the other ships that had set off with them. Once in Italy, though, Dan – and his good luck – decided to stay behind. Loaded with grain, the ship set sail again. But before it could reach its destination – somewhere in Africa – it sunk.

Next, he signed on with a newer ship, one that could do 16 knots. He sailed from New York across the North Atlantic, a tough route -- the North Atlantic, he said, can throw the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth around. Dan’s ship reached Goteborg and then sailed back to New York, where Dan disembarked and stayed behind. On its return to Goteborg, the ship hit rough waters. A mast snapped; the ship was forced to turn around and barely made it back to New York.

Dan was letting the memories come to him now, recalling imperfectly what must have been his great adventures, all of them many decades in the past. I wasn’t taking notes, but later in the day I wrote down, from memory, what he had told me. He said that from the time he was 17 until he stopped sailing, he never touched a drink (which made him a rarity among the Andersens), not because he was any better than the others, he said, but because he did not like the taste. When his ships reached port, the other sailors would head off and the first bar they reached, bingo, he said, they went in. That’s when he got his education, especially in Italy, skipping the bars and going instead to concerts (he mentioned how beautifully the singers sang) and museums, including one, he recalled, at Vesuvius.

The stories about sailing reminded him of another job. Dan’s sister in Norway (I think her name was Agatha, pronounced in Norwegian “a-GOT-a”) died in childbirth and Dan adopted the child, whose name was Olaf Ecklund. (Dan also was largely responsible for raising one of my grandfather’s sons, Dennis Andersen. I think Dan essentially stepped into a parental void created because Olaf, at the time Dennis was born, already had several adult children and couldn’t be bothered taking on the responsibility of another; and because Dennis’s mother, Gudrun Larsen, had a bit of a drinking problem. Through his and his spouses’ various marriages, Olaf had a complicated web of parental responsibility. His first marriage was to Jenny LaCour, a woman who was either French or of French descent and whose parents didn’t particularly approve of Olaf, who was something of a roustabout. Jenny LaCour (the spelling of whose last name I can’t vouch for – no one left seems to remember) had been married to a fellow named Sather, apparently, and they had a son named Arthur. After Jenny and Olaf married, they had two children, Edith (my aunt) and Alfred George (my father, who was known as George and who in fact signed his name George A. Andersen). Jenny died when Edith and Georgie were children. Eventually Olaf married Gudrun, who brought a son named John Larsen to the marriage. Olaf and Gudrun then had a son named Paul Dennis, who was known exclusively as Dennis. I remember Dennis mainly as a rebellious teenager ignored by Olaf, henpecked by Gudrun (who tried to force him into playing his accordian, very much against his will, at family gatherings), and overseen mainly by sober Dan, who took him camping and fishing, and who probably didn’t admire his older brother for fathering a son he didn’t really want.)

But back to Olaf Ecklund. When Dan was able, he sailed back to Norway to take custody of Olaf. He found him at an orphanage, dressed in rags. Dan’s mother, Agatha, was still alive at 79 (in fact she lived on for more than two decades and breathed her last breath, according to family legend, while fixing the roof); Dan’s father was 82, sick in bed, and soon to die. Dan said goodbye to his father, got on a boat with his young nephew Olaf, and sailed back to Staten Island. But by then Dan was broke and had to sail again to earn some money. He was forced to leave Olaf at a house, in the West Brighton section of Staten Island, that was next door to a whorehouse, Dan said with great moral repugnance, frequented by homosexuals.

Dan was well into his 80s when he told me all this, his memory no doubt fading, his accent no easier to understand than it had been 20 years earlier, when I was a boy. I don’t know how he felt just then, but I was fatigued (though not bored) from listening to his tales and trying to put them into context. (Olaf Ecklund! I’d been hearing that name my whole life but never knew exactly who he was – and now I knew: he was my great aunt’s son.) It was the day after Christmas, I was 26, and no doubt there was a party somewhere that I had to get to. I didn’t know it then but I’d live on Staten Island for only another year or so and, although I’d visit Dan regularly, I’d never get back to asking him about the old days.

After I said goodbye, I watched him walk an 83-year-old man’s walk, toward the nursing home’s kitchen, on his way to get some butter to put on his julekake. Often when I visited him he gave me some article of clothing, flannel shirts mostly, cut in what I thought of as an old-man style, which I loved and wore until my elbows poked through, and once a Navy blue sweater of an unusually tight weave that he said had been his when he was sailing on merchant ships. It’s still the warmest sweater I have.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Christmas Wish for Broadwater: Say Goodbye

My Christmas wish this year is for all the nice people who work for the Shell-TransCanada disaster called Broadwater – John Hritcko and Amy Kelley and Joel Rinebold, the Broadwater consultant who managed to get himself appointed to the Long Island Sound Study’s citizens advisory committee – to pack up and go away. Instead of filing a formal application with FERC after the New Year, realize that the huge profits Shell and TransCanada stand to make, and the big fees and bonuses you stand to be paid are not worth the fight, not worth the bad will created, and not worth the integrity of Long Island Sound.

John and Amy and Joel and the others who want to use a public resource (the Sound) to increase the profits of these two big energy companies should realize that there’s really nobody around here who wants them to succeed, and that if they do succeed it will be at a tremendous cost to the region.

The amount of time and energy and expense already incurred to fight your bad proposal has already been tremendous. So do us a favor and cut our losses. Drop your proposal and leave us in peace.

In case that appeal doesn’t work, Broadwater opponents might find it useful to have a compendium of Broadwater posts written here over the past year or so. I’ve created direct links to almost all of them – 35 in all – and arranged them chronologically on the lower right side of this page.

I did this partly out of guilt after an anonymous commenter said the other day that all I do is complain and it might be more useful if I pitched in and DID something to help environmental groups. I responded that writing is what I do, but in the spirit of doing more, I’ve compiled the list of Broadwater links. You’d be amazed at how tedious it was, and I can only imagine how tedious it must be to read them all. An added disadvantage, which I haven’t figured out how to solve, is that many of the original links to newspaper stories are down because typically after a number of days the newspapers want you to pay for archived material. For a while I started copying and saving on a disk the stories I was linking to. But that proved to be a big enough pain that I stopped after about two months. I might start again but even if I do, it’s a help to me but not to readers of this site.

Nevertheless, there’s some useful stuff in the links. You can follow Broadwater’s arguments over the months, for example. You can also review the arguments that opponents have made, and see which ones make sense and which seem silly.

So scroll up and read. And let’s hope that all our Christmas wishes come true.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Long Island Sound and Climate Change: An Upcoming Conference

Global warming and rising water temperatures have been on the minds of people concerned about Long Island Sound since at least the spring of 2000. In the aftermath of the 1999 lobster die off, researchers gathered in Stamford to discuss possible causes. I was preparing to hand in the final manuscript of my book then and my editor asked me to include an afterword about the lobster die-off, and particularly its possible link to global warming. Here’s part of what I wrote:

Water temperatures in the Sound were unusually high from 1996 through 1999. In the winter of 1998-99, for example, the temperature in the western Sound never dropped below three degrees centigrade, according to Matthew Gates of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Most years it drops to one degree centigrade and on occasion falls below zero.

The research that Gates and many others did came together last year when scientists concluded that warmer water temperatures were in fact part of the cause of the die-off.

What else is global warming contributing to? The last three or four summers have seen a spike in the severity of hypoxia, which is a warm-weather phenomenon.

Greenwich Time reporter Michael Dinan wrote one of the few stories about hypoxia in the Sound last summer, and reported this:

According to the National Weather Service, water temperatures in the Sound -- along with the rest of the Atlantic Ocean -- have been unusually hot this summer. In recent weeks, low water temperatures at night are barely dipping down to what meteorologists normally see as seasonal highs on the Sound.

"What I believe is that it's not just the heat, but the lack of cooling at night," said Tim Morrin, a meteorologist with the weather service in Upton, N.Y. "We have a weather pattern where temperatures have not dropped to normal levels at night,'' so bodies of water are not allowed to cool and get back to normal.

A Weather Service surface buoy off of Bridgeport's shore reached 83 degrees last week -- "a remarkable spike," Morrin said, compared with a historical summer average of 74 degrees. Nighttime lows in western Long Island Sound are lingering around 75 or 76 degrees, Morrin said, just three degrees below normal summer highs.

All this is a way of getting around to yesterday’s announcement that “Climate Change and its Impact on Long Island Sound” will be the subject of this year’s Long Island Sound summit, an annual event organized by Save the Sound (and its parent organization, Connecticut Fund for the Environment), the Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance, and EPA’s Long Island Sound Program. It will be held on Saturday, April 8, at the Holiday Inn in Bridgeport (which is near the ferry, which should make it somewhat convenient for Long Islanders to attend).

It promises to be an interesting conference, though no doubt one of those events where you walk away shaking your head at the realization that we’re in worse trouble than we thought.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Seal Counting

The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk will be leading a regional census of seals, and it needs people to stand on the shores of Long Island Sound in March and count heads. They’ve got training sessions coming up in January. Here’s the Aquarium’s seal census webpage, and here’s a story from the Stamford Advocate.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Oyster Boats & Lobstermen from the Past

A woman named Linda Wedmore Caballero wrote to me last week to say that she had come across a mention in Sphere of a boat in Norwalk called the Catherine M. Wedmore. In passing I had written almost a year ago that while my son and I were killing some time in Norwalk, we went to Veterans Park, where he looked for artifacts in the tide wrack and I looked for birds. Scanning the harbor through binoculars, I noticed a handful of oyster boats, including the Catherine M. Wedmore.

Here’s what Linda Wedmore Caballero wrote:

The Catherine M. Wedmore originally belonged to my great-grandfather, Charles Wedmore, who operated an oyster business in the New Haven area, and was named for one of his daughters. (Kate lived to be 101.) According to my father, now in his 70s, and who remembers her well, the Catherine was sold when the oyster business, then operated by his father, George (Dewey) Wedmore, was dissolved in the early 1950s; he has some old photographs of her but had no idea that she is still afloat. I know my sister, also a Catherine Wedmore, would be thrilled to see her as well.

She asked if I knew who owned the boat. The best I could tell her was that it was docked near the Norm Bloom & Son shellfish company’s headquarters in East Norwalk, that Bloom used to own Tallmadge Brothers oyster company, that Tallmadge Brothers had an operation in Port Norris, New Jersey, as well as in Norwalk, and that the Catherine M. Wedmore had the words “Port Norris, N.J.” on its hull, and so I figured Norm Bloom and Sons owned it. I suggested she give them a call. Here’s how she responded:

You could not have been more right. … Norm Bloom operates the Catherine. She continues to be a working oyster boat, goes out six days a week, and was coming into dock as I was speaking with one of the guys in the office. That was just an amazing moment. Thank you so much. I am very much looking forward to sharing this information with my father, and with making a trip up to Connecticut (from Baltimore) to see the Catherine with him.

And later she wrote again:

This is almost like discovering a long lost relative. The guys at Norm Bloom's were great, as well. They were going to try to fill in some gaps on the Catherine's more recent history. My dad gave me some further details …. The Catherine was captained by his uncle, Chauncey (Chan) Wedmore (1880-1968) who was Kate's (1885-1987) brother. My dad has great memories of helping out on the boat as a young boy and later as a teenager. I'm sure those with a greater understanding of all things nautical could probably date the boat, but my dad (b. 1929) ... remembers it being around from as early as he can recall. He is going to make some copies of the old pictures he has of the Catherine, and I would be happy to share those with you as well. I am working on getting him to make the trip from Canton, Connecticut, where he now lives, to East Norwalk sometime soon; it may have to wait until spring, though, I am told.

I told her I might be able to get to East Norwalk and, if the boat happened to be docked, take some photos. I haven’t managed to do so yet, but I did find this photo on another website.

On another recent morning there was a message waiting for me, on one of those pink sheets of paper labeled “Important Message,” that a woman named Alice Salvatore had called and wanted me to call her back (I knew this because there were check marks in the boxes next to “telephoned” and “please call”). A few minutes later, when I was on the phone talking to someone else, another Important Message was dropped in front of me, identical except for the words “John Fernandez” written on the lines reserved for “Message.”

Alice Salvatore, I learned when I called her back, lives very close to where I work. She had been visiting a cousin one recent day and the cousin handed her a copy of a book she’d never heard of (she and a few million others) – namely, This Fine Piece of Water. The cousin flipped to page 130 and showed Alice a picture of a lobsterman named John Fernandes, posing back in 1987 in front of a stack of lobster pots in Port Chester.

Alice Salvatore was thrilled to see this because John Fernandes was her father. She remembered that he occasionally would mention that a reporter had been interviewing him, but that was almost 20 years ago and she hadn’t given it a second thought since. She certainly hadn’t known about the book or that it talked in more-than-passing fashion of her father. She said she read it and loved it, and that as far as she could tell the parts about lobstering in the Sound were dead-on right.

To say the least, this made me feel OK. I had heard back in 1999, I think, that John Fernandes had cancer, and since she talked about him in the past tense, I asked if he had died. She said he had, four years ago, of colon cancer. She said she was planning to buy six or so copies of the book and to give them to others in her family for Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Over the Weekend: CFE's Priorities. Connecticut & Broadwater. More Hunting. Modern Houses & Leaky Roofs

Low Priority ... Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound sent out a media advisory the other day outlining their priorities for 2006. It’s not long – three sections, air, land and water. The section that discusses water issues is divided into several sub-sections: Broadwater, beach cleanups, habitat restoration, the restoration of the Shepaug River, the future of water company lands in northeast Connecticut, and stormwater management.

I suppose all are important, and CFE is a statewide organization, not just a Long Island Sound organization.

Nevertheless, how disappointing is it that this organization, which merged with (or swallowed) Save the Sound, doesn’t think hypoxia, or the annual drop in dissolved oxygen levels in the western third of the Sound, is an issue worth making a priority?

Broadwater is important of course. But if someone asked me to chose whether I’d rather have a liquefied natural gas terminal in the Sound or have hundreds of square miles of prime estuarine habitat rendered lifeless every summer with the long-term possibility of this lifeless zone expanding and worsening, I’d say bring on the LNG terminal.

Hypoxia is clearly the Sound’s most important issue. Dissolved oxygen concentrations have been as bad over the last three summers as at any time since the late 1980s, a period when the question “Is Long Island Sound dying?” was taken quite seriously. And Connecticut legislators having raided the state’s Clean Water Fund this year, forcing the state DEP to drastically scale back its part of the Sound cleanup, the situation will only grow worse.

Eyebrows were raised back in 2004 when CFE took over Save the Sound. Ever since its incarnation as the Long Island Sound Task Force, Save the Sound was a leading advocate for the Sound cleanup and a watchdog over all the Sound – New York’s share as well as Connecticut’s. In fact for about two decades, its leadership came from Westchester County. The worry was that the New York side of the Sound might get short shrift if Save the Sound was part of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. Hypoxia affects New York waters far more than Connecticut waters. I can only hope that the omission of hypoxia from CFE’s 2006 priorities isn’t a sign that the worries were justified.

Connecticut is on the fence about BroadwaterThis story, in the Advocate, indicates that Governor Rell’s LNG task force can’t figure out what position to take on Broadwater’s proposal.

More hunting … An alliance of 14 towns in Fairfield County is producing posters that promote hunting.

Architects may come and architects may go … When reporters assert opinions in news stories and try to make believe the opinions are facts, they ought to at least have an idea of what they’re talking about. Case in point: the first sentence of a story in the real estate section of yesterday’s Times, in which this highly dubious opinion is asserted as fact:

“Houses by famous architects are notoriously impractical.”

The story was about a house on Staten Island that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The evidence for the assertion is that the roof leaks. It is dubious on two counts. The hallmark of modern domestic architecture is its practicality: that’s the whole idea behind the “machine for living” concept. And a leaky roof isn’t evidence of a poor design: if a flat roof, like the one on the Wright house, leaks, it’s because of poor workmanship, not bad design. Unfortunately I can speak from sad experience on that issue.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas in New York City

There are places in the New York area where, when I go there, I feel like I’m on an anthropology mission. These are only-in-New York places, and I wrote an account of one after a visit a couple of years ago, just before Christmas. Click here to read it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Should Environmentalists Support the Cape Wind Project? Kennedy Says No, and His Argument Echoes the Case Against Broadwater

Bobby Kennedy Jr. argues persuasively in today’s Times against allowing a wind power project in Nantucket Sound. His argument echoes the argument against allowing Broadwater to build a liquefied natural gas facility in the middle of Long Island Sound.

As an environmentalist, I support wind power, including wind power on the high seas. I am also involved in siting wind farms in appropriate landscapes, of which there are many. But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound, which is exactly what the company Energy Management is trying to do with its Cape Wind project.

Environmental groups have been enticed by Cape Wind, but they should be wary of lending support to energy companies that are trying to privatize the commons - in this case 24 square miles of a heavily used waterway.

Take out the part about environmental groups having been enticed by Cape Wind, and it’s a succinct argument against Broadwater too (although not the only argument).

But is Kennedy’s argument weakened by the fact that his family has a compound in Hyannisport? Are his arguments really rationalizations of his real concern, that the view from the Kennedy place won’t be quite as nice if the wind power generators are out there? And should his piece have mentioned his family’s proximity to the project?

I started reading the piece expecting to end it by being convinced that it was merely a rationalization. But I was convinced otherwise as soon as I saw the parallel between the wind project and Broadwater: both want to use publicly-owned waters for private gain, to the detriment of people who use those waters. I don’t dismiss the arguments or the convictions of people who oppose Broadwater because they happen to live where they will see it; on the contrary, I think visual blight from the shore is an important (if relatively minor) issue in the Broadwater debate. So why should it make Kennedy’s argument less convincing because his family happens to have a place within view of Cape Wind?

Should he have mentioned the family’s proximity? Does anyone who cares enough to follow the issue not know about the Kennedys and Hyannisport? I doubt it. But I would have liked to see a sentence in his piece that said something like, “It’s true that the project would be visible from my family’s place in Hyannisport, and I don’t like the idea of the view being marred, but there are more important reasons to oppose the project as well.”

His arguments are worth reading. Click here if you haven’t seen the piece already.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Here's the Place to Look for Those Things You Drop Down the Drain by Mistake

When I first started working as a newspaper reporter and writing about Long Island Sound, about 20 years ago, my beat included the sewage treatment plant in Mamaroneck. The treatment technology back then was amazingly primitive. Wastewater would pour into the plant through a huge pipe. It would be filtered through a couple of screens, one coarse, the other somewhat finer. It would then empty into a big tank, which reduced the rate of flow, like a brook running downhill and settling into a pond. This would allow some of the solid material, about 30 percent, to settle to the bottom. Then the wastewater would be doused with chlorine and emptied into the Sound outside the entrance to Mamaroneck Harbor. When the tide was low you could go out there in a boat and see a big circle of water welling up from the bottom – the “boil,” as they called it, the place where the 18 million gallons of sewage that the plant treated each day would pour from the pipe into the Sound.

Those were the bad old days, the days when, as someone told me only half in jest, the primary qualification for getting a job at the sewage treatment plant – at any treatment plant along the Sound – was to be the cousin of somebody in town hall.

They told me back then that when they cleared the screens they’d find all kinds of weird stuff – money, rocks, tree limbs, condoms, the occasional shopping cart. Just about everything has changed at the Sound’s treatment plants now, and for the better – except for the junk that the screens catch. Here’s a good account of what it’s like to work at a treatment plant, from the Greenwich Time.

A couple of things caught my eye: at least some of the technicians now have masters degrees and presumably more qualifications than being a blood relative of someone in a position to dole out patronage jobs. And the workers feel as if it’s their responsibility, ethically, professionally, and legally, to keep the plant working well and to avoid sewage spills. This might help explain why the kind of sewage spills we saw so commonly in the 1980s are relatively rare these days.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

AvalonBay and Long Island Sound

The Avalon Communities development company engenders mixed feelings locally. I suppose that’s understandable. Like Toll Brothers, Avalon is a big, publicly-traded land developer with the muscle and financial resources to pretty much get what it wants. But while Toll Brothers obliterates the countryside by building faux-mansions on half-acre lots, Avalon packs dozens, if not hundreds, of apartments into small parcels in already-developed areas. To me that’s an important distinction – it’s better to build in developed areas than to sprawl across the landscape.

There’s more to it than that of course. If you’re going to build apartments in metropolitan New York, you’d better be making some of them affordable. Avalon does that in Connecticut where, as someone noted yesterday in a comment to this post, the company deftly uses state affordable housing laws to force communities to accept multifamily housing. It did this in New Canaan, for example, on the site of an old hardware store very near the train station. Although some people (my wife, for example) may quibble with the aesthetics, it’s not a terrible project, it’s not out of character with downtown New Canaan (which has a lot of attached housing), and it meets at least some of the characteristics of so-called smart growth.

Bryan Brown, in another comment to yesterday’s post, noted that Glen Cove happily embraced an Avalon project and that the proposal had no local opposition. (In a version of the friend of my enemy is my enemy, Bryan also points out that an Avalon VP “took time out of his busy schedule” to write a letter to FERC in support of Broadwater’s LNG proposal. “If you were on the fence about Avalon before, perhaps their lobbying for Broadwater will push you over,” Bryan says, although whether he means me or others isn’t clear.)

But Avalon’s success and reception in other towns is not reason to look at other proposals uncritically. Kyle Rabin, of Friends of the Bay, makes a number of good points in his comments to the Oyster Bay Town Board, which held a public meeting last night to figure out what to study in the environmental review of a 300-plus unit complex that Avalon Bay wants to build there.

Any new development in the Sound’s watershed will result in more sewage, and more nitrogen in the sewage. Nitrogen of course is the nutrient that triggers the Sound’s biggest ecological problem – hypoxia, or the drop in dissolved oxygen concentrations in summer. As you can see from this image, hypoxia is a severe problem off Oyster Bay.

The local sewer district tried to address the problem by adopting a policy that essentially said that the remaining capacity in the sewage plant would be shared by all property owners in the district, and that no individual owner would be able to use more than his or her share. Rabin writes:

The Sewer District Board decided that it was imperative to have a policy that protected the rights of all property owners within the district regardless of when someone would develop their property. Otherwise, approved rezoning applications that result in a more intense use of the property than currently allowed (based on wastewater generation) would use up available treatment plant capacity. Consequently, other property owners at some future point could find themselves in a position where they could not develop their property as allowed by current zoning because of the lack of available treatment plant capacity. All future applications that come before the District would be reviewed in accordance with the District’s new policy.

AvalonBay would use 5 to 10 percent of the remaining capacity, Rabin says, which is more than its fair share.

Another example is housing density. In developed areas, density is good, generally. The environmental costs and impacts are smaller if you put a lot of people on a small amount of land rather than spreading them out across many acres. But how much is too much?

There is no question that high-density housing has an important role to play in this area and Long Island in general, but AvalonBay’s 300-unit proposal is overkill. It’s equivalent to Wal-Mart proposing one of their superstores in this community. AvalonBay’s current approach represents the ‘big box’ mentality that is afflicting many parts of Long Island.

AvalonBay, a publicly traded company with shareholders to please, is using a cookie cutter approach when in fact they should be thinking ‘outside of the box’ and proposing a development that fits in better with the small town character of this community.

There’s a lot more to this, of course, and there are a lot more opinions and points of view than just Friends of the Bay’s. The group’s website though is a good place to start.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Avalon in Oyster Bay

In Oyster Bay, Friends of the Bay is up in arms about a proposal by Avalon Communities to build 300 apartments – called AvalonBay – on the site of an old car dealership. Tonight is the scoping session for the formal environmental review, and it’s an excellent chance for the public to let the town board know which topics local residents think need scrutiny.

The developers estimate that 470 people will live in the 300 apartments. One obvious question is how will sewage from the project be handled, and in particular how will the increase affect the town’s responsibility to decrease the amount of nitrogen that enters Long Island Sound from sewage treatment plants. Oyster Bay, like all other Sound communities, is responsible for meeting the 58.5 percent nitrogen reduction goal of the Sound cleanup.

The Friends of the Bay website, here, has more.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Darien-Based Friends of Animals Missed the Boat on Darien's Hunting Decision

To return to the deer-hunting issue, imagine how embarrassing it must be personally and to your organization if you are the head of a large, well-known advocacy group with a $5 million annual budget, a group that speaks out and gets attention for its issue around the country, and you’re so committed to your issue that you have even changed your last name so it fits your organization’s mission, and your organization pays you $93,000 a year to be on top of things, and then in the very town where your organization has its headquarters the local government goes through a public process to solve a problem that is precisely the kind of issue you are in business to address, and you don’t even realize it’s happening! You miss it completely!

That is the situation Priscilla Feral, the true-believer who changed her last name, and her organization, Friends of Animals, find themselves in.

Darien, Connecticut, has been conducting a public debate and discussion about allowing deer hunting on town land, but Feral, whose organization is located in Darien, missed a recent public hearing and didn’t even known the town discussion was going on. She blames the town. Here’s what the Advocate reported:

Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, said no one notified the group of the public hearing. She accused town officials of deliberately keeping the meeting secret.

"What they did was conceal this agenda," she said.

Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein disagreed.

"The town has been discussing this for over a year," Klein said. "There were a number of meetings at which this was discussed. I think given that this was topic of discussion a number of times and was written about in the newspaper, and that there was a public hearing involved, there was certainly the opportunity for any group to step forward."

Klein said she received one e-mail, one phone call and one letter opposing the hunt. One person also spoke against it during a public meeting, she said. …

Feral said officials should have reached out specifically to her group.

"We have an organization whose international headquarters is in Darien. We've got a budget of $5 million," she said.

Perhaps some of that $5 million should go towards a subscription to the local paper.

And if you were under the misimpression that Feral relies on reason and logic as a foundation for her positions, consider yourself disabused. Here’s what she thinks of hunters:

"Most of them look like they can hardly walk around. They got to get down and they've got to run as far as two miles" if a deer does not die immediately, she said. "These guys don't look like they can walk much less run. Big fat stomachs. Most of them are loaded, going in early in the morning. I've seen them with their beer."

Charity Navigator, a website that tries to help donors decide which charities to give money to based on how efficient the charities operate, awarded Friends of Animals only two stars out of a possible four, by the way.

Over the Weekend: Deer Control, The Newest Government Service

Like plowing the roads or operating a summer day camp, deer management is becoming a service of local government.

The latest town to accept this new government responsibility is Darien, Connecticut, according to this story in the Stamford Advocate. Through the end of January, the town will allow 10 bow hunters to hunt on a nature preserve, called Selleck’s Woods, that abuts I-95. Town officials are hoping the hunters kill as many as 16 deer. (How many deer that will leave on the 28-acre preserve isn’t clear.)

Last winter, Greenwich hired sharpshooters to kill deer in several of its parks; Ridgefield, Wilton and Redding have authorized hunting on public. Several towns on Long Island have promoted hunting (although Lloyd Harbor’s effort has been marred by vandals.) And on Saturday morning, more than 70 people showed up for a meeting to discuss hunting on public land in Pound Ridge, which borders Fairfield County.

Hunting is now no longer a subsistence activity, nor is it a recreational activity; it is an activity sponsored by local governments for the betterment of townspeople in general.

(With their own ecological interests in mind, conservation organizations have been in the forefront on this. The Nature Conservancy allows hunting at its Devil’s Den preserve, which covers 1,756 acres in Weston and Redding, the Advocate reported. Greenwich Audubon allowed bow hunters to kill deer on its land last winter and the winter before. And the Darien Land Trust, which owns 22 acres adjoining Selleck’s Woods, also plans to allow hunting on its property.)

In a way it makes sense that towns play a large role in solving the problem, because towns, through their zoning and development regulations, played a large role in creating the problem. What I mean is that large-lot development results in ideal deer habitat – lots of little clearings with shrubs for food, and forests for cover. At the same time, houses are close enough together to make hunting with a rifle way too dangerous. Class and social differences play a role too. The people who buy expensive houses on three and four acres, and commute to jobs in the city or in White Plains or Stamford in their Audis and BMWs, are not the same people who don camouflage jumpsuits, rub coal black on their faces, and dab themselves with scents that smell like fox urine so that when they sneak out to their tree stands before dawn in winter the deer won’t be scared off by their human scent. Residents of the outer suburbs not only don’t hunt, they don’t even know anyone who hunts, and so if they were inclined to let someone kill deer on their land, they wouldn’t know who to ask.

And there are problems inherent in the attitudes of the hunters themselves. About five years ago, I heard from a colleague, who heard from a friend, that there was a fellow who lived about an hour west of my town who was looking for land to hunt on. I got in touch with him and told him that he was welcome to hunt on our land but that I wanted him to concentrate of killing does, because killing females is the only way to reduce the deer population. He was happy to oblige, he said, and so we let him hunt. He killed a buck or two the first year. The nest year we let him return, and told him again we wanted him to kill does. Yes, of course, he said, and immediately added, “Any big boys around?” – in other words, had we seen any bucks. After the third year of this, he had killed perhaps three males and no females, and so we politely rescinded our invitation.

My point is that it is only very recently, if at all, that hunters, as well as the hunters who run the hunting programs for the state conservation departments, have come to terms with the notion that it’s not unmanly to kill female deer or that there are reasons to hunt besides wanting to put a big rack above the mantle. Hunters could have been helping solve the problem by killing females but their old-school attitudes kept them focused primarily on bucks.

To a large extent, the suburbs created their white-tailed deer problem and they now seem determined to solve it as well.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Here’s what it’s like to dig clams on Long Island Sound for a living – a good account from an assignment that wasn’t as much fun as it might seem, I’m sure.

Last week I praised the Connecticut Post for its story and editorial on the Sound cleanup. Earlier today I criticized it for parroting Patricia Feral’s parakeet propaganda. And now this clamming story, which deserves praise. All it’s missing is some context about clamming in the Sound in general.

Monk Parakeets

There are lots of new oddities in today’s papers about the monk parakeet situation in West Haven.

According to the New Haven Register, police said that Julie Cook, the West Haven woman who was arrested for breach of peace after protesting the removal of monk parakeets, perhaps had had a drink or two too many before her arrest and had climbed aboard one of the trucks United Illuminating was using to get rid of the parakeets. I have nothing against having a drink or two but it's probably wise to avoid public protests and demonstrations if you've been imbibing. In any case, Cook denies it. Regardless, state prosecutors have dropped the charges, so she’s off the hook, legally. But those who are overseeing her nursing training at Southern Connecticut State University want to chat with her about it anyway.

West Haven’s police chief, meanwhile, is glad the bird-removal program is over, for the time being, and who can blame him.

And the Connecticut Post, if this story is typical, seems on the verge of becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Friends of Animals and the group’s boss, Patricia Feral. Among other things, the Post and Feral (which is not her real last name, by the way) have introduced a new concept – homeless birds.

She estimated that as many as 400 birds escaped capture and will be homeless this winter…

On the other hand, if the nests are removed, maybe the power will stay on, which is UI's motive and goal.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

House of Representatives Restores Long Island Sound Funding

The House of Representatives has reauthorized the Long Island Sound Restoration Act. You may remember (from this) that earlier in the year it was cut from the budget. You also may remember (from this and this) that Rep. Shays’s office and Audubon New York responded that it wasn’t unusual to have to fight for funding for the Sound and that they were confident that they would prevail again. Glad to say, they were right.

Two Things I Didn’t Know

John Lennon had a house on Long Island Sound, here … So did Louis Comfort Tiffany, which is why New London has one of the largest concentrations of Tiffany windows in the world, here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Friends of Animals Declares Victory After UI Accomplishes its Monk Parakeet Removal Goals

United Illuminating seems to have accomplished everything it wanted to accomplish with its program to capture monk parakeets in West Haven, Milford and Stratford, and send them off to be killed. It had targeted 103 nests and, as of Tuesday, it had cleared 103 nests of birds. About 200 birds were shipped to the USDA and killed. Now the company will start taking down the nests.

Having watched UI complete its job despite her organization’s protests, Priscilla Feral, the noisy leader of Friends of Animals, has declared victory.

Her rationale? Some of the birds in the nests escaped unharmed. Here's how the AP quoted her this evening:

"It was a parrot victory," Feral said. "UI agreed not to capture any of the escapees, and we know there were a lot of them."

FOA will file a lawsuit, she says, to force UI to solve its monk parakeet problem in a more humane way. That sounds fine to me. If UI is smart, it will figure something out before then, get Feral to agree that it’s a good plan, and then take a cue from its nemesis – declare victory and get out.

Wednesday morning update: Here's today's New Haven Register story for more.

Harp Seals and White-Sided Dolphins

It's well known by now that seals are much more common in Long Island Sound then they used to be. But are dolphins? A column published last week in one of the Shore Publishing chains suggested they are. I asked Penny Howell, of the Connecticut DEP marine fisheries bureau, about it, and Penny referred me to Heather Medic, who is with the Mystic Aquarium and is an expert on marine mammals.

Regarding seals, Heather told me that harbor seals are hanging out in the Sound year-round, and they’re breeding:

That tells us that the population of seals is spreading and there is no real need to migrate.

Harp seals are here now in winter too, the numbers growing as the population in Canada grows. Although Medic's job is to help marine mammals that get stranded on land, she also gets calls from people who simply see a seal and want to tell someone. Last winter she got 120 sighting calls; the winter before there were, 64.

People call us about these seals because they are not like the common harbor seal that hauls out in groups off shore. They don't stay off shore, they will come into yards, lay on beaches and docks along the shore of LIS.

Harp seals are the species that got so much attention some time back when Brigitte Bardot made an issue of hunters clubbing the pups to death for their white skins. As they get older, harp seals develop a silvery fur with darker markings.

In A Field Guide to North Atlantic Wildlife, which Yale University Press published this year, Noble Proctor writes:

The Harp Seal has been regularly reported south of Cape Cod in recent winters, but the odds are still overwhelming that any seal encountered south of Nova Scotia will be either a Gray Seal or a Harbor Seal.

He adds that you should look for harp seals in southern New England, “but don’t expect to see them.” Unless of course one decides to haul out in your backyard.

As she was referring my dolphin question to Heather Medic, Penny Howell mentioned that both white-sided and comon dolphins have been know to venture into the Sound. Last week's newspaper report was of a sighting of bottlenose dolphins. Medic said she gets far fewer calls about dolphins and isn’t sure if their numbers are going up or down. But if fish are around, dolphins can be there too, as long as the water is salty and 10 feet deep or more:

There is nothing uncommon about this.

… I hear fishermen say I saw this or that so I would say nothing is different. Dolphins are found outside the LIS so if they are following a school of fish they could easily be seen in the LIS. I had a humpback whale in Niantic in 2003 in 60 ft of water. He left as fast as he came in, but not before he jumped off the bow of a fisherman's boat. We have many seals, dolphins and whales right outside the LIS and if there is enough water for the animals to come into the LIS they will for fish. The question we need to ask is if fishing is better then it used to be.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Over the Weekend: Connecticut Post Criticizes the State for Backing Off the Sound Cleanup. More Monk Parakeets. The Day Covers Broadwater

Don’t Back Off the Cleanup … The Connecticut Post has followed Friday's page one story on the state's attempt to cut back on the Long Island Sound clean up with a solid editorial saying that Legislators are following a course that could be catastrophic for the Sound:

Here's a news item that just plain stinks — literally: It appears that the state of Connecticut is significantly relaxing its once strong commitment to cleaning up Long Island Sound by unleashing a lethal double-whammy of cutting funding and relaxing pollution regulations.

The editorial points out that even though Legislators took money out of the Clean Water Fund -- money that should have been used for the Sound cleanup -- it still has ample funds for sewage plant improvements, assuming they think that sewage plant improvements are important:

The state comptroller estimated earlier this week that the state has a projected budget surplus of $306 million. ...

Connecticut mustn't retreat in its efforts to clean the Sound. The state has made significant progress over the past decade toward cleaning the Sound waters and keeping them clean. To begin to relax its efforts now could be catastrophic.

So the press is on the case, as they should have been for weeks. Advocates for the Sound shouldn't underestimate how important it is for stories like this to be in the newspaper. Government officials, especially politicians or those answerable directly to politicians, hate bad press. They start to sweat even when they get a voicemail from a reporter about something that might make them look bad. But reporters learn about important news only when someone tells them about it. So call them up and let them know. Sound advocates need to seize the opportunity to press the issue. Connecticut needs to think a little harder about it and then change course.

Monk parakeets … A filmmaker from Massachusetts who was shooting the removal of the monk parakeets' nests in West Haven last week happened to be on the scene when police arrested Julie Cook, handcuffed her, took her to jail and charged her with breach of peace. His name is Marc Johnson, and he says Cook was indeed loud but that she was not violent. Here's the Connecticut Post coverage.

Having not been there it's difficult to know exactly what happened. But in my opinion, if Cook was bothering someone -- like the police or the United Illuminating crews -- because she was expressing herself loudly, that's their problem, not hers. She ought to find a lawyer who will argue that she has a right to protest and express herself, particularly in her own neighborhood, and that they police should be ordered to back off. (I reported the other day, by the way, that she was arrested Thursday night; in fact, the arrest was Wednesday.)

After I wrote about the monk parakeets last week, a reader named Amy took issue with my characterization of some of the protesters as "outside agitators." She wrote:

As one of the protestors, I can tell you that we are all local Connecticut residents who are appalled at what's going on. There are no "outside agitators"!

Fair enough. I was referring to Friends of Animals, who do this sort of thing as a profession. But I don't refer to Save the Sound as outside agitators when they get involved in issues such as the proposal to put a liquefied natural gas facility in the middle of the Sound, so I shouldn't call Friends of Animals outside agitators either.

Having said that, I think Friends of Animals' reaction has been almost comical. One of their suggestions is that people protest by not turning on their outdoor Christmas lights -- in other words, protest by saving energy. UI's spokesman said that's great -- we encourage energy conservation.

Friends of Animals also held a candlelight vigil for the monk parakeets on Friday evening. The Connecticut Post reported that almost 48 people showed up. I know it sounds like I'm making this up, but I'm not: They held a candlelight vigil for the monk parakeets. UI apparently decided to take the night off, and so the protesters were on their own.

Broadwater in The Day … The New London Day published the last of its three big Broadwater stories, here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Speakers Bureau

Are you looking for a speaker for your next event, one who tells the history of Long Island Sound through interesting and eye-opening stories and anecdotes?

I've given about 50 talks and lectures on various Sound topics in the time since my book came out. Organizations bring me back because I know what's happening on the Sound now, what happened in the past, and why it's important. And because I know that a good story is worth about a thousand dull PowerPoint slides.

I do it because it's a great way to keep on top of what's happening on Sound issues, and because it keeps me connected to the community of Long Island Sound advocates.

My topics include:

What is Long Island Sound For?

The History of Oystering on Long Island Sound

Long Island Sound's Industrial History

Adriaen Block and the Discovery of Long Island Sound: What You Think You Know is Probably Wrong

The Cleanup: Is Long Island Sound Improving?

Groups I've spoken to include:

Audubon Connecticut

The Jay Heritage Society (Rye)

Connecticut Fund for the Environment annual meeting

The Norwalk Maritime Aquarium

The Stamford Rotary

The Audubon Council of New York

The South Street Seaport Association


The Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance Citizens Summit

The Fishers Island Conservancy's Nature Days

And many others.

If your group or business or organization is interested, by all means email me: tandersen54 at optonline.net. I get good reviews and my fee is very reasonable.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Connecticut House Speaker Says Connecticut Cut Long Island Sound Cleanup Funds Because it's Not a "Sexy" Issue

Connecticut’s decision to ease up on its commitment to clean up Long Island Sound finally got some press coverage, with this story in today’s Connecticut Post (click here). It answers a lot of questions and also gives Sound advocates (mainly Leah Lopez Schmaltz, at Save the Sound, but he quotes me as well) a chance to make the case that this is the wrong time to cut back on the clean up.

The bottom line is that the Connecticut Legislature decided that the Sound wasn’t as important as other issues. Here’s what reporter Ed Crowder wrote:

The two-year state budget approved in June provides $140 million in capital funding for the Clean Water Fund in 2006 and 2007. That's only a fraction — 16 percent — of the full $892 million in bonding the DEP sought for the fund's grant and loan programs….

Speaker of the House James A. Amann, D-Milford, said the General Assembly and the governor had to make difficult choices in the last session. Making capital available for the wastewater treatment plant upgrades was a priority early on, he said, but lawmakers ultimately decided there were more urgent needs, including transportation upgrades.

"A sewage treatment plant, it's not a sexy issue, right?" he said.

Amann, who lives at Caswell Cove condominiums near Milford's wastewater treatment plant, said he's personally sold on the need to fund the upgrades and believes the General Assembly should take the issue up in its next session.

"Where I live, it's to the point where I sometimes can't even lift up my windows at night because the stench is so bad," Amann said.

Amann is right when he says a sewage treatment plant isn’t a sexy issue. That attitude points up an important point: if nitrogen reduction is seen merely as a sewage treatment plant issue, it’s probably doomed to failure. It’s got to be perceived as what it really is: a Long Island Sound issue. Nobody cares if sewage plants are improved; but everybody cares that Long Island Sound not be allowed to die, which is essentially what it is facing if the cleanup doesn’t move forward.

Amann also says it’s important because the stench is bad in his neighborhood. I feel sorry for him, of course, but the stench has nothing to do with nitrogen removal. If the Speaker’s understanding of the issue is so poor, we might be in trouble anyway.

Crowder cites me as saying advocates for Long Island Sound need to do a better job getting the word out again that this is a big issue. I’m happy to say I was not misquoted.

A West Haven Woman is Handcuffed and Locked Up for Protesting the Killing of Monk Parakeets

A woman who lives in the heart of monk parakeet territory was arrested last night for interfering with the United Illuminating crews that are trying to remove the birds' nests (and send the birds off to b e killed). WTNH in New Haven reported that Julie Cook was handcuffed, fingerprinted and locked up until midnight, charged with breach of the peace.

I haven't gotten any sense from the local newspapers of how many people are protesting the parakeet-removal program, or if the protesters are from the neighborhoods or outside agitators from so-called animal rights groups. (Reporters, please -- get out there and tell us what's really going on!) But you'd have to imagine that the frustration level in the neighborhood is pretty high if a person is willing to get arrested for the sake of monk parakeets.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dolphins in the Sound

A couple of guys fishing in the middle of Long Island Sound found themselves being followed by a pod of dolphins not long ago. A fellow who calls himself Captain Morgan, and who writes a fishing column for the Shore Publishing chain, says dolphins are far less rare in the Sound than they used to be:

For the past few years, isolated sightings of mature dolphins, sometimes in the presence of younger ones, have occurred. But now, like in the early days, these large schools have re-emerged, most likely branching off to feed on schools of herring entering a much cleaner and unobstructed Sound.
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