Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Jail Time

The director of the Fishers Island ferry was sentenced yesterday to 30 days for dumping sewage into Long Island Sound and the Thames. I posted my thoughts about it a couple of hours ago on Gristmill; click here.

Broadwater Files with FERC

Broadwater formally filed its application with FERC yesterday to build a liquefied natural gas facility in Long Island Sound. The Atlantic Sea Island Group, which announced last week that it wants to put a terminal in the Atlantic, is presumably far from filing.

Here are a few basic details about the two, gleaned from Broadwater’s website and newspapers (there’s virtually nothing on the web about Atlantic Sea Island Group, or Safe Harbor Energy, as the project is called).

Broadwater (a Shell-TransCanada project)
Location: the New York waters of Long Island Sound, 9 miles north of Riverhead and 10.5 miles south of Branford.

Size: 1,200 feet long. 180 feet wide. 75 to 100 feet tall.

Number of tanker deliveries: 100-160 a year.

Storage capacity: 8 billion cubic feet of gas.

Amount piped out daily: 1.25 billion cubic feet.

Pipes: 22 miles of new underwater pipeline connecting to the existing Iroquois pipeline system.

Safe Harbor Energy
Location: in federal waters of the Atlantic ocean, 13/5 miles south of Long Beach and 19 miles east of Sandy Hook.

Size: a 53-acre man-made island (yet to be built), with four tanks holding 16 billion cubic feet of gas; and berths for two tankers .

Number of tanker deliveries: 200-220 a year.

Pipes: Possibly a New Jersey-to-Long Beach pipe that serves KeySpan Energy.

Here are today's news stories: New London Day and Connecticut Post.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Over the Weekend: More Baloney from Broadwater; Energy Use; Bananas; Gristmill

No, it’s good for you … I wonder if John Hritcko, Broadwater’s frontman for the Shell-TransCanada proposal to put a liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound, manages to keep a straight face when he talks to the press. I know I couldn’t if I were spouting the stuff he’s spouting.

Here’s his latest: Not only will Broadwater’s LNG facility not do any environmental damage, it will actually be good for the Sound (this reminds me of GE’s late 1990s campaign to avoid dredging the Hudson based on the novel idea that PCBs weren’t actually all that bad).

Here’s what Hritcko said about the LNG monstrosity in Newsday today:

"It should be helpful for the Sound because you'll have this large area that's not going to be traversed by fishermen, so it will be sort of a sanctuary."

They’re not building an LNG terminal; they’re creating a nature sanctuary! We should probably allow more than one LNG terminal then. That way we’d start to see some real improvements in the Sound.

Broadwater, by the way, is scheduled to submit its application to FERC today.

We demand it … Why are we being beset with proposals for two LNG terminals, as well as for a wind farm off Long Island’s south shore? Supply and demand: we demand, they supply. From Newsday:

LIPA said average residential electricity consumption increased by 21.9 percent from 1997 to 2004, more than three times the rate of population growth in Nassau and Suffolk counties. That's despite the higher cost of electricity, which is about 41 percent more expensive now than five years ago, according to LIPA. … The rise in demand - and prices - for natural gas isn't unique to Long Island or even the Northeast.

The story is a follow-up to last week’s announcement that the Atlantic Sea Island Group wants to make an island in the Atlantic and put an LNG terminal on it. Actual details about the proposal are still scarce though.

Bridgeport Bananas … If you had banana on your cereal this morning, the banana likely arrived via Bridgeport. That’s what I learned from Ed Crowder’s story about Bridgeport Harbor in the Connecticut Post. The old industrial port is still a busy place.

I get around … Gristmill, the blog published by Grist (an online magazine that covers environmental issues) has invited me to be a guest blogger/commentator. My first Gristmill post is here.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Atlantic Sea Island: Another Proposal for Offshore LNG

How’s this for optimism: the thus-far anonymous people who want to create an island in the Atlantic and build a liquefied natural gas terminal there hope to have it finished by 2010. They announced that yesterday, at a press conference on Long Island’s south shore.

On the other hand the Broadwater people, whose expectations are widely regarded as irrationally optimistic, have already been working publicly for 15 months on their plans to put a floating LNG terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound, and they hope to be finished by 2010.

Do we need two offshore LNG terminals, or are the Atlantic people expecting to fill the breach if and when Broadwater fails?

Yesterday’s announcement Atlantic Sea Island Group wants to build a 53-acre island, in 60-feet of water, 13.5 miles south of Long Island and 19 miles east of New Jersey. Up to 220 tankers a year would supply it with LNG, which would be piped to suppliers in the metropolitan area.

The company’s chairman is named Howard Bovers. Apparently he didn’t feel like telling reporters who his investors were, and the reporters either didn’t want to or couldn’t find out anything more about the company.

Considering all the trouble it will take to get either of these proposals approved and built, about all I can conclude is that the profits from LNG must be enormous.

Here’s Newsday’s story, and here’s what the Times published.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

LNG in the Atlantic, Stripers & Crabs, Jack Welch: Philanthropist

A new LNG proposal for the Atlantic … One of the complaints from people who oppose Broadwater’s proposal to put a liquefied natural gas facility in the middle of Long Island Sound is that there’s no coherent national or regional energy policy, which means that proposals are scattered and not made in any coordinated fashion. A case in point is the new proposal to build an island south of Long Island, and stick a terminal on it.

The official announcement is today. Newsday wasn’t able to find out much about it ahead of time. But here’s what they reported.

A warm bath for striped bass … People congregate in Norwich, Connecticut, in the winter to fish for striped bass, which stick around in the warm outflows of local power plants. Here’s what Narragannsett Baykeeper John Torgan says on his new blog:

Thousands of striped bass are known to winter in the cooling water canal of Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. Other winter populations in the Northeast tend to be associated with the warm outflows of power plants including the ones I found last week near the Manchester Street Station in downtown Providence. Others apparently stay in the Narrow River in Narragansett, where there are no warm water flows. A massive population now winters in the Thames River in Connecticut, upriver from the Millstone nuclear power plant.

After reading many reports about the Thames River fish, my wife Jillian and I took a ride to Norwich, CT on Sunday. In the harbor downtown, and all along the river, dozens of boats and hundreds of anglers braved ice and January temperatures to find them. It looked like a scene out of a cable TV bass fishing show, only colder.

But isn’t Millstone in Waterford, at the mouth of the Niantic? How would warm water get from there to the Thames?

A crab-eat-crab world Blue crabs apparently like to eat green crabs, which are invasives. Now if we can only get the green crabs to eat the Asian shore crabs first…

Hazardous Waste 101 … For years Jack Welch ran GE from company headquarters up the road from Sacred Heart University, in Fairfield, Connecticut. Now he’s given the school a large but undisclosed amount of money to start a business college. It's apparently untrue though that Sacred Heart will offer a course in his honor called How to Destroy the Hudson River Fishery While Avoiding Responsibility.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

LNG Terminal: Better in the Atlantic than in Long Island Sound?

This just came in via e-mail, with the words "no joke!!" in the subject line. Howard Rubenstein's PR firm sent it out, and it was forwarded to me:

MEDIA ADVISORY – Assignment Desks
Man Made Island proposed for LNG Terminal
out in the Atlantic
Safe & remote access to critically needed energy using proven maritime technology
On Thursday January 26, 2006, 10:30 AM on the Long Beach Boardwalk between Long Beach Blvd. and Monroe Blvd., Atlantic Sea Island Group, LLC will unveil plans for Safe Harbor Energy, an innovative Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) deepwater terminal to be created on a man-made island in the Atlantic Ocean.
Far from population centers and outside vital shipping lanes, Safe Harbor Energy will use reinforced breakwaters and state-of-the-art security to allow reliable, cost effective global gas supplies to be brought to the New York metro region and the northeast United States.
The announcement starts the rigorous federal regulatory siting process under the authority of the US Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration.
WHAT: Safe Harbor Energy – a man made island to harbor an LNG terminal in the Atlantic.
WHEN: Thursday, January 26, 2006 10:30 am
WHERE: Long Beach Boardwalk between Long Beach Blvd and Monroe Blvd. (south of Shore Road).
WHY: Providing safe, secure access to critical energy supplies using proven technology at remote location
Editors please note: Jpg images of Safe Harbor Energy and b-roll of animation are available

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Clear View of Bobby Kennedy's Position on Cape Wind (and Why I Think He's Probably Wrong Anyway)

The argument that some Cape Wind proponents are using to bludgeon Bobby Kennedy’s opposition to the wind power project comes down to this: Kennedy wants to stop the project because it will mar his view from the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport.

I’ve known Kennedy professionally for almost 20 years and have talked with him about environmental issues dozens of times. Based on that, I don’t hesitate to say that the argument is baloney -- a simplification, probably made willfully, of the real reason for Kennedy’s opposition.

I’m not trying to argue that Kennedy doesn’t claim that scenic views are important; nor am I saying that the environmentalists who wrote to him in response to his op-ed piece in the New York Times have not taken into consideration the range of his arguments. (The Times wants you to pay to read his piece, but he also published it in a paper on Cape Cod, and you can read it here.)

Instead, I’m saying that some critics have reduced the issue to a question of elitists wanting to protect their views. And in doing so they risk making it easier for those who oppose environmental progress to challenge Kennedy’s leadership on global warming in particular and other environmental issues in general.

Here, for example, is what Ted Norhaus and Michael Shellenberger, the authors of the forthcoming "The Death of Environmentalism and the Birth of a New American Politics," said about Kennedy’s reasoning:

Kennedy's confusion about what is more important -- protecting his view of the ocean or global warming -- is emblematic of the moral and intellectual exhaustion of modern environmentalism.

… environmentalists such as Kennedy fail to distinguish between their personal use of the landscape and the ecological issues at stake.

It’s of course easier to call Bobby Kennedy an elitist and to therefore dismiss his arguments than to deal with why he opposes Cape Wind. The elitist label is a stereotype that many are happy to embrace, not the least of whom are the people who simply hate the Kennedys, no matter what they do.

Even in its simplest sense, the idea that Kennedy opposes Cape Wind primarily to protect his view is silly. Bobby Kennedy lives in Mount Kisco, New York. The view from his front window is of a state highway; from his back window he overlooks a pond. Kennedy’s family may still gather at Hyannisport, and I’ve no doubt that Bobby himself goes there frequently and would hate to see the view change, but nowhere has he claimed that it’s the only or even the most important reason to oppose Cape Wind.

Kennedy opposes Cape Wind because his environmentalism is informed by a sense of the beauty of the natural world and of the vast parts of it that we have lost and are in danger of losing. What he opposes is technology and “progress” replacing or pushing into extinction all the old ways of subsisting on and living with nature.

Kennedy came of age as an environmentalist in the 1980s, when he began working as an attorney for the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association (before it changed its name to Riverkeeper). His bosses were Robert H. Boyle, the organization’s president and the author of the "Hudson River, A Natural and Unnatural History"; and John Cronin, whose title was Riverkeeper. Both were dedicated to the proposition that the traditional Hudson River fishery was significant culturally and was the outgrowth of a healthy ecosystem, and needed to be supported and sustained. The corollary was that anything that threatened the traditional fishery – GE, for example, which dumped a million pounds of PCBs into the river, thereby making striped bass and other fish, inedible – was bad and needed to be opposed and driven out.

They mythologized men such as Ace Lent, Henry Gourdine, Tucker Crawford, Bob Gabrielson and others who fished for shad in April, sturgeon in June, crabs in summer, and striped bass whenever they could get them. When Boyle was hanging out with and interviewing Hudson River fishermen for his book in the 1960s, he was witness to the end of a centuries-old way of life, whether he recognized it or not. When Cronin became Riverkeeper, in the early 1980s, they crusaded, on behalf of fishermen, against every corporate and government insult to the river.

At Riverkeeper, Kennedy became as much a champion as Boyle or Cronin of the rugged individualist fisherman. I remember him saying he had taken his sons to Ossining on several occasions to meet Henry Gourdine, whose strength as a fisherman and skill as a net-maker were legendary, and he commissioned Gourdine to make a net – probably a gill-net – for his sons. When Gourdine died, in the fall of 1997, Kennedy spoke at his funeral.

So when he says the Cape Wind project would destroy the traditional fishery of Horseshoe Shoal, a part of Nantucket Sound that is rich with marine life, that’s what he’s thinking of – the way industrialization destroyed the traditional fishery of the Hudson River. It would be as inconceivable for Kennedy to think it’s a good idea to put wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal as it would be for him to think it would be a good idea to put them on Haverstraw Bay, the most productive part of the Hudson estuary.

Reducing his opposition to a matter of not wanting to spoil his view also ignores the depth of his feeling for wildlife. When he says the Cape Wind turbines could kill thousands of sea ducks and migrating birds a year, he isn’t rationalizing. He seems to have a true affinity for animals. It’s well known that he’s a licensed falconer and a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. One of the first times I met him, at his office at Pace University in White Plains, he was feeding gobs of cat food by hand to a young crow that had been abandoned. I went to talk to him once and found his office dominated by a makeshift cardboard pen inside of which was a young cormorant that he was nursing back to health. I rode back with him to Westchester from Manhattan in his minivan one night and before he dropped me off, we stopped at Pace so he could feed the fish in a saltwater tank he had set up in the lobby of his building; he fed the fish and then told me to watch as one small fry rose to the surface and rubbed its head against his finger. “He likes to be pet,” Kennedy said.

Many environmentalists of my generation became environmentalists because we were witnesses, as children, to the incredible changes and destruction that happened almost overnight to the natural world we were growing up in. If you were born in the early to mid-1950s (Kennedy and I are the same age, Cronin is a couple of years older), you saw as a child beaches closed because of pollution, woods plowed down to make way for houses, towns and neighborhoods severed by highways. They were not abstract problems. When I was 12, I woke up one morning to find that bulldozers were knocking down the woods I played in and explored (this was two years after Robert Moses’ latest bridge, the Verrazzano, opened and made Staten Island far more accessible). Cronin remembers that, growing up in Yonkers, he was allowed to swim in the Hudson one year but that the next year swimming was prohibited. Kennedy told me he remembered the construction of a highway that forever changed his neighborhood in Virginia. Forty years later, there aren’t all that many places left that are worth saving, and to see another one destroyed when there might be an alternative spot nearby is galling.

I say all this because I admire and respect Bobby Kennedy and because I think if we allow his argument against Cape Wind to be over-simplified, we risk weakening one of the country’s most effective environmental advocates, we risk making it easier for anti-environmental forces to dismiss what he says about other issues.

Having said this, however, I think that on balance, Bobby Kennedy might be wrong about the Cape Wind project. Twenty-first century environmental issues are nowhere near as easy to grapple with as the simple clean water and clean air battles that groups like the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association fought from the 1960s on. If a lot of serious, smart environmentalists think that Cape Wind will be an important step toward controlling global warming, then it might be worth the cost of a number of fishing jobs on Nantucket Sound, worth the lives of some migrating birds, worth the change in the view of the seascape, worth the loss of yet another place that is otherwise worth saving. I think.

So disagree with Bobby Kennedy and argue with him on the merits. But don’t make absurd claims that all he is interested in is his view.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Over the Weekend: Fallen White Ash, Bad News from New Haven, Greenwich Beaches, Petitioning FERC

Suburbia … Just when we were about out of wood for the fireplace, last week’s storms came along and took down the tops of two white ash trees that had probably been weakened by whatever blight is killing white ashes. That gave me something to do this weekend between chauffeuring my daughter around northern Westchester – three round trips of a total of maybe 60 miles in two days and nights. I use a tiny Remington electric chain saw – the big gas-powered saws are way too scary – and so it took some time to work my way through the big trunks. To make matters worse, the chain loosened and fell off after a couple of hours on Saturday. To get it back on properly I had to take the thing apart and reconnect the adjustment block, or something. After about an hour of squinting at the small dark inner recesses of the saw, and blowing my stack in frustration once or twice, I managed to get it reassembled, quite accidentally but correctly nonetheless. Unfortunately I neglected to tighten one of the nuts that holds the saw bar in place. Also unfortunately I didn’t realize this until I was cutting through a thick piece of trunk and the chain came off again. The nut was gone, lost in the dead leaves and sawdust. I happened to have another one of the same size, though, and with slightly greater skill this time I took it apart, replaced it, adjusted it, and finished cutting up the trees in time for a late afternoon game of Wiffle ball with my son, who is not quite 8. He hit a two-run homer and a grand slam in the last inning to break a 3-3 tie and win 10-3.

Bad weekend in New Haven … Two sewer lines collapsed on Friday, forcing city workers to pump raw sewage into Morris Creek, a tributary of the Sound, according to the New Haven Register. This is the same area, you’ll remember, where 12 million gallons of sewage spilled last spring. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal bloviated about it at the time and said the state would investigate, which I’m fairly sure it never did. No enforcement or disciplinary action came out of the 12 million gallon spill, so I’d be surprised if anything came out of this one either.

Then yesterday, a single-hull barge spilled about 4,000 gallons of gasoline into New Haven Harbor, according to the Register. Gasoline is flammable, of course, but a gasoline spill is less bad environmentally than a spill of home heating oil, which is heavier, and a winter spill is less bad than a spring or summer spill, when there is much more life in the water.

Will Greenwich welcome out-of-towners to its beaches? … I mentioned the other day that the parks commission in Greenwich has recommended cutting the beach fee for pedestrians and bikers to $1 instead of $10. This prompted a Sphere reader named Alex to comment about how convenient it is to put a bike on the train, get off at Old Greenwich, and ride to Greenwich Point. He wrote:

The updated rules make a lot of sense and I'm very happy about them -- they make the access easier in-season without destroying the laid-back atmosphere of Old Greenwich.

Unfortunately the Greenwich Time reported the other day that residents are less than thrilled with the proposed fee cut. Making it cheaper will only encourage “those people” to put their toes in the rarefied Greenwich sands.

Bryan Brown, who follows the Broadwater issue far more closely than I do, commented to a recent post that he sent FERC a request months ago to view LNG terminal plans. Thus far, no reply. Let him know if you’ve had the same experience. He says:

In case anyone from FERC is reading this, if/when I ever get access to the information, I intend to honor my commitment to adhere to FERC's limitations on disclosure.

I can only assume though that if Bryan finds something in the plans that makes him think the LNG terminal will be unsafe, he’ll feel free to say so publicly.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bobby Kennedy Jr. and Bill McKibben Face Off on the Cape Wind Issue

Bobby Kennedy Jr.’s opposition to the proposed wind farm off Cape Cod has prompted a public challenge to his point of view, and not just by the typical loonies who like to blame anyone named Kennedy for just about everything.

Rather, a group of 150 environmentalists wrote him a public letter earlier this month, asking him to change his mind about the Cape Wind project, which would produce enough power to supply 75 percent of Cape Cod’s energy.

The letter was a reaction to a Times op-ed piece that Kennedy wrote about a month ago, in which he argued that Cape Wind was the right project in the wrong place:

These turbines are less than six miles from shore and would be seen from Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Hundreds of flashing lights to warn airplanes away from the turbines will steal the stars and nighttime views. The noise of the turbines will be audible onshore. A transformer substation rising 100 feet above the sound would house giant helicopter pads and 40,000 gallons of potentially hazardous oil. According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the project will damage the views from 16 historic sites and lighthouses on the cape and nearby islands. The Humane Society estimates the whirling turbines could every year kill thousands of migrating songbirds and sea ducks.

Grist, an online magazine that covers environmental topics, wrote about the issue and quoted Kennedy:

Kennedy said in the interview that his primary concern is not the project's impact on wild sea life and ocean views, but the economic impact it would have on the local fishing community. "It will evict more than 100 of Cape Cod's treasured commercial fishermen who run sustainable operations from their traditional fishing grounds, and destroy their livelihood," he said, explaining that their nets would get tangled in the electric cables on the seabed. According to Kennedy, the project could have an over $1 billion impact on the local fishing industry and the tourist economy, given the blighted views and obstacles it would pose to the thousands of recreational sailors who visit Nantucket Sound annually.

The letter-writers are persuasive though. They argue that Cape Wind is an essential first step toward controlling global warming, an issue that transcends local environmental concerns:

Cape Wind would provide roughly 75 percent of the electricity for Cape Cod. It is crucial to establishing America's economic and environmental leadership on global warming. Cape Wind would prove the viability of wind as a good source of energy to American investors, politicians and the public, and will address issues of poverty and social justice in greater Boston. The management of Cape Wind plans to use local port facilities with available capacity, as a manufacturing center for wind farms up and down the East Coast. That manufacturing facility would create hundreds of jobs for under or unemployed residents of the area.

Those who signed the letter include Bill McKibben, Russell Long (founder of Bluewater Network), and John Passacantando (executive director of Greenpeace). There are also a couple of dozen people associated with Middlebury College, which is where McKibben lives and (I think) teaches, and many others whose names will be familiar to people who keep up with environmental issues. (Kennedy, by the way, wrote the foreword to my book, back at a time when, as a reporter, I knew him fairly well and would talk to him often about local environmental issues; in a coincidence that’s interesting to me but probably to nobody else, Jean E. Thompson Black, who acquired and edited the book for Yale University Press, also signed the letter to Kennedy.)

Kennedy has said he’d meet with some of the people who wrote the letter. He told Grist he’d try to change their minds. He says if Cape Wind would simply move its project another six miles offshore, he’d support it. McKibben and company however say that would add another three years to the project’s completion time, which is too much.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Only Way We'll Know if Broadwater's LNG Plant Will Be Safe is to Get the Plans and Discuss them in Public

Because of federal regulations, the details of Broadwater’s plans for the LNG terminal it wants to put in Long Island Sound can’t be released to the public at large. But the plans can be released to individuals, assuming an individual applies to FERC, passes a background check and promises not to make the plans public or discuss them in public. You can study and evaluate the plans, and you can tell FERC what you think of them, but can’t talk about them with anyone else.

Unfortunately what that means is that if, like most of us, you’re not an expert in the design and engineering of an LNG terminal, you are prohibited from seeking out an expert and asking for an opinion to help you figure out what you should think – because you’re not allowed to discuss the plans with anyone.

All you can do is tell FERC what you think and trust them to make the right decision.

This is exactly the kind of situation that demands a public debate and discussion – the kind that would allow non-experts to listen to a lot of opinions and information and then use what they learn to form an opinion.

But if you do that, presumably you’d be arrested for breaking the regulations.

And yet a lot of people think the regulations are flawed and that they are preventing those of us who live near the Sound from evaluating whether they will be safe if the Broadwater plant is built.

What if those people – say, several hundred people in Connecticut and Long Island – applied to FERC, got the plans, and then engaged in an orderly, public discussion of them?

One person making the plans public might face arrest; it’s unlikely that that federal government would arrest 200 for doing it, particularly if they were debating an important public policy issue in an orderly and responsible fashion. In fact, the more the better, both in terms of the number of people participating and the number of forums.

And if the public discussion compromised the security of the LNG plant, it would then be Broadwater’s responsibility to make the plans better and safer, rather than our responsibility to take Broadwater’s and the federal government’s assurances on faith.

Here’s what Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, according to the New London Day:

“Secrecy will not disarm terrorists. It will only disadvantage the public. … It will disable efforts to accurately and accountably evaluate risks. Secrecy spawns distrust. Concealment signals danger,” said Blumenthal.

And Newsday, in an editorial, said this:

To prevent terrorist attacks on the nation's energy infrastructure, FERC places restrictions on the disclosure of design and engineering details. But while national security is critical, New York and Connecticut need to determine whether the novel idea of a floating terminal nine miles off Riverhead would be a threat, for instance, in a hurricane.

True, getting the plans and discussing them in public, en masse, would be an act of civil disobedience. But if the anti-Broadwater people, including elected officials in Suffolk County and in Hartford, truly believe that our safety depends on making the plans public, what other solution is there?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Missed Deadlines, Dissed Lobstermen, a Dead Factory

Please Forward to the Correct Address ... Judy Benson of the New London Day is still reading the public record and turning up good Broadwater stories (and teaching the other reporters covering the issue how it's done, assuming they're paying attention). Here, she writes that even though Connecticut is all in a huff about the liquefied natural gas plant that TransCanada and Shell want to build in the middle of Long Island Sound, state officials still managed to miss the deadline for the first round of comments and, as if that’s not embarassing enough, sent the comments to the wrong agency.

Yesterday she reported that Broadwater says its plant will force five lobstermen out of the area:

“Fish landings and lobster yields may decline in the short term ... and a small number of fishermen may temporarily experience lower incomes,” the report says, adding that Broadwater will compensate for lost income and gear.

Hritcko said the key reason Broadwater will have minimal impact on fishing and lobstering in the Sound is that the terminal will be located in deep water, away from the more productive coastal regions, and that construction would take place in the winter.

Nicholas Crismale of Guilford, president of the Connecticut Lobstermen's Association, said he will be directly affected by Broadwater. About one-quarter of the 2,000 lobster traps he places in the Sound are located in the area designated for the terminal.

“There are no new locations,” he said. “I've been fishing that area for 30 years. We have an agreement set up where people are established in certain areas.”

In the eastern end of the Sound, commercial fishermen and lobstermen are most concerned about maintaining access to The Race if the project is allowed, said Arthur Medeiros, president of the Southern New England Fishermen's and Lobstermen's Association, based in Stonington.

LNG tankers entering the Sound's eastern end would have a safety and security zone around them that will be set by the Coast Guard, but is likely to be a half-mile on either side, two miles ahead and one mile astern.

Lobsterman Michael Grimshaw, who operates three vessels that catch lobsters mainly in The Race, said he fears it would be impossible to fish whenever a tanker is scheduled to traverse The Sound. The two hours between high tide and low tide each day is virtually the only time when it's practical for he and his crew to set traps and collect their catch. If they are forced out of the area by an entering barge, the interruption could spoil their entire workday, he said.

To Broadwater, this disruption of a way of life is no more than a nuisance. As John Hritcko, the Broadwater suit who never misses an opportunity to minimize something important, said: “This is just a traffic management issue.”

And over on Long Island, Newsday finally got around to writing the story that Benson beat them on the other day (click here to read it, and you’ll see that Adrienne Esposito dropped the story in their lap):

Another Dead Factory ... In case anybody thought Connecticut was still a viable manufacturing state, the plant that makes Winchester rifles in New Haven is shutting down. During World War II it employed 19,000 people; now, 186.

It was Eli Whitney who figured out how to mass produce rifles (in 1798, if this source is to be believed), which established the gun-making industry in New Haven. Colt was in Hartford and Remington in Bridgeport (they may still have remnant operations there, for all I know). They made Winchester rifles at the New Haven plant that is closing. The Winchester, as today's news accounts point out, is known as “the gun that won the West.” None of the newspapers mention however that the phrase is a euphemism for the gun that helped with the genocidal extermination of the Indians and the slaughter of the bison.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wesleyan's New Museum

I noticed a short piece in the Hartford Courant the other day about Wesleyan University’s plans to build a museum to display its art collection, which numbers about 20,000 pieces. It occurred to me that from where we live, we are within an easy two or two-and-a-half hour drive of a bunch of good small art museums, many of them associated with colleges. This may simply be a function of being within the New York-Boston cultural axis, and my guess is that if I looked further, down through New Jersey and into the Philadelphia area, I’d find a similar number. Nevertheless we’re pretty lucky to be so close to such good stuff, and I wonder if there are many other areas of the country so fortunate.

The museums are all small enough to let you see everything in a couple of hours and not emerge with the numbness of museum-brain. And a lot of them are free, so if you’re in the area you can stop in quickly to look at a handful of paintings without worrying that you’re not getting your money’s worth.

Over on the Hudson there’s the Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center, at Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie. Purchase College has the Neuberger. Up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, there’s the Francine and Sterling Clark Art Institute, which is where you should go if you’re interested in Winslow Homer (they plastered Homer’s Two Guides on a billboard on Route 2, which brightened up the very dreary outskirts of North Adams), and the Williams College Museum of Art.

Central and coastal Connecticut already have a concentration of good museums There’s the Yale Gallery of Art and the Yale Center for British Art, in New Haven. The Florence Griswold, in Old Lyme, specializes in American Impressionists. The Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford, has a good collection of Hudson River School paintings. And the New Britain Museum of Art has a Winslow Homer painting, called Skirmish in the Wilderness, that is so dark it demands that you squint and concentrate just to figure out what’s going on.

Every time I’ve been to these museums they’ve been busy but never nearly as mobbed as the big Manhattan museums.

Now Wesleyan wants in. It plans to convert a building that used to house squash courts into a $26 million museum (almost all of which it still has to raise), and to open perhaps in 2010.

From the Courant:

The university displays some of its artworks in a modest campus gallery on a rotating basis, but for the most part, items are kept in storage. But its paintings and antiquities are lent to other institutions, which means "people elsewhere have better access to our things than we do," Paoletti said. …

Wesleyan has a long tradition of turning out curators - graduates of the school have found jobs in the top tier of the art world. A museum on campus will only enhance that by providing a laboratory for art history students, Paoletti said.

But the new facility will also be a community resource. In small college towns such as Middletown, a campus museum can fill a number of roles, from drawing tourists to introducing schoolchildren to art…

Read the story here.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Over the Weekend: Coast Guard Scolds Broadwater; NY Money for Sewage Work; the Orient Point Express; Baykeeper Blog

While other reporters were running around getting silly quotes from politicians about the safety risks of Broadwater’s LNG terminal, Judy Benson of the New London Day dug into the files and turned up some news: The Coast Guard has determined that Broadwater’s safety and security report is inadequate, and has told the company to do it over:

In a Dec. 21 letter to Broadwater, Coast Guard Capt. Peter Boynton indicated that the report was seriously flawed. It provides unusable information, Boynton said, because it is based on LNG terminals with smaller tanks, supplied by smaller vessels with different inner and outer hull designs from what Broadwater is proposing.

Accidental spills would also behave differently. The information, according to Boynton, is based on a Sandia National Laboratories Report that is not applicable to what Broadwater plans. Boynton, as captain of the port of Long Island Sound, is in charge of the Coast Guard's review of the Broadwater plan….

The Coast Guard asked Broadwater to conduct modeling specific to Broadwater's terminal and tankers that would simulate how they would fare in the conditions of Long Island Sound.

Among other problems, Broadwater's report uses weather conditions specific to Baltimore, not Long Island Sound, Boynton said.

Benson also learned that the Coast Guard thinks Broadwater is overdoing it in keeping information from the public for security purposes:

Boynton also said he did not agree with Broadwater's view that the report contained sensitive information that should not be made public.

"Much of the information in the report does not appear to meet the definition of sensitive security information," Boynton said. He asked that the new report be divided into sections that can be released and those that legitimately contain sensitive information.

The Broadwater plant not only would leave the region vulnerable to a disruption of energy because of terrorist attack, it also would make us dependent on unstable political regimes abroad. So argues Joel Gordes, an energy consultant and former Connecticut legislator. In the Hartford Courant, he writes:

In light of this, it is almost unconceivable that we purposely want to further expose ourselves to even greater dependency on the politics of jihadist Islam by increasing importation of LNG. While the availability of that source might continue (and it might not) it would probably be at a higher cost then we would like. That might destroy the economics of the Broadwater project, leaving us with a derelict structure in the Sound that might have to be dismantled at taxpayer expense.

For these reasons, and numerous others, this new facility has not yet passed the sniff test and requires far more scrutiny than it has gotten. Last February, after letting my security concerns be known, I was asked to meet with representatives of the Broadwater project. Armed with 21/2 pages of questions, I managed to ask about a quarter of them. I found their answers insufficient to allay my fears and their attitude dismissive.

$$$ for Treatment Plants ... With all the hoopla last week about New York State’s agreement with New York City on a nitrogen removal plan, I ignored news about state grants to North Hempstead and Westchester County for treatment plant improvements in Belgrave and Mamaroneck, respectively. From Newsday.

The casinos that are making eastern Connecticut’s Indians rich are also making life miserable for some people on Long Island’s North Fork. Residents of Southold are unhappy with all the cars that race through their town en route to the Orient Point ferry, which runs to New London. I think the casino culture is vulgar beyond belief anyway, so I’m biased, but even if I weren’t I’d sympathize with North Forkers. The ferry company, on the other hand, thinks the increased business is just fine. The New London Day.

If you’re interested in the daily musings of the Narragansett Baykeeper, Save the Bay has a new website, up this week, that will include a Baykeeper blog. It's not up yet but when it is it will be at Savebay.org From the Providence Journal.

Friday, January 13, 2006

News Roundup: North Fork Land Preservation; Monk Parakeets; Greenwich Dig; Sentencing Next Week in Fishers Island Sewage Conviction

On Long Island’s North Fork, the Nature Conservancy just bought 47 acres that it hopes will be part of a greenbelt connecting Pipes Cove, in Peconic Bay, to Long Island Sound. Click here.

Friends of Animals went to court yesterday to permanently stop United Illuminating from killing the monk parakeets that build nests on utility wires and poles. Click here.

The Long Island Sound area is loaded with important native American sites. Archeologists are conducting a dig now at Greenwich Point in conjunction with a reforestation program there. Click here.

And what do you do about a well-liked longtime employee with a good record except for one major blunder? Well not a blunder actually – a felony conviction for dumping sewage into the Sound and the Thames River and then trying to hide it. If you’re the residents of Fishers Island, apparently, you let Mark Easter keep his $130,000 a year job as the head of the ferry service that is your only connection to the mainland.

Easter will be sentenced for the crime next week. The U.S. attorney has recommended a month in jail and a significant fine. Easter’s own attorney wants no jail time and a small fine. It’s an interesting dilemma – compassion or punishment? Click here.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

If We Can't Review the Plans for Broadwater's LNG Plant, Shouldn't that be Broadwater's Problem and Not Ours?

The Connecticut papers covered Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s press conference yesterday, at which he said (for the second time in a week) that the design and engineering information for Broadwater’s LNG proposal needs to be reviewed and debated publicly to make sure the proper decision about the plant is made.

Here’s how the Hartford Courant explained the issue (which the Times and the Energy Outlook blog wrote about the other day):

The federal government put such documents [that is, the design and engineering plans] for much of the nation's infrastructure under wraps after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001….

"There is no secrecy order," said Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for FERC. Any U.S. citizen can apply to review the design information, she said, but they must agree not to publicly disclose any of it.

The policy covers documents such as construction drawings, detailed plot plans and piping diagrams. She said federal policy that keeps such information from broad public view applies to any number of existing facilities and proposals.

Those who get to view the information can discuss it among themselves and submit comments to FERC, she said. Those comments also would be shielded from public view.

On Sunday, the Times said:

The document at issue, "Environmental Resource Report 13, Engineering and Design Material," is being withheld from public view by the commission because of a rule it adopted in 2003 limiting public disclosures about liquefied natural gas plants, refineries, pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

I don’t know enough to be able to say if it makes sense to keep such plans secret in every single case. But I do agree with Geoffrey Sykes of Energy Outlook when he says it is absolutely illogical to assume that because the plans can’t be reviewed by the public at large, that automatically means the plant will be unsafe.

Maybe the question is whether the plans really need to be kept secret. If the plans were reviewed publicly, and if the threat of a terrorist attack therefore increased, could the increased threat be negated by better security?

If so, then the problem should be put back on Broadwater: Namely, the plans have to be made public so we can be sure they are reviewed and debated thoroughly; therefore you, Broadwater, need to demonstrate that you can make the facility secure enough even though terrorists might know about the plans.

Here’s how the New London Day and the New Haven Register covered Blumenthal’s press conference.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

David Miller Says He'd Rather Have the Cleanup Done Right and Late than Done Wrong. That's Fair but I'm Skeptical About How Well the Cleanup is Going

The Times and Newsday both carried brief stories about yesterday’s agreement by New York City to finish its part of the Long Island Sound cleanup in 2017. Neither story was anything other than a pared down version of the press releases that went out yesterday, and in neither case did the reporter appear to even be aware that the agreement means the cleanup will be delayed by at least three years.

Yesterday afternoon, David Miller, the head of Audubon New York, wrote to me and the Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance email group, in response I suppose to my request for an explanation of why he and Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment were so ecstatic about the decision to give the city three extra years.

Here’s what Dave wrote:

In the context of a program that began in 1987 and was scheduled to be completed in 2014, to extend the finalization of the clean-up improvements for NYC from 2014 to 2017 is a good thing. The agreement ensures it will be done right and the Sound will benefit. The bulk of the reductions and capital improvements will be made by NYC by 2014, but with the investment, capital improvements and new technologies of this scale, in the billion dollar range, I would rather see it done right than wrong. The agreement provides the flexibility to fine tune that last 10% of reductions and test the system. I would rather have it done right with allowances for some extra time which in the end prevents us all from being in the courts a few more years, and then being delayed for many more years to come. ...this marks a historic day with the City now taking ownership of the clean-up plan for Long Island Sound, something we have tried to accomplish since the CCMP was signed in 1994. Now, all the major players on the Sound have ownership of its restoration.

I told Dave that I thought he explanation made sense but that it should have been part of the original press release.

I also responded:

I think it's also overstating it to use 1987 as the benchmark. The 58.5 percent agreement wasn't reached, if I remember correctly, until February of 1997 [it was actually 1998]. Regardless, if the Sound is in good shape in 2017 instead of in 2014, I'll agree that the three-year difference was inconsequential.

The problem is, I'm not sure I believe any longer that it will be. Add the three-year delay to what's been going on in Connecticut … and it's easy to conclude that the cleanup isn't going all that well, particularly considering the sad condition the Sound has been in for the last three or four years.

Connecticut is slowing down it’s part of the cleanup. New York City negotiated a three-year delay that thrilled the environmental establishment. And we don’t even know yet how a couple of other places are going to do nitrogen removal or how much it’s going to cost.

The situation is not exactly analogous but it’s starting to remind me of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Back in 1987, EPA and the states bordering the bay agreed to a 40 percent nitrogen reduction by the end of 2001. But when 2000 arrived, the actual reduction was only 17 percent. And Chesapeake Bay is still in terrible shape.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New York State Announces the Cleanup of Long Island Sound Will Be Delayed by 3 Years. Environmentalists Cheer the News

Apparently the goal of ending Long Island Sound’s dissolved oxygen crisis by 2014 is out the window.

What other conclusion can one draw not just from Connecticut’s pollution control cutbacks but also from the decision, announced today, that New York State has “reached an agreement” to give New York City until 2017 to upgrade its sewage plants for nitrogen removal?

Remember, we alredy had an agreement. The agreement, which New York State, Connecticut and the US EPA all signed, was to reduce nitrogen by 58.5 percent by 2014.

But with great fanfare, the state put out a press release today that says:

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Denise M. Sheehan and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer today announced that New York State and New York City have reached an agreement that will sharply reduce nitrogen discharges from wastewater treatment plants on the East River. …

Under the new agreement, New York City will build on prior achievements and undertake a phased approach that, by 2017, will result in a 58.5 percent reduction in nitrogen discharges from its wastewater treatment plants.

Was New York City somehow absolved of its responsibility to achieve th 58.5 percent goal by 2014? There is not one sentence in the press release that explains why the gets a three-year extension.

Not only that but David Miller at Audubon New York and Adrienne Esposito at Citizens Campaign for the Environment – two steadfast advocates for the Sound cleanup – apparently think it’s wonderful news.

David J. Miller, Executive Director of Audubon New York, said, "This is the single most significant action over the past 15 years to reduce nitrogen pollution into Long Island Sound. The Agreement takes the clean up plan and past agreements off the shelf and into direct actions benefitting the Sound."

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, "The reduction of nitrogen is a critical component needed to address water quality in the Long Island Sound. New York City's commitment to reducing nitrogen pollution in the Sound will have a meaningful and significant impact on the restoration on this national treasure. Long Island Sound has made significant progress over the past ten years. This agreement will ensure more progress over the next ten years."

So let’s review: Connecticut has basically decided that it’s going to stop funding sewage plant improvements in anything like a timely manner. Connecticut Fund for the Environment, in fact, has calculated that the state’s funding cutbacks could add an additional 23 years to the Connecticut part of the cleanup. And New York City, for reasons that are a mystery, has convinced the state to give it an extra three years to meet its obligation.

Someone should tell EPA, by the way, because its Long Island Sound Study website still says the goal is 2014! How out of the loop can you be!

Is there any reason that Westchester and Nassau counties should not now ask for an extension too?

Greenwich Might be Loosening its Access Policies for its Beaches; Broadwater, Security & Secrecy

To the Beach ... It’s possible that residents of Greenwich think the town’s beach access policies for non-residents are as unfair and restrictive as people who don’t live in Greenwich do. The town’s parks board met let night and recommended some changes that would make it a bit easier to get into Greenwich Point Park (and to the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound) if you don’t happen to live in Greenwich.

Here (according to the Greenwich Time) are some of the recommendations:

Lower the daily fee to $1 (from $10) for pedestrians and bicyclers.

Lower the daily fee to $1 (from $10) for guests of residents.

Raise the nonresident vehicle fee to $25 (from $20) but allow nonresidents to buy a pass for 10 visits rather than having to buy a pass on the day of the visit.

The parks board said it was making the changes so it would be easier for residents to bring guests to the park. But of course the real reason was the challenge to the entry fee policies made by two Stamford residents --- Brendan Leydon several years ago, and Paul Kempner last year.

Leydon successfully sued to force Greenwich to open its beaches to out-of-towners; Kempner made a point of riding his bike in and not paying the $10 fee; when police charged him, the state attorney refused to prosecute.

Admittedly yesterday’s recommendations are limited. If you live in Stamford, for example, and want to drive to the beach with your family, it’s still going to be expensive: $25 to park and $10 for each person in the car. That’s an unacceptably big cost for a day at the beach, particularly when you can go to Westport’s Compo Beach, which is just as nice, for $15 on weekdays.

But there might be ways around the high fee. For example, you can put your bikes on your car, find a place to park in Old Greenwich, don your backpacks, and ride to Greenwich Point, for $1 each. Are there places to park for the day in Old Greenwich? I don’t know for sure, but I’d be surprised if a little searching didn’t turn up something.

Broadwater: Secrecy and security … I was away over the weekend and missed this New York Time story, which says the public won’t be able to review and comment on proposals to keep Broadwater’s huge LNG plant safe because of post-9/11 security concerns. Some people in Connecticut and on Long Island think that should be enough to kill the proposal.

I learned about the Times article from the Energy Outlook blog, which is written by an energy consultant from Connecticut named Geoffrey Sykes. He argues that it’s an absurd leap of reasoning to say that because the security plans will remain secret, that means the Broadwater plant is inherently unsafe. But he does acknowledge that the secrecy issue is a tough one to deal with:

As a resident, I share the frustration of those seeking to understand how Broadwater might affect the area, particularly in a worst-case scenario. Under our system we have come to expect full public scrutiny of such proposals as part of our Constitutional rights, honed by legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act. But we also shouldn't lose sight of the responsibility of the government and of businesses acting under government license to safeguard information, the release of which might be harmful in wartime. The Broadwater project must find a way to navigate the gap between those poles, if it is to go forward.

Read it here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Soundkeeper Thinks Connecticut's Clean Water Fund Crisis Might Have Woken Up Some Legislators to the Sound's Importance

In the old days – the mid and late 1980s – people used to say that water quality in Long Island Sound had gotten so bad because it was easy to ignore antiquated sewage treatment systems and decaying sewage pipes. They were hidden in parts of town where few people lived (few people of real influence, that is) or, in the case of sewer pipes, were literally hidden underground. And when it came to one of the chief problems the old sewer systems caused – hypoxia, or the severe drop in dissolved oxygen in the Sound in summer – you couldn’t even see the symptoms unless you happened to be a particularly perceptive fisherman or there was a visible fish die-off.

In other words, out of sight, out of mind. That all changed of course in the 1990s, when EPA and the states and the legions of Long Island Sound advocates worked together to come up with a plan for easing the hypoxia crisis that was feasible from an engineering perspective, credible from a scientific perspective, and acceptable from a political perspective. We had a plan, we were confident it would work, and we had the money.

Except that now, 20 years after the out-of-sight, out-of-mind days, we’re back to out of sight, out of mind again.

But if we’re lucky, and if Connecticut’s legislators show some integrity, the problems brought on by this current out-of-sight, out-of-mind period will be enough to persuade the state to put up more money for water quality projects.

That’s the conclusion I came to after talking to Terry Backer the other day about the Connecticut General Assembly’s decision to pull money out of the Clean Water Fund, thereby jeopardizing the Long Island Sound cleanup and other water quality programs.

Terry has been the Soundkeeper since those mid-1980s days, and he’s also a member of the Connecticut General Assembly, representing Stratford.

What has happened, Terry said, is that the Connecticut legislators, particularly the leadership, decided to use the Clean Water Fund money to pay for other, more visible projects. Remember a month or so when House Speaker James A. Amann of Milford brushed off the funding issue by telling the Connecticut Post, “A sewage treatment plant, it’s not a sexy issue, right?”

Unfortunately for Amann, the funding cuts meant that the Connecticut DEP had to make a decision about which sewage improvement projects were sexy enough to qualify for the limited amount of money available and which ones weren’t. As the Connecticut Post reported the other day, one of those that wasn’t was the long-planned upgrade of the treatment plant in Milford.

Coincidence or not, it was strategically brilliant. It forced the Speaker to explain to his own constituents why the sewage project they’d been working so hard on now had to wait. Terry Backer thinks it might result in more money being put into the fund next month.

“What happened in our favor is that the leadership got a sense of what happens when you do this,” Terry told me.

The leadership now knows that if there’s not enough money, the pain isn’t spread out across the state. It’s localized in particular communities – in this case the town the particular leader represents.

When funding cuts force projects to be delayed a year or two or three, it means costs rise because of inflation. And even if inflation is relatively low, the costs of sewage plant upgrades are so high that an increase of just a small percentage means the towns have to pay a lot more money to complete the project.

Which raises the issue of basic fairness. For years Connecticut’s towns have prepared to the sewage plant upgrades by spending millions of dollars on planning and engineering. And they did it with the specific encouragement of the state, which told them that they’d get grants and low-interest loans to complete the work. Except that now, they’d being told there’s not enough money to go around.

Terry said his opinion is that the state needs $100 million a year for water quality projects, although it could probably succeed with half that.

The future will become clearer when the Assembly reconvenes, he said. Legislators might decide that Long Island Sound and water quality in general is a priority and a state responsibility. Or they might do what the federal government did under President Reagan in the out-of-sight, out-of-mind era.

“In the 80s, under Reagan, the feds backed out of funding for sewage plant improvements,” Terry said. “It may be that Connecticut is backing out of the sewage treatment plant business the way the feds did.”

Friday, January 06, 2006

Connecticut's Decision to Cut Back on the Cleanup of Long Island Sound: A Primer

I’ve tried to simplify the issue of the Connecticut General Assembly’s decision to cut back on the Long Island Sound cleanup. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Connecticut is responsible for reducing the amount of nitrogen that enters Long Island Sound through sewage treatment plants by 58.5 percent, by 2014, as part of the state- and EPA-approved plan to ease the Sound’s dissolved oxygen crisis.

2. By all accounts, Connecticut has done a good job and is about halfway toward the 58.5 percent goal.

3. It has done this by helping to fund improvements at sewage treatment plants, which the local communities own and operate. The mechanism for this is the Clean Water Fund. Through the Fund, the state provides grants to cover up to 30 percent of the nitrogen removal costs, and low-interest (2 percent) loans to cover the rest.

4. From 1987 through 2002, the state has put an average of $47.9 million a year into the Clean Water Fund.

5. Starting in 2003, the state’s General Assembly began taking money out of the Clean Water Fund to pay for other programs. The GA has taken an average of $7.6 million a year from the Fund.

6. $2.8 million remains in the Fund.

7. Last year the GA authorized $20 million a year for 2006 and 2007, a 58 percent reduction over what it had authorized from 1987-2002 (it’s a sad irony that the percent reduction in funding is the same as the 2014 nitrogen reduction goal).

8. Because in recent years there has not been as much money in the Fund as there used to be, the Connecticut DEP has had to scale back the amount of money it disburses, through grants and low interest loans, for sewage plant upgrades.

9. The result will be that in 2006 the amount of nitrogen that reaches the Sound through Connecticut sewage treatment plants will be 1.5 million pounds more than it would have been had the GA continued to fund the CWF at its traditional level.

10. Because there’s absolutely no indication from any member of the General Assembly that they intend to reverse this trend, Connecticut’s part of the cleanup of the Sound has essentially been stalled. Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound estimates that instead of reaching the 58.5 percent goal by 2014, Connecticut will get there 23 years later, in 2037.

11. After a long period of small but noticeable improvement, dissolved oxygen conditions in the Sound have gotten noticeably worse over the last three summers. According to Connecticut Audubon:

This past summer, the area where dissolved oxygen in the Sound was below 5.0 milligram per liter (mg/l) was the second largest on record. The summer of 2003 recorded the largest area of the Sound with a dissolved oxygen level below 1 mg/l and total area below 5 mg/l.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

CFE/Save the Sound's Opinion of Connecticut's Decision to Cutback on its Long Island Sound Cleanup Program

Leah Schmalz and Curt Johnson testified yesterday on behalf of Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound. Among other things, they made the point that the state’s decision to stop putting money in the Clean Water Fund, is an unacceptable burden on Connecticut’s poorest cities. Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, for example, need to take care of their combined sewer systems, which are designed to send raw sewage into local waterways when it rains.

Here’s an excerpt from their testimony:

Radically decreasing the state’s historic share of funding clean water is neither morally or fiscally responsible. If the State were to do away with its 50% grant to the cities of Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport for already planned CSO projects, it would burden these struggling urban centers and the citizens in our state least able to afford it with a collective bill of approximately $670 million.

We live in the wealthiest state in the Union. These urban communities are amongst the poorest cities in this great land. Urban residents in these cities, along with the businesses we all so desperately wish to see remain and expand in these urban centers, already face disproportional high taxes. This tax burden is due to our state’s extraordinary reliance on local property taxes. From an economic, moral and smart-growth perspective, how can we as a State possibly view saddling these three cities with more than two-thirds of a billion dollars in additional expenses as progress?

They argue that if the funding cutbacks aren’t reversed, the cleanup of the Sound will be delayed almost 25 years, from 2014 (the current target) to 2037:

Save the Sound expressed great concern this past November in response to the Department’s plan to relax the nitrogen general permit for 2006. The proposed permit relaxation would allow 1.5 million pounds more nitrogen pollution into the Sound this year, as compared to the limits under the current permit and restoration timeline. We recognize this proposed relaxation is in circulation because critical nitrogen reduction projects were badly delayed. This delay was due to the previously described recent legislative trend of slashing and raiding clean water funding. Progress at reducing nitrogen reduction has hit a wall.

The Department, facing a paltry 2006 and 2007 authorization of $20 million in GO bonding (less than 1/5 of the Department’s requested allocation), proposes to invest $8 million of these funds annually in nitrogen reduction investments. If this unacceptable rate of investment were to continue over the next few decades, we would not complete our responsibility to restore Long Island Sound’s dead zone until at least 2037. We are on a trajectory to delay restoration of our Estuary of National Significance by over two decades, thereby robbing an entire generation of citizens the promise of a healthy Long Island Sound. Save the Sound and CFE cannot stand by and allow this to occur.

Audubon's Opinion of Connecticut's Decision to Cutback on its Long Island Sound Cleanup Program

Tom Baptist, the executive director of Audubon Connecticut, made a number of good points in his testimony yesterday on Connecticut’s decision to stop putting money into the Clean Water Fund. You’ll remember that the decision will result in a lot more nitrogen entering Long Island Sound over the short term than if the Legislature put enough money in the Clean Water Fund. Nitrogen is what causes the severe oxygen drop in the Sound each summer, making much of the western half of the Sound uninhabitable for marine life.

Baptist pointed out – and I hadn’t realized this – that Connecticut’s decision to stop funding the Clean Water Fund is the culmination of a trend:

During the past few years … the State has begun backing away from its historic commitment to clean water in Connecticut, raiding the Clean Water Fund to make up for other budgetary shortfalls. The CWF has received an average of about $50 million per year in general obligation bond funding from the state. In 2003, the General Assembly approved a recission of $18 million from previously authorized bond levels. In 2004, legislators approved a $60 million recission. In 2005, however, the General Assembly voted NOT to provide any bond funding at all for the state Clean Water Fund. The only financial support available for projects this past year came from funds carried over from 2004.

That’s noteworthy, as he said, because over the years the state has had a serious and well-financed pollution reduction program that has resulted in a number of major improvements:

These improvements include: reducing nitrogen discharge into the Sound by more than one third since 1990; reducing the number of combined sewage overflows (CSOs) that send raw sewage directly into rivers or the Sound by almost half…

The one-third figure he was referring to means that Connecticut had made big strides toward the federal-state goal of reducing the amount of nitrogen that enters the Sound by 58.5 percent:

Without adequate funding for nitrogen reduction projects through the CWF, however, the DEP has already had to back away from this approved goal. This past November, as part of the review of the State’s General Permit for nitrogen, the DEP proposed to relax its standards for nitrogen discharges. Citing the lack of funding for nitrogen reduction projects funded by CWF, DEP proposed allowing 1.5 million pounds more of nitrogen to be discharged into Long Island Sound this year than would have been previously allowed.

Audubon Connecticut joined other environmental organizations in protesting the DEP’s proposal, but sadly, these limits were approved as part of state’s General Permit for nitrogen. Under these revised limits and without sufficient funding, Connecticut will no longer be able to meet its commitment to reduce nitrogen discharge into the Sound by 58.5% by 2014. This set back is due solely to the lack of funding available for previously planned water pollution control projects.

And he concluded by putting the onus exactly where it belongs: on the General Assembly:

Audubon Connecticut urges the General Assembly to re-commit to the future of clean water in Connecticut. When the legislative session begins in February, Audubon will be joining with other allies to call for a restoration of general obligation bond funding for the state Clean Water Fund. We owe it to future generations to leave a legacy of clean, pure water, and we have the means to accomplish that goal.

The only news story I could find about the hearing, by the way, was in the Connecticut Post, which took a parochial view. Here it is.

12:20 p.m. ... Robert Miller of the Danbury News Times has a good, full account of what went on, here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Restore Connecticut's Long Island Sound Cleanup Program

Long Island Sound advocates are in Hartford this morning to try to convince Connecticut officials that their decision to cut back on the Long Island Sound cleanup was a bad one.

Among the advocates are representatives of Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, which sent out a media advisory about the hearing (which is at the Department of Environmental Protection) late yesterday afternoon.

The crux of the issue is that state legislators took money out of the Clean Water Fund to be used for other purposes, thereby leaving little for pollution control projects, including the ongoing nitrogen removal program at sewage treatment plants that empty into the Sound. The nitrogen removal is crucial because nitrogen is the key to the dissolved oxygen crisis that hits the Sound every summer (a crisis that has gotten worse over the last three years and which turns a vast area of the Sound into a dead zone for fish). See here, here, here and here for background.

The CFE/STS media advisory says:

From 1987 to 2002, the legislature allocated an average of $47.9 million annually in critical clean water projects in the form of General Obligation Bonds. Great progress was made in clean water projects during those years.

The current proposal would reduce this investment to $20 million for 2006…

And it quotes Leah Lopez Schmalz, an attorney at Save the Sound, as saying:

“If the legislature’s inadequate $20 million annual funding allocation for cleaning up raw sewage discharges were to continue, raw sewage would continue to foul the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound for well over than a century,” Schmalz said.

“The restoration of the Sound, an Estuary of National Significance, will be delayed by more than two decades, and the Sound’s dead zone will not be restored until at least 2037, robbing an entire generation of a promise of a healthy Sound,” Schmalz said.

And this, from the media advisory:

An additional 1.5 million pounds per year of nitrogen pollution will be running into the Sound in 2006 compared to projections in the LIS restoration plan, because investments in nitrogen removal and sewage treatment plants across the state have nearly stopped.

Save the Sound and CFE call on the legislature to adequately invest in the clean water fund so that the DEP can continue to fulfill its responsibility of conserving, protecting and improving the natural resources and environment of the state, including rivers, lakes and Long Island Sound.

A couple of weeks ago I criticized CFE for not including the Sound in its outline of 2006 priorities. Needless to say, it’s good to see them pushing the issue publicly. Chris Zurcher, CFE’s pr guy, said late yesterday that they had already gotten some calls from reporters about today’s hearing, so let’s hope that this issue will finally get the attention it deserves.

Considering that the hearing is at the DEP, but that it’s the legislators who will have to decide to put money back into the fund, attention in the media may be necessary. Legislators have given little indication over the past month or so that they’re even aware that the Clean Water Fund is an issue.

CFE says others will be at the hearing as well, including the Farmington River Watershed Association, Connecticut Rivers Alliance, the Connecticut chapter of the National Audubon Society, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, and Connecticut Coalition for Funding the Environment, and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Lobster & Caviar ... Remember all the fuss two summers ago when Gourmet magazine sent the novelist David Foster Wallace to Maine to write about a lobster festival and he came back with a report on how much lobsters suffer when they're boiled? The essay -- which was both eye-opening and fun to read -- is now part of a book called Consider the Lobster.

I noticed in our local supermarket, between Christmas and New Year's, that beluga caviar was selling for $199 an ounce, packaged in a container the size of a small lip gloss. The guy at the fish counter told me he had ordered six and had sold two so far. I held off buying a couple of tins (we already had our New Year's meal planned). Now with this news, I guess i can forget about stocking up.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Over the Vacation: Venison & Zampone, Onrust, an Enviro Blog Goes Dark

Back to normal … One of our cats woke me at 4:20 wanting to go out, or in – I forget which. I lay awake listening in my head to the Beatles’ Long Tall Sally, which is not goodnight music. When I finally started to doze at 5:20, my daughter’s alarm clock went off. It’s a new clock and we had mistakenly set it for 5:20 instead of 6:20. After I told her she had another hour, I decided to use the laptop to check if the ice or snow or whatever it was that was falling outside would delay the opening of school. Even worse: no school at all. I went back in to tell her. Faced with a 6:20 wake-up, and after about 10 days of gradually growing accustomed to waking up later and later, she was not unhappy: “That’s the best news I ever heard,” she said. It’s 9:15 and she still hasn’t stirred. I went back and slept til 8:15.

Feasts … We did our part for the local ecosystem on Christmas, eating two roast backstraps of venison taken by hunters in our part of town. They were good and, eaten side-by-side with a small piece of beef we bought in case the venison wasn’t enough to satisfy the 11 people around our table, proved deliciously game-y in comparison with the tamer beef.

More interesting was the New Year’s night meal – zampone with lentils. Both are New Year’s traditions (not necessarily in our house, but somewhere), the zampone because it’s a fatty dish, the fat symbolizing prosperity, and the lentil because they look roughly like coins and also symbolize prosperity. The zampone is a pig’s trotter stuffed like a sausage, and then simmered for 45 minutes or so (you buy it already stuffed). It’s sliced like a loaf of bread. On the plate, the outer layer of skin/fat falls away easily, leaving the sausage part, which is soft and savory, like a pate. One of our guests was completely grossed out and ate just one slice, as a courtesy. I loved it.

Long Tall Sally was in my head because I learned, from reading the first 200 pages of the new 1,000-page Beatles biography, that they’d been singing it since they were the Quarrymen in the late 1950s and in fact did such a rousing version that they usually opened with it, which prompted me to find my old copy of the Beatles Second Album and play the first song on side two – that is, Long Tall Sally, with Paul screaming “…have some fun tonight.” It’s not a lullaby.

Some people in the Schenectady area have decided to build a “replica” of the Onrust, the jacht that Adriaen Block built in early 1614 after his ship, the Tyger, caught fire and burned. The Onrust was the first Dutch vessel built in North America. For years it was thought to have been the boat on which Block became the first European to sail the length of Long Island Sound, and in fact many books repeat that story, which is almost certainly false. It’s far more likely that Block first sailed the Sound in a ship called the Fortuyn, in 1612 or 1613. The evidence can be found in two books – A.N. Phelps Stokes’ The Iconography of Manhattan Island and Peter Hart’s Pre-History of the New Netherland Company – and I put the pieces together into a narrative in one of the early chapters of my book. But historical myths die hard and I have little doubt that if the replica of the Onrust becomes a popular tourist attraction, the myth will resurface.

The project is being undertaken by a new non-profit called New Netherland Routes, one of whose founders is the Schenectady County historian, Don Rittner. Mr. Rittner says on his website:

“The Hudson River has the Half Moon replica, and the Mohawk will have the Onrust replica. The Onrust will bring attention to the Schenectady area and its importance during the early founding of America, but also as a major ship-building community during the 19th century. This floating museum will provide students and the public with a perspective on 17th-century life and the early explorations of the country.”

This is fine and I’m sure the new Onrust will be fascinating, but it’s an odd choice because without a doubt the Onrust never sailed on the Mohawk. Just as the rapids on the Connecticut River prevented Block from sailing deep into the interior of what is now New England, the falls at Cohoes, where the Mohawk flows into the Hudson, would have stopped the Onrust from sailing west into central New York.

I put “replica” in quotation marks above, by the way, because it’s the word Mr. Rittner uses, although “replica” means an exact copy and, while I have no doubt that he and his colleagues know roughly what early 17th-century Dutch jachts looked like, I can’t imagine they think they’re building an actual replica, since the boat was lost not long after it was built and no drawings of it were ever made.

I’ve read once or twice that some historians (although not Rittner, based on what he says on his website)) think the Tyger burned, and the Onrust was built, near Albany. Others think Manhattan is a more likely location, and in fact about a century ago, when workers were excavating for a subway in lower Manhattan, they unearthed the charred timbers of a Dutch ship that might be those of the Tyger. The timbers are in the Museum of the City of New York.

I wonder about the names of boats. Are they registered somewhere, and can two boats have the same name? I mention it because I recall going out (very briefly on a very rough day in September of 1988) on a research vessel owned by SUNY Stony Brook called the Onrust. Would that preclude the Schenectady people from naming their boat the Onrust?

Farewell to The Uneasy Chair
... Jon Christensen has shut down his blog, The Uneasy Chair. I checked in usually every day to see what was on his mind, and he linked to Sphere often, which I was grateful for. I’ll miss reading him.
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