Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Monk Parakeets = Bad PR for UI; Ferries on the Sound; Broadwater and the Public Use of Public Waters

Killing parakeets ... United Illuminating went to the trouble of asking at least one of Connecticut's two Audubon groups what it thought of its plan to remove monk parakeet nests from power lines and then have the birds killed. But the company apparently didn't bother to ask the people who live near the birds, in West Haven, Stratford, Bridgeport and Milford, what they think, and now UI has a big public relations problem.

Lots of people agree that the birds can be a nuisance but they also think there should be a better way of getting rid of them. UI workers are taking down the nests, capturing the birds and handing them over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which kills them using carbon monoxide (the New Haven Register keeps saying carbon dioxide, but that doesn't make sense to me). Is that the only choice?

I posted a couple of items about it in the last week or so (here and
), and one in July, and a number of people have found their way here to read them after searching online for monk parakeets. One of those readers left a comment last week, anonymously, on my July post:

The USDA’s agents who kill birds and animals at taxpayer’s expense for private industry, plan to use Connecticut’s program as a test case. If successful, the agency may start using similar draconian measures in other states.

... One method that has been used successfully in New York and New Jersey is to wait until spring and remove nests from utility poles before breeding season.

Representative Richard Roy, who lives in Milford (where some of the birds nest) and is chairman of the house's Environment Committee, called UI officials and other to Hartford yesterday to talk more about that alternative. The New Haven Register reported:

Roy said he is also urging UI to use a method tried in several other states of "continuous maintenance" to discourage monk parakeets from building nests on utility poles. That policy requires utility workers to remove a nest and then keep returning to knock down the nests the parakeets rebuild.

Roy said that, after having their nests knocked down several times, the birds usually seek a different location.

UI might be starting to tire of the bad publicity. The company said that the parakeets are responsible for one power outage a month, on average, and have caused four fires since 2002. But, the company's spokesman said, UI

... intends to "continue to work with the responsible agencies to find a solution ... that is more humane."

Ferries ... You ever wonder what taking a ferry to work would be like? Plenty of people on Staten Island do it, of course, and it's a pleasant ride -- 25 minutes or so across the Upper Bay, which is beautiful and well protected. On the other hand, I once visited a guy who lived on one of the islands on Maryland's Eastern Shore -- Deal maybe, or Smith, I forget -- and when I suggested that it must be neat to take the ferry, which was small and loud, all the time, he said it was like taking a 20-minute elevator ride twice a day.

What about more ferries on Long Island Sound? The roads and the trains are crowded, so ferry service from to Manhattan sounds like a good idea, except for two things -- it's no bargain and it's slow.

Some planning agencies did a study that recommends thinking about running high speed ferries to the city from Bridgeport, Stamford, Rye, New Rochelle, and Glen Cove. Here's what the Stamford Advocate says:

Under the "base model" for service -- $15 a trip traveling at 35 knots -- attracting riders for a Bridgeport to Stamford to midtown Manhattan ferry would be difficult because it would be the same price as Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line, only slower, according to the study.

Slower is one thing. What about comfort? Sailors tell me that the Sound is notoriously rough in winter -- it's small enough so that the waves and swells slosh back and forth, like in a bathtub, making it choppy and unpleasant. The Advocate story doesn't say if the cost-benefit analysis includes the price of regular supplies of Dramamine.

Security checks for boaters? ... There was an interesting nugget in an otherwise unremarkable Hartford Courant story about last night's meeting ot the Connecticut LNG task force. One of the troubling issues is that the huge LNG facility that TransCanada and Shell want to put in the middle of the Sound is that it would require the Coast Guard to enforce a off-limits area around the terminal, for security reasons. Some people (including me) think that it is unacceptable to close of publicly-owned waters for a big floating LNG factory.

Amy Kelley, Broadwater's spokeswoman, said last night that the no-boat zone might be up for review. According to the Courant she said:

the Coast Guard is considering whether boaters who had been checked out might have access to the as-yet unspecified security zones around the plant and the tankers.

At first reading, that sounds like it might be good news. But really, what would this checking out of boaters entail? What kind of personal information would the Coast Guard want to make sure you're a fisherman and not a terrorist? And why should anyone submit to that kind of intrusion when have the right to be on the Sound in the first place?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


We started this blog a year ago today. My idea back then was that Sphere might become a focal point for the Long Island Sound community, a place for people interested in environmental issues to get information, to keep up with what was happening, and to shine a light on the good things, the silly things and the bad things. I wanted it to be informative and authoritative, skeptical if need be, and funny once in a while.

You can measure the popularity of a website in a couple of ways, with a handful of different counters. One way is unique visitors. If you click on Sphere today, you're counted as one unique visitor. If you check back in the afternoon, you're still counted as one unique visitor who has had two page views. If you click here tomorrow that's your second unique visit. A rough analogy is newspaper circulation -- a paper might have a circulation of 200,000 (roughly analgous to unique visitors) and a readership of 400,000 (analagous to page views).

Sphere has had about 14,000 unique visitors in a year, and 25,000 page views. In our first full month, last December, we had 530 unique visitors. November of 2005 was our busiest month, with 1,800 visitors so far. (Lots of people who view the site don't get counted, but the statistics constitute a kind of index of readership and are good for showing trends.)

By the way, here's the first post, which is the only one Gina has written (it was basically a test, to help us figure out how to do it and what it would look like, but among other things it shows that blogs can take different directions and have different styles).

To regular readers, occasional readers and those who get here by accident -- thanks, and check back often. We hope to get bigger and better.

Developing Derelict Waterfronts

I suppose it's no surprise that heavy industry is dirty -- that the economic gains you reap are offset somewhat by the environmental mess left behind. Here's what Bridgeport has to deal with in its effort to redevelop a waterfront area called Steel Point. From the Connecticut Post:

The state-funded report confirms the peninsula has a range of pollutants left behind after decades of manufacturing and power production - petroleum, heating fuel, corroded underground tanks, PCBs, hydrocarbons, copper, lead, mercury, arsenic and chromium....

... In some areas, the acreage was significantly enlarged by dumping fill along the shoreline and into Bridgeport Harbor, a practice that would not be tolerated today. The fill consists of coal ash, garbage, dredged material, glass, concrete, slag, tar, oily rags, ceramic, rocks and even pipes, according to the state's report.

In some places, the fill is 21 feet deep.

In spite of that, the city has a plan and a developer for revive the area, which covers 52 acres. Some of the development will be residential, and the Post reports that top floor condos, with views of Long Island Sound, will sell for $500,000, which gives you an idea of how difficult it might be to convince people to live in Bridgeport.

And speaking of grandiose visions for derelict waterfront areas, this report (via the Providence Journal) from Rhode Island is an eye-opener. The Aquidneck Island Planning Commission has big ideas for 350 acres owned by the Navy, and all the pols -- Governor Carcieri, Senator Chafee, Representative Kennedy -- are on board. No indication though what the towns or residents of the area think.

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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

AG Blumenthal to Announce Opposition to LNG Terminal: Welcome Aboard but How's the Sewage Spill Investigation Going?

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal apparently is going to announce that he’s opposed to the Broadwater LNG proposal, at a press conference that is scheduled for Monday evening, before a hearing of Connecticut’s Long Island Sound LNG Task Force.

Since he’ll be answering questions, someone should ask him how the big sewage spill investigation (click here) is going.

I Always Said the Folks at Citizens Campaign for the Environment Know What They're Talking About

I got an email notice from Citizens Campaign for the Environment this morning announcing their suggestions for environmentally-friendly holiday gifts. I clicked on the website to see what they had in mind, and saw this ...

Environmental Books
Buy your favorite environmentalist or young budding environmentalist, a classic to read such as ...

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (Houghton Mifflin; 40th Anv edition, October 22, 2002)
Through Silent Spring, Rachel Carson became a leading voice in exposing the dangers of pesticide use in American culture. ...

... and ...

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal by Eric Schlosser (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2002)
Tells the story of the rise of the multinational fast food empire that began with two brothers moving from Sandusky, Ohio to California in the 1930’s. ...

... and ...

This Fine Piece of Water: An Environmental History of Long Island Sound by Tom Andersen (Yale University Press, April 10, 2004)
Details the history of the Long Island Sound region. Andersen chronicles the history of the heavily used estuary from the time of Native American and Dutch contact through the centuries to present day. ... This book is a wonderfully detailed and enlightening look at not only the history of the Sound, but the current effort underway by scientists and activists to repair and restore the estuary.

You can tell it's a slow news day when I'm forced to resort to this. But by all means, click on the site and feel free to buy.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Soundkeeper Terry Backer on Connecticut's Decision to Ease Up on its Part of the Long Island Sound Cleanup: "I certainly cannot explain it."

Long Island Soundkeeper and Connecticut House member Terry Backer seems as frustrated as anyone about Connecticut’s inability to keep money in the Clean Water Fund for clean water projects. It was the Legislature’s decision, remember, to raid the Clean Water Fund that forced the DEP to propose easing up on the state’s pollution-reduction program for Long Island Sound.

Terry sent me an email over the weekend indicating that he is as baffled as anyone:

I certainly cannot explain it. It always seems to be this way -- lots of pro-environment talk but [with] the social service demands and other human resource (as if a healthy environment isn't one of them), the budget always seems to get wacked. I'll be pushing in the coming session to see that the needs of Sound and reduction programs are met.

After hearing that a handful of House members, as well as Senator Nickerson, weren’t even aware of what was happening, it’s somewhat comforting to know that the Soundkeeper is both aware of it and unhappy about it.

Over the Weekend: The Argument that Broadwater Can't Rebut; Vandals Attack Hunting Advocates on LI

The Broadwater people think they can answer the questions their proposal for a huge LNG terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound raises about safety and environmental protection. But the issue of whether it's appropriate to put an industrial facility in the middle of the Sound has been trouble for them. The New London Day published another long Broadwater story yesterday, and in the middle reporter Judy Benson dropped this sentence:

John Hritcko Jr., senior vice president for Broadwater, said that of all the safety and environmental concerns raised over the LNG plan, this philosophical conflict over appropriate use of the Sound has been the most difficult to counter.

To that I say -- Congratulations, Long Island Sound advocates! It's a legitimate argument and if Hritcko and his bosses at TransCanada and Shell have trouble with it, so much the better. They think that because tankers travel through the Sound and because there are factories and terminals in New Haven, 11 miles from where the LNG terminal would be, that justifies building an enormous, permanent structure in the middle of the Sound. That argument is baloney, as I tried to show here. The industrial era ended decades ago on Long Island Sound; remaining industries are vestiges. Arguing that it's OK to put a huge industrial facility in the middle of the Sound because it's only 11 miles from New Haven is analagous to arguing that it's OK to put a factory in the middle of the Connecticut woods because it's only 11 miles from New Haven.

(I've posted a lot about Broadwater over the past 11 months and it's possible that someone, somewhere might want to refer to those posts. Last evening I started to create a list of links to them. If you scroll down and look in the right-hand column, you'll find the first few. There are more to come.)

Helping the Fish ... I've lost track of the number of towns that are building passages to help spawning fish swim upstream from Long Island Sound, but there are quite a few, Branford included. The town, with Connecticut DEP help, has one in place on Queach Brook that it hopes will enable a number of species -- particularly alewives, which are almost gone from the Sound's tributaries. Here's what the New Haven Register said today:

The town-owned fishway ends in the East Supply Pond and will open roughly 80 acres of lake, nine acres of riparian swamps and up to five miles of free-flowing streams to the fish. These connections were broken by man-made dams.

Intimidating deer hunters ... On Long Island the deer problem has gotten so bad that the village of Lloyd Harbor decided to ask two big landowners - the state and the Archdiocese of Rockville -- to allow hunting on their property. "Animal-activist" vandals responded by "covering the home and cars of Lloyd Harbor Mayor Leland Hairr in red paint, while workers at village hall received intimidating phone calls," according to Newsday.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Everyday Sights

Gina and I were out walking the other day and stopped at an intersection down the road. If we were in upstate New York or New England and came upon this scene, we agreed, we'd marvel at how beautiful it was. But we see it all the time and we take its beauty for granted.

Here are some of the other places within walking distance that we take for granted, all of them ordinary but beautiful.

fancher road
The old road to Norwalk.


whitton house
18th century house.

callie & emma's pond

more laundry


More than 2,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq, there's no end in sight to the war, Bush clearly misled the country, global warming is changing ecological conditions all over, and in West Haven 35 people have taken to the streets to protest the removal of birds nests from power lines.

The Nature Conservancy Begins Hunting Deer in Connecticut; the Catholic Church on Long Island Curtails a Hunt

Deer hunting is getting underway at four Nature Conservancy preserves in Connecticut, but in Lloyd Harbor, on Long Island, a hunting program has been curtailed because the Catholic Rockville Centre Archdiocese decided not to allow hunters on a large piece of property it owns.

These aren't recreational hunting programs; they're hunts organized to reduce the number of deer in overpopulated areas. Although it's too bad the Long Island hunt is not continuing, the Nature Conservancy's participation in Connecticut indicates that hunting to bring down deer populations has entered the mainstream (keep in mind that Audubon Connecticut has been culling deer from its preserves in Greenwich). The Nature Conservancy seems to think it's working. According to the Hartford Courant:

The deer management programs have paid dividends, the conservancy states.

"We've been actively managing deer populations in some of our preserves for years now, and we're seeing results," Carabetta said. "Pink lady-slipper are returning to places where we haven't seen them in years."

Conservancy officials report the Burnham preserve has been damaged by an abundance of deer, with the under story of the forest almost non-existent.

Birds that nest and feed on or near the ground have lost the groundcover essential for protection from predators, the organization said, noting few seedlings have a chance to grow because of hungry deer.

"Managing the deer population is essential to maintaining the health of these preserves," said Lisa Hanners, the conservancy director Connecticut.

"At high numbers, we know that deer restrict the growth of new trees, shrubs and flowers. Without some sort of management, the quality of the forests at these preserves will continue to suffer." Hanners said.

But across the Sound, a hunting program in Lloyd Harbor is on hold. From Newsday:

The state parks department on Tuesday planned to review its decision to cull the herd at Caumsett State Park after the Diocese of Rockville Centre suspended the practice at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese, said a new rector at the seminary wanted to assess the situation after protests from animal rights advocates.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Do Connecticut Legislators Support the Cleanup of the Sound? Are They Even Aware of It?

Long Island Sound advocates in Connecticut have a right to wonder how with-it and committed to the Sound their legislators are.

At Wednesday’s Audubon forum in Greenwich, Jane-Kerin Moffat, a longtime Sound advocate (she was instrumental in organizing the first Listen to the Sound hearings, in 1990, which were instrumental in establishing public support for the Sound cleanup) asked the Connecticut legislators about the DEP’s proposal to ease up on nitrogen reductions.

The response didn’t exactly fill me with confidence: the legislators were unaware of what DEP was doing.

I sent the four legislators who were at the forum (plus Soundkeeper/House member Terry Backer) an email, asking them about the issue, specifically about the decision to take money out of the Clean Water Fund -- the decision which forced the DEP to cut back on the Sound cleanup. Here's an excerpt of my email:

I understand that the reason the DEP is doing this is because of a decision by the state Legislature to take money out of the Clean Water Fund for other purposes.

I am writing today in hopes that you, as a representative of a community on the Sound, can explain why the Clean Water Fund was raided and whether there are plans to fund it again.

Of the four – House members Livvy Floren, Lile Gibbons, and Claudia Powers, and Senator William H. Nickerson – only Nickerson has responded, although his response was “not responsive,” as the lawyers say. Here’s Nickerson’s email to me, in its entirety:

Tom ~

Thanks for the e-mail - I'll keep your thoughts in mind.


As I said, not exactly confidence-building.

Parakeet Nests on Power Lines Are Coming Down

United Illuminating, which provides electricity to part of Connecticut, has had enough of monk parakeets building enormous nests on power lines. The company is capturing these exotic birds and sending them off for euthanasia, and is dismantling 103 of their huge nests, mainly in West Haven (where this picture was taken) but also in Bridgeport, Stratford and Milford.

Monk parakeet nest 2, 4.05

The nests can weigh up to 200 pounds and house 200 pairs of birds, according to the New Haven Register (although the 200 pairs figure sounds implausible -- perhaps it's a typo and should really be 20 pairs). The Register wrote that the nests:

...have frequently interrupted UI customer service, caused transformers to blow and generated general discontent with some residents. UI also is concerned because the resulting power outages can imperil customers on life-support systems.

Audubon Connecticut has no problem with it but Patricia Feral, the head of Friends of Animals who has always sounded more like a parody than a rational human being, believes the program is senseless and immoral because the birds have committed no crime. I was glad to read that because I was under the impression that the parakeets had conspired to build their nests in a place where they would cause power disruptions and therefore were guilty of public vandalism and destruction of property.

The UI nest-removal program involves only nests on their property. The story doesn't say how many nests there are elsewhere, but presumably it's enough to keep the population of parakeets -- which actually are a delight to see, if not to live next to -- alive and well in the area.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Don't Expect Politicians to Reverse Connecticut's Decision to Slow Down the Cleanup of Long Island Sound

Connecticut doesn't have enough money to continue the cleanup of Long Island Sound, but Sound advocates shouldn't expect state legislators to do anything about it on their own. In fact the elected officials who raided the state's Clean Water Fund for non-environmental purposes admit they don't really have the will to fund environmental programs on their own.

The admission came yesterday at a forum in Greenwich held by Audubon Connecticut. Much of the forum, according to the coverage in the Greenwich Time, concerned the Broadwater LNG proposal. But the reporter wrote:

... legislators also answered questions about the need to better fund the state Department of Environmental Protection. Officials there have said that budget cuts make it hard for them to proactively address environmental issues in addition to their mandated role of reviewing and issuing permits, such as for hunting or industrial uses.

Legislators said they would push for more funding, but they needed the lobbying support of environmentalists and their coalitions.

"That department has been emasculated for years," Rep. Livvy Floren, R-149th District said. "But you know, the pie is only so big. What we need are coalitions."

I wasn't there and perhaps someone who was can let me know if my assumption is correct: But I think the reference there is to Connecticut DEP's nitrogen reduction program, which is in trouble (see here and here), at least for the short term, because there's no money in the Clean Water Fund. And even if it's not a direct reference, the implication is clear: start hounding your representatives and senators to make the Sound a priority again.

The Sound's most important issue is not Broadwater, it's the long-term impairment of prime estuarine habitat by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water in summer. The amount of attention the issue has gotten, including the specific issue of Connecticut's decision to cut back on its nitrogen reduction program, is a sad indication of how a healthy Sound has become much less of a priority.

There hasn't been any media coverage, as far as I can tell, and there doesn't seem to be much general discussion of it among Long Island Sound advocates.

Have any state Legislators (including Terry Backer, the Soundkeeper) explained why Clean Water Fund money was used for other things?

Does the DEP think that easing up on nitrogen reductions is an acceptable strategy for one year but that the agency plans to rev back up in subsequent years?

If anyone has answers or insights, send them to me, please.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

EPA Gets a Bad Report Card on Chesapeake Bay Too

Not only is Chesapeake Bay in bad shape, EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program isn't doing so great either. The Government Accountability Office (the relatively new name for the GAO) has taken a look at the program and found it wanting. A summary and links to the Washington Post story are on the DC Birding Blog. One would suspect that estuary programs throughout the country, including the Long Island Sound Program, are reading it with interest and perhaps to learn from the mistakes of others.

Scientist Drops Petition to Have Eastern Oyster Added to Endangered Species List

One of the news items that came in over the weekend was a report that the scientist from Maryland who had wanted the eastern oyster declared endangered or threatened has withdrawn his petition. Wolf-Dieter Busch said his proposal drew more opposition than he had expected, and that his case was damaged by inaccurate portrayals in the press. Here's the story, as reported by a paper in Annapolis.

Plenty of people are happy that he's backed off but I'm not necessarily one of them. In this post (which includes excerpts from his petition) I explain what Busch wanted and why. A lot of his arguments still make sense to me, particularly his concern that an Asian relative of the eastern oyster might be introduced into Chesapeake Bay. And if you read the excerpts, you'll see that his analysis of the larger ecological problem facing the eastern oyster is on the mark.

Busch did win a consolation prize though:

... the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed to finish the studies they started after Mr. Busch's petition. Part of the research focuses on whether there are different subspecies of the eastern oyster in different areas.

If that can be proved true, any future endangered species applications could focus on only the bay's eastern oysters, as opposed to the Gulf Coast or Long Island eastern oyster.

That might keep the oystermen around here happy while still protecting oysters in Chesapeake Bay.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Stamford Gets a Federal Grant for More Innovations at its Innovative Sewage Treatment Plant

Stamford has gotten a grant to burn sludge at its sewage plant and convert the heat into enough electricity to operate the plant and power 4,000 houses. From the Stamford Advocate:

The system would convert wet sludge into dry fuel pellets, then burn the pellets to power a steam turbine generator, which would generate 5 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power the sewage treatment facility and 4,000 homes. …

The sewage treatment plant uses less than 1 megawatt, which costs about $1 million per year, Brown said. The remaining power could be sold to energy companies and reduce the city's dependence on power transmitted from other sites, she said.

Converting the sludge into pellets at the sewage plant would eliminate the need to truck out more than 4,000 tons of wet sludge every year. Trucking the sludge costs $1.2 million per year, Brown said.

Brown is Jeanette Semon Brown, the innovative head of Stamford's Water Pollution Control Authority. Representative Christopher Shays secured the money as part of an energy and water bill.

Chesapeake Bay: Still in Bad Shape

Estuaries all over are in terrible shape. Chesapeake Bay is even worse than Long Island Sound. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation grades the health of the bay each year, and this year, as in previous years, the grade was poor – a D.

DC Birding Blog has a good summary and the necessary links.

Monday, November 14, 2005

No Name Restaurant. Things Change

In Boston yesterday we went to the No Name Restaurant, on the Fish Pier, for lunch. To get there from downtown, you cross a broad highway bridge and drive along a wide street, four lanes across at least, past some big empty parking lots and a new convention center and something called the World Trade Center, which made me cringe. To the left as you're crossing the bridge is an old steel bridge, now closed. Then you turn left on Fish Pier and drive halfway down between two newish-looking buildings that may or may not house fish wholesalers or distributors – it was hard to tell because it was 12:45 on Sunday afternoon and the place was almost deserted.

We sat upstairs in a big, low-ceilinged room, at a table next to a window that looked out on the harbor. Nothing was going on out there except the bleak landscape, a harsh blue sky and an occasional gull. A waiter brought us a plate of garlic bread. We all ordered fish chowder, which was good – milky, not thickened with anything, full of fish. The fish dinners, fried clams and fish sandwich that followed were good too, although some components of the fish dinner (the scrod, for example) were considerably better than others (the shrimp). The place was by no means full. There were plenty of waiters, all of whom were cheerful and relaxed and happy to serve.

In other words, except for the food, it was a far cry from what No Name used to be. It used to be a relic of the days when that part of town was a working waterfront. Now it’s a forebear, at best, of something that someone (probably the city’s urban development agency) wants the waterfront to be. It was a relic in the same way that Sweet’s fish house was a relic in the Fulton Market neighborhood of Manhattan (when I went to Sweet’s in the mid 1970s, I asked the waiter, a slow-moving, effortlessly efficient black man, something about beef, and without so much as looking at me he answered, “Aint no meat in this house,” which prompted me to bury my nose in the menu and order a broiled flounder).

I’d been to No Name only twice and I make no claim to have participated in any way in anything having to do with a real working waterfront, in Boston or anywhere, except to have been the grandson of a laborer in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the son of a tug boat deckhand who eventually found a better job as a ferry boat deckhand. I went to No Name in 1974 because it was a hip thing for college students to do (which of course begs the question that my daughter would ask: if it was so hip, what were you doing there?). But to prove that I’m a nostalgic, romantic middle aged fogy, I liked the old No Name better and so I dug around in my old journals and found something I wrote after my most recent visit, a mere 24 years ago. The price for lunch yesterday for four, by the way, was about $70.

1/27/81 -- Arrived home last night about 9:30, after a hard drive from Boston. Before I left I had a bowl of chowder at No-Name. I was not sure I could find it, but when I drove down Boylston I saw a sign for the waterfront, so I followed it. It led over a steel bridge partially enclosed by girders. The road then passed the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage and led down to the fish pier. I drove through the gate and parked right in front of the No-Name. It was ten-to-four, and not very crowded. I entered through what I think is a new room -- more fashionable than the counter-and-tables in the adjacent room. I went to the counter, which was lined with forks and spoons, and plates of bread and butter. If one customer did not eat the bread and butter, it was left for the next person. Behind the counter was a middle-aged man with silver hair, dressed in white. He looked at me as I sat down, and without stepping any closer, said, "Yeah?"

"Bowl a chowder," I said.

He ladeled out a thick stew of fish chunks and creamy, off-white broth that filled me up easily.

"Something to drink?" he demanded.


A younger man with a navy blue v-neck sweater, jeans, and a long white apron tied around the waist replaced him. He spoke with a slight Italian accent.

"You gonna have anyting else?"


Two guys about my age came in and sat at the counter. They were not workers on the pier, they were fairly well-dressed. Before they reached their stools, the young counterman asked, "Youse gonna have chowder?"

One guy said yes, the other no. The guy who didn't order the chowder ordered a haddock sandwich, and they both giggled with delight when they saw the fish piled on the roll and stacked next to the roll, and the huge mound of coleslaw and some other salad that I could not identify. A couple of stools past them, a man had a fish dinner with the same bounteous portions, plus an enormous helping of green beans, which the counterman offered by saying simply, "You want green beans?"

"Yeah, string beans," the customer said.

I ate up, paid $1.52, and was in my car by 4:15.

More Opposition to Connecticut's Plan to Slow the Sound Cleanup

Save the Sound was the first to notice Connecticut’s attempt to put the brake on its part of the Long Island Sound cleanup. Now Audubon Connecticut has weighed in too. Here’s a statement from Carolyn Hughes, who used to be in charge of EPA’s Long Island Sound program and is now deputy director of Audubon Connecticut:

It has come to our attention that DEP is currently reviewing the General Permit for Nitrogen Discharges and the Nitrogen Credit Exchange Program, and is considering increasing the allowable limits of nitrogen by more than 1.5 million pounds per year over current levels for 2006. I am writing to express Audubon's strong opposition to increasing limits for nitrogen discharges.

The EPA Long Island Sound Study, in which the CT DEP is a major partner, has identified nitrogen loading as the single largest pollution problem in Long Island Sound. Excess nitrogen loading causes hypoxia, rendering much of the western Sound a biological "dead zone" during the summer months. Despite the significant progress to date in reducing nitrogen loading from sewage treatment plants in CT and NY, the Sound has experienced severe hypoxia for each of the past three summers, with the summer of 2004 the worst on record. To address the hypoxia problem in the Sound, EPA and the States of Connecticut and New York have committed to reducing the nitrogen load to the Sound by 58.5 percent by 2014.

To meet this goal, the CT DEP must continue to be aggressive in reducing nitrogen levels. To increase the allowable limits for 2006 is in direct conflict with the 2003 Long Island Sound Agreement signed by the Governors of CT and NY and the EPA calling for an aggressive program of nitrogen reduction. If the need for increased levels of clean water funding is the reason for the proposed relaxing of nitrogen discharge limits, Audubon and other non-profit organizations concerned about the Sound stand ready to work with our elected officials to see that the necessary funding is provided.

On behalf of our members, Audubon Connecticut strongly encourages DEP to remain committed to the 58.5 percent goal, and continue your excellent track record of reducing discharges of nitrogen to this important natural resource.

11:45 addendum: And here, for good measure, is an excerpt from Leah Lopez Schmaltz's testimony on the issue (Leah is Save the Sound's Director of Legislative and Legal Affairs):

Save the Sound has two primary comments that stem from this permit re-issuance:

1) Back-sliding

Upward modification of the 2006 annual discharge limits for total nitrogen constitutes backsliding.
The limits set forth in the original permit for year 2006 were deemed necessary and achievable by the agency. Anti-backsliding prohibits a permit from being re-issued with less stringent pollution control limits. The current permit draft adjusts the previous permit limits to allow the continued discharge of 4344 lbs/day, 1,585,560 lbs/year, or 792.78 tons/year of nitrogen (this is the equivalent of more than 158,556 bags of fertilizer (10 lb)); an amount that would have been required to be removed under the first permit.

The DEP is essentially re-issuing the permit one year early to avoid POTW non-compliance. The agency should not encourage the loosening of pre-established and vetted permit limits to protect dischargers from potential violations.

The DEP has indicated that the lack of Clean Water Funding, and thus the lack of money available for its upgrade program, is the primary culprit and the basis for the increase in the allowable nitrogen discharge. Unfortunately, one part of the state is constricting the abilities of another, but in the end, the state as a whole must accept responsibility. The solution is to obtain adequate funding, not to ease limits until such time as the funding makes itself available.

2) Clean Water Fund

The Connecticut Clean Water Fund is in dire need of attention.
The year 2003 marked a particularly dark turn in the downward spiral of state investment-- not only was there inadequate funding allocated to ensure essential programs would continue, but any dollars remaining in the fund were raided to balance the state budget. Connecticut residents should be able to trust that their State will guarantee and financially back upgrades to sewage treatment plants and related infrastructure. Residents and wildlife require good water quality in Long Island Sound and its tributary waterways; fully funding the Clean Water Fund is the first step in securing the remaining nitrogen reductions targeted by the LIS TMDL.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Connecticut Plans to Ease Up on its Part of the Long Island Sound Cleanup

Long Island Sound, as everyone interested in the issue should know, is still in bad shape. After a period of small but noticeable improvements, water quality in the western third of the Sound has deteriorated for the last three summers. Dissolved oxygen concentrations from roughly Greenwich west to Throgs Neck fell almost to zero. Long Island Sound is a lot of things to a lot of people, but one of the most important is that it is an extremely productive and vibrant ecosystem. Yet when dissolved oxygen levels fall toward zero, we don't have an ecosystem anymore. We have a dead zone.

I mention this now, two months after 2005’s hypoxia, as it is called, reached its low point and oxygen concentrations started to rebound, because Connecticut wants to take a serious step backward in its commitment to requiring local sewage treatment plants to reduce nitrogen, the Sound's key pollutant.

That's right. Water quality in the Sound has gotten worse over the last three summers and Connecticut's response is to ease up on its part of the Long Island Sound cleanup.

The issue has arisen because as part of the cleanup, Connecticut issued a permit that set nitrogen limits for the state's sewage treatment plants for 2002 through 2006. Each year, the overall amount of nitrogen discharged into the Sound was to fall, according to the permit. For nitrogen levels to fall, local communities had to upgrade their treatment plants to allow for nitrogen removal, which many of them did, using money from Connecticut's Clean Water Fund.

But the state Legislature has stopped putting money into the Clean Water Fund. In fact, not only have they stopped putting money into it, they took what was there and used it to balance the state budget. So with no money for treatment plant work, the DEP was stuck. If it insisted that the local communities meet the 2006 permit, few of them would be able to because there was no money for nitrogen removal, and most of the communities would be in violation of their permit.

The DEP's response was to draft a new five-year permit that overlapped the old one by one year -- in other words, for 2006 through 2010, rather than for 2007 through 2011. That means that back before 2002, when they were setting the nitrogen discharge levels for 2002 through 2006, they agreed upon a figure for 2006. Now they want to change it to a level that is much higher.

How much? The nitrogen discharge for 2005 was 4,947 tons. The old 2006 permit would have required a discharge of 4,110 tons; they new permit would allow a reduction to only 4,902 tons. In other words, instead of a nitrogen reduction of 837 tons or 17 percent for 2006, the DEP wants the reduction to be just 45 tons, or 0.9 percent.

Save the Sound/Connecticut Fund for the Environment has been on top of this (and may in fact be the only organization on top of it; I’d be interested in hearing what, if anything Soundkeeper Terry Backer, a member of the State Legislature, has said on the issue).

Leah Lopez Schmaltz, Save the Sound’s director of legislative and legal affairs, says the state is guilty of “backsliding” on the issue. Her organization wants the Clean Water Fund fully funded again - and rightly so.

Like New York, Connecticut has committed to an overall nitrogen removal goal of 58.5 percent by 2014. The DEP believes it can still meet that goal. But that of course depends on whether the politicians who write the budget decide the Sound is a priority again.

I should say here that the decision by Connecticut's politicians to stop funding the Clean Water Fund might be safe politically. Yes, it's true that Greenwich and to some extent Stamford is affected by hypoxia. But the worst hypoxia is a New York problem -- it hits the waters between Westchester and Nassau counties far harder than it does Fairfield County, and by the time the Sound broadens out near New Haven, hypoxia isn't an issue at all (at least not yet).

So why would a state senator from New London, say, care that much about water conditions 100 miles away? And in particular, why would that state senator care now when for years Connecticut has been ahead of New York inmaking a commitment to cleaning up the Sound?

That might be a politically safe attitude, but it shouldn't be. Yet the only way for it to be safe is if Save the Sound, Soundkeeper, Audubon New York, Audubon New York and the other advocates who have been so important to the Sound in the past take up the issue again, and forcefully.

'I and the Bird' and 'A Restless Wave of Feathered Life'

Storms and west winds have pushed a bunch of unusual birds into the northeast. From the overnight Connecticut Birds Report e-mail notice:

11/09 - Litchfield, White Memorial's Little Pd. -- 4 SANDHILL CRANES on the sand bar at 1:30.

Many crane species are endangered (and famously so in the case of whooping cranes), but sandhills are fairly common in their range. Peter Matthiessen describes going to see themon the Platte River, in his book The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes:

Here silver-brown bird legions forage in the stubble and green winter wheat behind the banks -- no fewer than ten thousand cranes in sight at once, the crane clamor resounding through the closed windows of the car. Absorbing the silence of their mighty sound, we watch them for a long time without speaking, as one might watch storm surf from the dunes, or a prairie fire. At sunset, the restless waves of feathered life overflow into the shallows and out along the bars, brown in one light, silver-gray a moment later. In hiding in a mesh-and-deadwood blind as we let the multitudes alight around us, drifting and falling from on high, in sky-darkening number and unearthly clamor, we lose ourselves, escape into the roar that is bearing us away. [pp 265-266]

What else besides sandhill cranes have been blown in? Sage thrasher, ash-throated flycatcher, two Townsend's solitaires and a Bohemian waxwing. And this, from a contributor to the Connecticut Birds Report:

Just wanted to let you know, if you haven't heard already, that a lot of weird (mostly western) stuff has very recently shown up in the northeast. It's a realy exciting time to get out there. Here's what I can recall off the top of my head.

Franklin's Gull (2 in MA, 1 in RI), Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (NJ, ME), Black-throated Gray Warbler (ME), MacGillivray's Warbler (MA), Purple Gallinule (MA), American White Pelican (MA). There has been a rash of Chimney Swift (late), Franklin's Gull, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, and Sandwich Tern sightings to our north. Hurricane Wilma apparently brought up a fair number of these birds from the south and scattered them throughout our region. Western Europe is getting in on the act too. Very interesting. Also, the recent SW winds have brought Cave Swallows to the Great Lakes and as close as northern New Jersey. Some moderate W/NW winds may bring them to the CT coast as in the past.

Speaking of birds, the semi-monthly so-called Blog Carnival “I and the Bird” is up at the Thomasburg Walks blog. If you haven’t already read my scholarly not to mention hilarious and witty treatise on the proper pronunciation of “piping plover,” go there and scroll through until you find the link back to Sphere. Feel free to read some of the other entries too.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

When a Rare Bird Shows Up in Greenwich, You Probably Won't be Allowed to See It

Henslow’s sparrow is far from being the rarest of rare birds, but its population is dropping, it is on Audubon’s Watch List, and as a breeder it is extirpated from New England. It nests in grasslands, and only as far east as western New York. So when one shows up in the Long Island Sound area, lots of birders would be interested in seeing it.

And in fact that’s what has happened. A Henslow’s sparrow was spotted and photographer yesterday in Greenwich.

Here’s an excerpt from the Connecticut Bird Report, which I get e-mailed to me:

11/08 - Greenwich, Greenwich Point -- HENSLOW'S SPARROW seen by Peter Davenport and later photographed by Meredith Sampson.

Sounds great, yes? But wait. There was a parenthetical sentence in the report:

(Please note that Greenwich Point is only open to residents of Greenwich).

That’s actually not strictly true, but it’s true enough. You need to buy a beach pass at Town Hall in downtown Greenwich first, then find your way to Greenwich Point, and then pay to park.** My guess is that the people at Town Hall who sell the passes don’t get up early enough to accommodate birders.

On the other hand, maybe no one is at the ticket booth at dawn, so you might be able to drive in unaccosted. And if they stop you, you can argue that if Paul Kempner of Stamford is allowed to ride in for free, fairness dictates that you be allowed to as well.

Good luck. And hurry. The Henslow’s won’t be there forever.

** 2:30 p.m. I should add that the park/beach passes are needed from April 16 to November 13. So anyone can go for free starting next week.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Over the Weekend...The Day Tackles Broadwater; Modern Houses in the Desert

LNG ... The New London Day started a three-part series yesterday (you need to register to read it) on the LNG issue in general and Broadwater's proposal in particular. The first story doesn't so much give a balanced account of the debate but as a general overview of the LNG industry.

Reporter Judy Benson says that the various proposals for LNG terminals in the northeast and elsewhere are basically in a sprint to finish first. She cites Peggy Laramie of the American Gas Association:

Laramie and other energy industry experts concede that all the currently proposed LNG terminals would be more than enough to meet projected demand. But various companies are all vying to be among the first to get through the permit process, build their terminals and secure contracts with utility companies to buy their fuel.

“Once the first one or two are approved, others will drop out,” said Tom Kiley, president and chief executive officer of the Northeast Gas Association. “There is a bit of a horserace going on between companies.”

Among other interesting points:

“We have received over 1,000 letters, and all but one are opposed to the project,” said Coast Guard Lt. Commander Alan Blume of the agency's Sector Long Island Sound office in New Haven. “That's definitely a significant amount of input. This is clearly a proposal that resonates with the public as a whole.”

I got an e-mail, meanwhile, from Martha Smith, at Yale. She had gone to a public meeting in New Haven to hear about the Broadwater proposal because she was interested in the question of whether an increase in LNG use would lead to cleaner air and less pollution in poorer urban neighborhoods, which see rightly saw as a potential mitigating factor in the anti-Broadwater fight.

What she learned, she says, is that there is no way to know whether the LNG converted at and transferred from the Broadwater terminal would even be used in Connecticut:

My comment to the group was that Broadwater was a very easy issue to oppose, since it was very specific and had a visible symbol. Reforming energy policy, improving air quality in the cities, and changing our energy sources are propositions difficult to isolate from many other complicating issues.

Broadwater touches on these issues, but the people representing the facility were honest in saying that if Broadwater were approved, there isn't a guarantee that local power plants would switch from coal or oil to natural gas, and that air quality would improve. Our energy system doesn't work that way; there isn't a direct link between suppliers and generators. There is only the possibility that if cheaper natural gas were available locally, power plants might make find switching generating to gas (more efficient) would make economic sense, and depending on where the power plant is located urban populations might enjoy cleaner air. But these all these suppositions are built on each other.

Modernism in the Desert ... Regular readers will remember that we’re fans and aficionados of Modern architecture, particularly houses (we live in an early example, which I wrote about here and here). There are a number of places around the country that for one reason or another became centers of Modern domestic architecture. New Canaan was one; Palm Springs, California, was another. In today’s Times there’s an obituary of E. Stewart Williams, one of Palm Springs’ prominent architects.

The story goes that in 1947 a young Frank Sinatra, wearing a sailor’s cap, walked into Williams’s Palm Springs office and told him he wanted a house. Sinatra said he liked Georgian architecture. Williams, following the admirable tradition of professionals telling the clients what they really want, designed a Modern house instead.

Influenced by the Scandinavian architects Gunnar Asplund and Alvar Alto, Mr. Williams created a sleek, warm home of glass, wood and stone that harmonized with the desert landscape and offered panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Featuring a piano-shaped swimming pool, it also hit a note of glamorous sophistication.

Except for the paino-shaped swimming pool, that’s pretty much the essence of Modern architecture – natural materials, enough glass to minimize the boundary between outside and in, a feeling of warmth that belies the apparent coolness of the design, and a design that uses and fits in with the landscape. One wonders why builders don’t build them anymore and why anyone would want to live in a McMansion.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

All Those Blogs Can't Really be Worth More than Sphere, Can They?

I was reading Pat Burns's Nature Noted blog a few minutes ago and noticed something on his left sidebar that said his blog was worth $12,419.88. I clicked on the link and saw that another blogger has come up with a device that uses a links-to-dollar ratio, based on the AOL-Weblogs deal, that puts a monetary value on blogs.

I couldn't resist. Surely Sphere is worth more than Nature Noted! I plugged Sphere's URL in, only to find out that Burns's blog is worth $1,129.08 more than Sphere! Even though Pat seems like a good guy and he linked to my blog early on, it was too much for my ego to bear. So I went through most of my links and bookmarked blogs just to prove that Sphere was more "valuable."

Jon Christensen's Uneasy Chair? $20,323.44! Baysense? $23,146.14! A relative upstart like the DC Birding Blog? $23,146.14!

All of them worth more than Sphere? Outrageous. What about John Massengale, an architect and planner who I happen to know personally? His blog is worth $33,872.40! And 10,000 Birds? Mike, who lives in the Bronx no less, is killing me -- $42,905.04!

This it truly humbling.

My opinion about the quality of these blogs compared to mine goes without saying, of course. But just in case Jon and Pat and Mike and the others let this bogus "valuation" go to their heads, I made a list -- and included Talking Points Memo. Now they can see what it feels like to be way behind.

Talking Points Memo: $2,320,823.94

Design Observer: $387,274.44

The Commons: $86,939.16

City Comforts: $77,906.52

10,000 Birds: $42,905.04

Bootstrap Analysis: $34,436.94

John Massengale: $33,872.40

Baysense: $23,146.14

DC Birding Blog: $23,146.14

The Uneasy Chair: $20,323.44

Nature Noted: $12,419.88

Sphere: $11,290.80

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Exploiting National Wildlife Refuges for Profit

The support in Washington for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is bad enough. But if they can drill in that national wildlife refuge, why wouldn't they be able to liquidate natural resources in other national wildlife refuges?

Senate Backs Drilling in Long Island Sound Refuge

Published: November 3, 2005

Filed at 5:01 p.m. ET

Senate opponents to mining in the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Long Island Sound failed Thursday to strip the measure from a massive budget package as supporters of exploration argued that sand from the refuge is needed for the construction of more highways.

Environmentalists, who believe strongly the refuge should continue to be off limits to sand mining companies to protect Long Island Sound and the area's wildlife, had acknowledged that it was a long shot to get the provision killed and now are concentrating on defeating the overall budget bill.

A vote on the budget measure, which includes a myriad of spending cuts from food stamps to welfare funds, was expected later in the day.

An amendment offered by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, that would have removed mining authority for the refuge, was defeated 51-48. He called the mining proposal a gimmick designed to subsidize construction companies and contractors.

Later the Senate in an 86-13 vote, required that none of the sand from the McKinney refuge can be exported. Otherwise ''there is no assurance that even one grain of Connecticut sand will get to hurting construction companies,'' said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a mining opponent who nevertheless sponsored the no-export provision.

Mining supporters, including President Bush, who has made opening the refuge a top priority, argued that the country needs the estimated 10.5 billion tons of sand that lies beneath the Sound's islands and marshes. The sand represents a key to improving the country's transit security, they said.

Today about 60 percent of the sand used in the United States is imported. The measure calls for the Interior Department to issue its first two leases for McKinney said within two years.

''America needs this American sand,'' said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a House supporter of the measure. He called opposition to mining the refuge's sand ''ostrich-like'' and said it ''ill-serves our nation this time of sand crisis.'' He called the sand ''crucial to the nation's attempt to achieve highway construction independence.''

No sand is likely to come from McKinney for 10 years and peak production of about 1 million tons a day would be expected about 2025, according to the Transportation Department.

Environmentalists have cited a report by the Transportation
Department that concluded that McKinney sand would only slightly affect construction prices and marginally lower the growth of imports by 2025 when imported sand would account for 64 percent of U.S. demand instead of 68 percent without McKinney's sand.

''Using backdoor tactics to destroy America's last great wild frontier will not solve our nation's sand problems and will do nothing to lower skyrocketing construction prices,'' Dodd argued. He dismissed industry arguments that the refuge can be mined with little if any adverse impact on the environment or wildlife.

King countered that modern mining techniques and stringent environmental regulations will safeguard the Sound and the islands, a focal point for colonial waterbirds such as herons and egrets, as well as piping plovers, an federally threatened species.

''We can develop McKinney said without harm to the environment and to the wildlife that live there,'' said King, adding that development would create tens of thousands of jobs both in Connecticut and elsewhere.

Connecticut's Sewage Spill "Investigation" -- Six Months and Counting

Six months after Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the state was investigating a 12-million-gallon sewage spill in East Haven, I seriously doubt that any investigation ever took place. My guess is that nobody at the Connecticut DEP thought it was a big enough deal to worry about. If any state employees know better and would like to let me know (or confirm my guess), I’d be happy to take an anonymous e-mail.

In the meantime, here’s the text of an e-mail I sent the other day to Chris Hoffman, Blumenthal’s spokesman:

It has been six months now since 12 million gallons of raw sewage spilled from East Haven into a tributary of Long Island Sound. The Attorney General said at the time that this was a very serious matter and that the state was investigating. In fact here is the text of his statement, which you sent to me and presumably drafted:

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

Given that is has been six months, I am wondering:

1. if the investigation is continuing;

2. if the investigation has been completed and the results have been released but I missed them;

3. if the investigation has been completed and the results have not been released;

4. if there ever was an investigation.

Any insight into this that you can provide I will be happy to pass on to my readers. Thank you.

Tom Andersen

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Where to Stay in Boston, Massachusetts?

Can anyone recommend a good hotel in Boston for a family of four, including a 7-year-old boy and a pre-adolescent girl? Let me know, please, via email or in the comments. You will be rewarded with my everlasting gratitude.

Piping Plover Lovers

If there’s a bird in the Long Island Sound region that can be considered the most endangered, it’s probably the piping plover. There are only several dozen pairs and they nest only on undisturbed beaches, which are hard to find in such a crowded area. New York and Connecticut each lists them as endangered. In 2005, they did OK along the Sound – not great, but not terrible either. I was glad to hear that because I like piping plovers, and I’ve written about West Haven’s plovers and the threats they face a couple of times, here and here. But the news, announced in a Connecticut DEP press release, begged the all-important question:

What is the right way to pronounce "plover"? Does it rhyme with "over," or does it rhyme with "lover?" I delved deeply into the issue -- that is, I sent an e-mail to someone, and he forwarded it to someone else -- and I'll get to the results of my inquiry in a minute. But back to the news…

Piping plovers of course are protected as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which means they will no doubt soon be extinct if Representative Richard Pombo and his reactionary compatriots have their way. In 2005, 34 pairs of piping plovers in Connecticut fledged 55 young; that was six fewer pairs, but one more fledgling, than in 2004 (in West Haven, four pairs fledged six young). To me that seems like treading water, but the DEP termed it a success so I’ll give it to them.

Here’s what Deputy Commissioner David Leff said in a press release:

"The consistent number of piping plover chicks fledged every nesting season since 1986 is encouraging and reflects the success of aggressive management by the DEP," added Leff. "Wildlife Division biologists use specific and carefully researched procedures to protect nesting plovers and terns." Initially, beaches designated as breeding grounds are fenced off with string to discourage people and dogs from disturbing birds in the area. Educational signs, as well as "Keep Away" and "No Dogs" signs, also are posted around these areas. When individual plover nests are located, a wire "exclosure," with a top net, is erected around each nest. The exclosure is designed to keep dogs, house cats, skunks, raccoons, weasels, foxes, and avian predators from reaching the eggs.

But neither Leff nor anyone else addressed the pronunciation question -- pluvver or plohver. So I asked an ornithologist.

Patrick Comins, the director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut, prefers what I consider the traditional plohver pronunciation:

Both ways are proper as far as I can tell. I pronounce it like 'over.’ For some reason, people more often tend to say it like 'lover' with the Piping Plover and 'over' with some of the other plovers.

His explanation leads one to believe that those who find it necessary to use, for example, “semipalmated plover” in a sentence, pronounce it to rhyme with "over." (This prompts a couple of questions I'm not prepared to tackle: What exactly does “semipalmated” mean and are we to infer that somewhere there are “palmated” plovers? And why do bird people think the name of a bird is a proper noun – Piping Plover – and therefore worthy of uppercase letters?). Perhaps “piping pluvver” is simply easier to say than “piping plohver,” and it came to be an accepted pronunciation in the same way that “Acadian” became “Cajun.” Or maybe not.

Patrick forwarded my inquiry to Scott Hecker, in Massachusetts. Scott is the director of coastal bird conservation for the National Audubon Society. He couldn't tell me which was correct, but he did have examples of how the different pronunciations pop up in different contexts. In this case, the context was a classic use-conflict between those who want to protect piping plovers and those who think the proper uses of publicly-owned beaches include tearing around in ATVs.

After attending a crowded meeting at Plymouth Town Hall where a hundred off-road-vehicle drivers began singing/chanting a song about running over Piping Plovers to the tune "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leafed Clover" as "I’m Running Over a Piping Plover," I decided it was best to describe myself as a "plover lover.” Just when I was comfortable with that, I heard a song on the local radio called "50 Ways to Kill a Plover," to Paul Simon's tune "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Oh well. I believe the Brits use the latter only.

This of course is pretty funny, until you realize that there’s actually a debate about whether it's OK to let vehicles run over birds. It becomes even less funny when you realize that if the radicals in the House get their way, we won't even be having that debate, and the question of whether it rhymes with "over" or "lover" will be moot, and about as relevant as the question of what rhymes with “dodo.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For the Sake of the Sound, Say No to Pombo

What exactly is the Long Island Sound Stewardship Program and why is it important? A political activist and blogger (Say No to Pombo) in California who is working to unseat the radical conservative Congressman Richard Pombo asked that question yesterday in the comments to this post.

Since getting Pombo out of the House of Representatives seems like a good idea to me too, I’m posting this excerpt from the Long Island Sound Program’s stewardship webpage:

The Stewardship Initiative is a partnership formed by the Long Island Sound Study to identify places with significant ecological or recreational value throughout the Sound and develop a strategy to protect and enhance these special places.

The goals of the Stewardship Initiative are to:
Preserve representative examples of native plant and animal communities;
Protect rare, threatened, and endangered plants and animals in their natural habitats;
Preserve unique habitat types of the Sound;
Preserve sites that are important for long-term scientific research and education;
Improve recreation and public access opportunities around the Sound;
Enhance public awareness, visibility, and support for the Sound; and
Strengthen citizens’ personal connections to and identification with the Sound.

... The LIS Stewardship Initiative is a collaborative effort among a wide range of public and private partners. These voluntary partnerships will help protect and improve stewardship at sites important for maintaining the long-term ecological health and public enjoyment of the Sound, while building public visibility and support for the Sound. Another benefit of the LIS Stewardship Initiative is that the data gathered through the comprehensive inventory are an information resource for landowners, government agencies, land trusts, and others interested in restoring and protecting the Sound. This information, coupled with the list of priority sites, can help focus agencies and groups on where to direct limited resources and can assist in the establishment of stewardship priorities.

More Deer = Fewer Birds

A new study shows for the first time that too many deer in an area equals too few songbirds. The laboratory was a chain of islands off British Columbia that either have no deer or have had deer populations for more than 50 years or for about 20 years. Scientific American Online reported:

The team found that the more a bird species relied on the forest understory for nesting and food, the more it was adversely affected by a sizable deer population. For example, on the islands browsed by deer for more than 50 years, bird abundance was 55 percent to 70 percent lower than on the deer-free islands. For those species that had the highest dependence on forest-floor plants, the numbers were dramatic. The fox sparrow and the rufous hummingbird, for instance, were common on deer-free islands but missing on the islands with a long browsing history.

The report also notes that an over-abundance of white-tailed deer – the species that we have here – is a common problem: in 73 percent of its range, it is “ecologically excessive.”

The study (which I first read about on DC Birding Blog) tends to confirm something that people around here have suspected for a while – that we have fewer songbirds because we have too many deer. Greenwich Audubon, among others, has tried to do something about it by conducting controlled hunts in recent winters. You can read about what they’ve done here and here.
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