Friday, September 29, 2006

New Agreements and Resolutions from the People Overseeing the Sound Cleanup

The policy committee of the Long Island Sound Study – that is, the four people who make the big decisions based on the work of the management committee, which makes the not-so-big decisions based on the work of the staff – met in Rye yesterday to approve the sites that are part of the Sound Stewardship program and to review the standards for nitrogen removal and dissolved oxygen levels.

The meeting and subsequent press conference were at the Jay Heritage Center, a beautiful place that I love to visit, but I was unable to get down there and, even though the meeting and the decisions are something I should spend more time on, I’m busy at work and have nothing in particular to add to what’s already been written, for example:

The LISS documents and statements, which are here and here.

And newspaper reports, which are here, here and here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rhode Island Makes Connecticut Look Good By Comparison

We’re in great shape, compared to them … If you’re discouraged because Connecticut’s state legislators have abandoned the Long Island Sound cleanup, all you have to do is look eastward to see where things are worse – namely in Rhode Island, where a big fish kill in 2003 drew attention to Narragansett Bay’s troubles:

The fish kill prompted the Carcieri administration and both houses of the General Assembly to support studies and new legislation mandating new ecosystem-based management protocols. There was no money for the new efforts, but voters did support a $20.7-million bond issue proposed by Carcieri.

Progress stalled last year because the Senate did not ratify Carcieri's appointment of a new chairman for the new Bay coordination team, and the House Finance Committee cut $1.3 million proposed for water-quality monitoring.

This year, Carcieri proposed a $25-million bond referendum that included money for sewer plant upgrades and watershed-restoration projects. That got cut by the General Assembly.

But the administration also hurt the new Bay management program by initially providing no money for monitoring water quality. When it later added funding, the legislature cut it.

Governor Carcieri proposed new bonding yesterday but, coming in the middle of a re-election campaign, it drew little interest from his colleagues in the state government.

Searching for vegetation … Eelgrass used to be abundant in the Sound and now it’s not. Scientists are still trying to figure out why:

Growing entirely underwater in near-shore sandy or muddy areas with depths of about five to 20 feet, eelgrass is considered one of the most ecologically important plants in the Sound. It is essential for shellfish, fish, waterfowl and invertebrate populations, providing food, shelter for juvenile populations and places for egg-laying, among other functions. The decline of eelgrass in the Niantic River, for example, is considered the main factor in the decline of the once-abundant scallop population there.

“Eelgrass helps protect beaches, and it becomes wrack on beaches that attract insects that birds feed on,” said Halavik. “It puts oxygen into the water. It's likened to a very successful upland crop, like a cornfield.”

In the 1930s, the vast underwater meadows of eelgrass once found all across the Sound fell victim to a fungal disease. Water quality degraded by sewage and other pollutants further weakened eelgrass beds, and today, the only area of the Sound that has experienced a return of the beds is the eastern portion, with some of the healthiest in Mumford Cove and around Fishers Island.

The work was funded by the feds. And speaking of which, more federal funding, for the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act, seems likely.

Walking the walk and squawking the squawkMonk parakeets won a victory in court last week in the effort to prevent United Illuminating from killing them so their nests don’t damage power lines in West Haven, Fairfield, Stratford and Bridgeport. It’s not true though that a talking parrot testified on behalf of the complainant, Patricia Feral of Friends of Animals.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More on the Possible Discovery of the Grail in Florida

Carolina parakeets and passenger pigeons are still extinct, but ivory-billed woodpeckers might be alive and well in the Florida panhandle. Keep reading the DC Birding blog for news.

Where Are the Sea Squirts?

The prospect of sea squirts taking over the floor of Long Island Sound and coastal waters to the east attracted a lot of attention early in the summer, but when researchers from UConn went back out to look for them yesterday, they found a lot fewer than they had expected. Newsday was on board.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers Alive and Thriving in Florida?

Are ivory-billed woodpeckers in the Florida panhandle?

There was a report in the science section of today's Times (which I missed because I was trying unsuccessfully to assemble a new basketball hoop-and-backboard-with-adjustable-pole). But I saw it instead on the DC Birding Blog.

Two years ago they were extinct and now they might be in Arkansas and Florida? Amazing.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Anyone Know What the Coast Guard's Broadwater Report Really Means? Also, Conover on New York's Ocean Ecosystem Conservation Act

Plenty of ink was employed over the weekend in reporting the basics of the Coast Guard’s Broadwater report and the scripted reactions of the Shell-TransCanada representatives, environmental groups and even Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (form the sake of your personal safety, you don’t want to stand between Blumenthal and a TV camera).

What I did not see, though, was a knowledgeable explanation of what the Coast Guard report means. Is FERC bound to make Broadwater meet the Coast Guard’s safety requirements? Can Broadwater reasonably meet them? If anyone knows, drops us a line, please.

In the meantime, David O. Conover, dean and director of the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University, argues that the way we manage and regulate our coastal waters, including Long Island Sound, has led to a long-term ecological decline (except in places, such as New York Bay, where it hasn’t).

To turn things around, he says, we should aggressively implement a new law, the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act. Here’s how Conover explains it, in Newsday:

The act does two things. First, it creates an Ecosystem Conservation Council consisting of the heads of nine different state agencies, including the Department of State, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the SUNY chancellor. Then, it directs the council to produce a strategic plan within two years for coordinating ocean-related activities among the agencies and to implement ecosystem-based management.

Ecosystem-based management is an approach that considers the interactions among all parts of an ecosystem - the microbes, plants, plankton, shellfish, finfish, birds and mammals - including, most important, humans. The goal is to keep oceans healthy and capable of providing the services and food that people need, like a well-tended organic garden where sunlight, nutrients, prey and predators are balanced and diseases are held in check.

This coordinated, big-picture approach differs from the present. Currently, we manage each species or consider each proposed project as if it were isolated from all others. Ecosystem-based management considers all consequences of our combined activities, using as its starting premise the interconnectedness of nature. It recognizes that we cannot control ecosystems, but we can control our own behavior. If we want healthy oceans, we can alter the messy consequences of our various effluents, emissions and extractions of food and minerals from the sea.

Some new laws are silly because they try to do too little; others are ultimately pointless because they try to do too much. Yet, assuming we understand enough to try, managing an entire ecosystem makes sense. That’s what we’ve been attempting, somewhat, on the Sound for the past two decades. Will the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act work. Times will tell but it seems to me as if it bites off a lot. On the other hand, what do we have to lose?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

News Coverage of the Coast Guard's Broadwater Report

Here's how the news media portrayed the release of the Coast Guard's report on the LNG facility that Broadwater is proposing for Long Island Sound.


Backers of proposed gas terminal buoyed by Coast Guard's report; critics argue site would be vulnerable

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Both sides in the controversy over Broadwater Energy's proposed floating natural gas terminal claimed victories Friday, each contending that a U.S. Coast Guard report assessing the safety and security risks of the proposed facility in Long Island Sound buttressed their points of view.

The yearlong study, detailed by Coast Guard officials at a news conference here, concluded that the proposed location midway between Wading River and Connecticut helps ease concerns about impacts on populated land areas but that tight security and safety measures still should be enacted before federal energy officials grant it permission to operate.

The Journal News
Coast Guard lays out risks of natural gas barge on Sound

NEW HAVEN, CONN. — A large, stationary barge storing liquid natural gas in the middle of Long Island Sound would present hazards such as the potential for an intense fire, but it could be operated safely with precautions in place, including a no-sail zone around it and the vessels that supply it, the U.S. Coast Guard concluded in a report released yesterday.

The facility, which would become a piece of the region's energy system, would also require more Coast Guard vessels and a stronger marine firefighting force in the region, with local governments paying part of the cost of a project that many people oppose.

The Hartford Courant (via the Associated Press)
Analysis Questions Gas Terminal Safety

NEW HAVEN -- A giant liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for Long Island Sound poses safety and security risks that would require more firefighters, escort boats and other measures to prevent accidents or terrorist attacks, according to a Coast Guard report released Friday.

The Coast Guard issued a security analysis that does not take a position on the proposal by Broadwater Energy, but concludes that additional measures would be needed to "responsibly manage risks to navigation safety and security risks" associated with the project.

The New London Day
Gas Terminal In Sound 'Feasible'

Coast Guard Analysis Says Any Risks Could Be Managed

New Haven — A Coast Guard analysis says that safety and security risks posed by permanently mooring a liquefied natural gas facility in Long Island Sound could be minimized to an acceptable level, but only if additional manpower and equipment are made available.

The 165-page report did not take a side for or against the plan.

The Connecticut Post
Sound security would be pricey

NEW HAVEN — The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday said a floating natural gas terminal proposed for the middle of Long Island Sound poses significant risks, but an armada of security ships and other measures would allow it to operate safely.

Study Heats Up In L.I. Sound Natural Gas Debate
Project Would Greatly Increase Region's Energy Supply

NEW HAVEN, Conn. A U.S. Coast Guard study found safety and security risks associated with a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for the Long Island Sound, but determined the risks could be addressed with proper measures.

The study, released Friday, was ambiguous enough that supporters and opponents both found in it ammunition to advance their cases.

And The New York Times, which used the A.P. story but managed to get the project wrong in its headline.
Gas Pipeline Has Risks, U.S. Says

The Coast Guard's Broadwater Report

The Coast Guard’s report on the Broadwater liquefied natural gas facility proposed for Long Island Sound is here. Scroll to the Waterway Suitability Report.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Coast Guard's Broadwater Report: Today's News and Reactions

The A.P.'s Coast Guard-Broadwater story was up on the Courant website before noon:

A giant liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for Long Island Sound poses safety and security risks that would require more firefighters, escort boats and other measures to prevent accidents or terrorist attacks, according to a Coast Guard report released today.

The Coast Guard issued a security analysis that does not take a position on the proposal by Broadwater Energy, but concludes that additional measures would be needed to "responsibly manage risks to navigation safety and security risks" associated with the project.

"Based on current levels of mission activity, Coast Guard Sector Long Island currently does not have the resources required to implement the measures that have been identified as being necessary to effectively manage the potential risk to navigation safety and maritime security associated with the Broadwater Energy proposal," the report states.

And Connecticut Fund for the Environment just sent out its statement. Excerpts:

An approximately one-and-a-half-square-mile safety and security zone would be needed to secure the proposed LNG industrial complex and, if breached, an ignitable vapor cloud could travel 4.7 miles from the complex in any direction, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Waterway Suitability Report released today.

"This report shows that the three hazard zones associated with the Shell project could significantly affect important natural resources within 70 square miles of the industrial complex and will impact commercial shipping, recreational boating, and commercial and recreational fishing within Connecticut and New York,” said Leah Schmalz, Director of Legislative and Legal Affairs for Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “This proposal raises serious legal issues concerning the rights of the citizens in both states."

... An area around the industrial complex and around each of the LNG delivery tankers would be quarantined, disallowing free use by other citizens or commercial vessels. "The U.S. Coast Guard often calls Long Island Sound ‘I-95 Wet,’ but I doubt that New York and Connecticut would ever consider severely restricting traffic on I-95 three times a week for one corporation’s exclusive use," Schmalz said.

Broadwater would exclude citizens from portions of the Sound and could require them to subsidize safety and security response for the project through local cost sharing. "Allowing Shell to usurp our citizens’ rightful use to portions of the Sound is unacceptable," Schmalz said. "Furthermore it is unconscionable that it also expects us to pay for responses to emergencies arising from their facility or tankers. These two facts alone prove that this project is inappropriate for Long Island Sound."

Read the whole thing here.

The Coast Guard Says Broadwater Is Unsafe. The Question Is, Can It Be Made Safe?

The Coast Guard has concluded that the Broadwater liquefied natural gas factory is unsafe and that, while the proposal can be changed so it becomes safer, doing so would require the participation not only of the Coast Guard but of state and local law enforcement, security and firefighting operations as well.

That’s the only summary I can come up with after reading Newsday’s account of the Coast Guard’s report on Broadwater. The report is to be released to the press and the public today but Newsday got a hold of a copy yesterday following a briefing for elected officials.

Broadwater is a joint venture of Shell and TransCanada, and is proposed for the middle of Long Island Sound, halfway between xx and Wading River. A floating factory, it would serve as a terminal for LNG tankers, would convert the liquefied gas into gaseous gas (how else to put it?), and then send it through underwater pipes (some of which are still to be built) to markets throughout the northeast.

But as proposed, the Coast Guard says, it puts an unacceptable risk on the Sound area. And for it to be made safe, the Coast Guard, as well as state and local law enforcement, security and firefighting operations, would have to participate and presumably expand and improve.

Before the LNG facility is approved, the report said, there should be

“additional measures to responsibly manage risks to navigation safety and security risks ... and reduce the potential consequences" in case of a large release of gas from the terminal or a tanker supplying it.

"The most probable security regime would consist of a mix of federal (including Coast Guard), state, and local law enforcement" that would somehow have to be paid for. It says also that, if the project wins approval, "existing marine firefighting capability in Long Island Sound is inadequate."

That of course raises the question of which state and local agencies would participate. As far as I know, the state police in New York and Connecticut, for example, have virtually no presence in the states’ marine waters. Is the Wading River volunteer fire department going to expand to take on LNG security detail, or the New Haven fire department? The answer to that is obvious.

Can it be made safe via other methods? Shell and TransCanada have too much invested not to try to meet the Coast Guard’s standards, or to meet the Coast Guard part of the way and then try to persuade them that it’s good enough. Presumably we’ll know more details later today and over the next few days.

Newsday, meanwhile, also covered the question of whether Shell is trying to buy influence with its donation to the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Is Shell Trying To Buy Influence on the Broadwater Decision?

Does this sound like an attempt to buy influence in the Broadwater LNG decision?

Each year a government grants program called the Long Island Sound Futures Fund doles out money to groups in New York and Connecticut who are working to improve the Sound. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service administers the fund, in cooperation with the Long Island Sound Study, which is a project of the U.S. EPA. Money for the grants generally comes from the Fish & Wildlife Service, EPA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the Department of Commerce.

The fund gives away about $900,000 a year in grants. This year, according to Citizens Campaign for the Environment, $135,000 of that came in the form of a donation by Shell Oil, the company (along with Trans-Canada) who wants to build a huge liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of the Sound.

Buying influence or simply buying goodwill, which is an oft-practiced public relations technique? NOAA, Fish and Wildlife, and EPA all have roles in the Broadwater review. Here’s how someone with knowledge of the process explained to me the potential for influencing the Broadwater decision:

Broadwater needs a permit from the New York State Department of State's Coastal Zone division; it’s actually a federal permit delegated to the state by NOAA. If the state denies Broadwater a permit, Broadwater can appeal to the guy who oversees NOAA, namely the Secretary of Commerce. EPA and Fish & Wildlife, meanwhile, participate in the Broadwater environmental review by providing information to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will make the final decision on Broadwater’s proposal.

I have a hard time imagining that EPA or Fish & Wildlife would someone give incomplete or biased information to FERC because Shell shelled out $135,000 for a grants program. On the other hand, it might be exactly the kind of thing that influences the Department of Commerce.

The other issue, as someone who has been following the situation put it to me in an e-mail, is “pervasiveness of influence.” Keep in mind that Broadwater, through a company consultant named Joel Rinebold, got themselves a seat on the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Long Island Sound Study. Now one of Broadwater’s sponsors is pouring money into the region to help fund the work of grass roots organizations. The email said:

I think the issue is more about pervasiveness of influence and the chilling effect they could have on the region's stakeholders -- they squirmed onto the LISS CAC and now they are a major cash infusion for the primary granting program of NY and CT LIS work. Will anyone who gets a grant have to plug Shell's generous support?

I don’t know the answer, but it’s worth being aware of what Shell is up to.

Pollution Denial in Old Saybrook

The state of Connecticut says there’s "overwhelming circumstantial evidence" that the septic systems used by as many as 2,000 houses in Old Saybrook are polluting Long Island Sound. The state has been saying this, in fact, since 1989 and it convinced a court that it was right and to issue a cleanup order to the town.

The response by some of the people who live in these houses is eye-opening: They simply deny that it’s true. They are so adamant about it that they disrupted a public informational meeting not long ago, forcing its cancellation.

For years the state wanted Old Saybrook to put in sewers. Now the state is pushing an alternative underground treatment technology that Old Saybrook officials say is the town’s best chance of not being taken to court again. Here’s what the Hartford Courant says:

But … the plan must still be endorsed by residents. And so far, it's off to a rocky start.

A July meeting on the proposal devolved into chaos so quickly that the presenter showed only four of his 27 slides. Further informational meetings have been canceled, leaving residents with questions about a plan that could cost some of them thousands of dollars. Tonight, [Jean] Castagno and her group, now called SOS Save Old Saybrook, plan to speak out against the plan, restate their claim that the town should not be accused of polluting, and call on local officials to continue fighting until the state agrees to leave the town alone.

Maybe SOS Old Saybrook stands for Same Old Shit in Old Saybrook. I don’t know who they or Jean Castagno are, but I hope none of the big state environmental groups are aligned with them. Their stance seems to be the definition of environmental irresponsibility.

Read the whole Courant story and see if you agree.

Elected Officials to Hear Coast Guard's Broadwater Decision Today

The Coast Guard has scheduled a private meeting for today, to brief certain elected officials, including members of Congress, about its decision on Broadwater’s application to put a huge LNG terminal in Long Island Sound, and then another meeting tomorrow with a group of people that includes at least some Broadwater opponents. It’s public announcement will follow.

The Connecticut Post has a general story today about the public announcement. There’s plenty of other background information among the links to the lower right, including a compilation of things I’ve written here in the past.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Coast Guard Will Release Its Broadwater Findings on Friday in New Haven

The Coast Guard and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have been quiet about the Broadwater LNG proposal for a long time, presumably because they are working diligently on their studies and reports.

On Friday we'll know the results of the Coast Guard's work:

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Peter J. Boynton will announce the results of the Coast Guard's waterway suitability report on the proposed Broadwater Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal during a press briefing at 12:30 pm, on Friday, September 22, 2006 at the Coast Guard's Long Island Sound headquarters, 120 Woodward Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut.

If Boynton decides that Long Island Sound is the wrong place, for safety and navigation reasons, for Broadwater's plant, Broadwater has big problems. I have no inside information, obviously, but I'd be shocked if the Coast Guard says no.

Connecticut Clean Water Funding: Other Coverage

Terry Backer's boat trip to the oyster beds yesterday was covered by the Stamford Advocate, the Norwalk Hour and Channel 12. Here's the Advocate story, straight and accurate. Unbelieveably, the Hour and Channel 12 expect you to pay for access to their websites, so there are no links.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Oysters and a Commitment to Clean Water

Can you judge a person’s commitment to clean water by his willingness to eat shellfish that have just been dredged from the bottom of Long Island Sound and dumped onto a steel table?

The steel table happened to be on the foredeck of the S.W. Sheppard, an oyster boat owned by the Norm Bloom & Son shellfish company. It was circling over arguably the richest oyster grounds on Long Island Sound this morning, between the mouth of Norwalk Harbor and the Norwalk Islands, on a trip arranged by Soundkeeper Terry Backer for three of his colleagues in the Connecticut General Assembly and a handful of reporters.

Terry was trying to drum up support for the Clean Water Fund, which Connecticut legislators have scandalously neglected in recent years, forcing the state Department of Environmental Protection to all but end Connecticut’s part in the Sound cleanup. Terry’s plan seemed to work. The three other politicians there (Bill Finch and Bob Duff, both Senators, and Chris Perone, a Representative) proclaimed their steadfast support for putting more money into the Clean Water Fund – in fact, they formed an impromptu “Oyster Shell Caucus” and said they’d work to get $70 million in the fund, which is about $20 million more than the Assembly put in before it stopped putting money in a few years ago.

I’ve known Terry for 20 years but I had never met the other three before today. Duff apparently didn’t care for raw shellfish straight from the Sound; if Perone tried any, he did so discreetly. Finch loved them, and I couldn’t help but note that to my ears at least his new-found support for the Clean Water Fund seemed strongest. Not that Duff and Perone didn’t pledge allegiance to a higher funding level. They did. But if the way to a man’s vote and political support is through his gustatory senses, Backer earned a firm commitment from Finch.

We started by boarding the Sheppard, which was wedged in next to the new Norm Bloom & Son building, fresh and clean and structurally sound, which distinguishes it from the oyster house it replaced, a relic that was so old the floors and ceilings slipped away from the walls at alarming angles. We were all standing around a big steel table on the foredeck. Toward the bow there were stacks of yellow, blue and red plastic-net bags crammed with clams – maybe a hundred bags in all, labeled “Norm Bloom & Son Oysters and Clams. Connecticut Grown. Keep Refrigerated 38 degrees F to 40 degrees F.”

Backer started by talking about the Sound’s hypoxia problem and about the importance of the Clean Water Fund. Communities need state money – grants and low interest loans – to upgrade sewage plants, so they can install the technology to remove nitrogen from wastewater, nitrogen being the nutrient that starts the annual summertime drop in dissolved oxygen levels. Finch said Backer worked hard to educate the Assembly but nevertheless there were two years when the Clean Water Fund got no money at all.

“We’ve gotten very lazy,” Finch said. “You’ve got to stick to the plan and not vary. … We want this to be one of the highest priorities of the Assembly bonding next year.”

The boat eased away from the dock and down the river toward the Sound and the blue haze that covered it. Near the islands, Bloom instructed his crew to lower the oyster dredge, which lay on the boat’s starboard side (at least I think that was the starboard side). It scooped up a manageable number of oysters and dropped them gently onto the steel table, to avoid slopping up the nice clothes of the politicians and reporters.

The truth is, as the oysters lay there, brown with algae – a good sign, Backer said; indicative of a hard bottom, added Bloom – stuck together in clusters, with spat and a crustacean I didn’t recognize fastening themselves to the shells, the oysters didn’t look all that appetizing. So when Norm Bloom got a knife and began opening and offering, I detected a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

But Bill Finch took the first one, ate it, and looked rapturous. (The picture to the left, by the way, shows Perone, a cameraman from Channel 12, Bloom, Backer and Duff; Finch is the fellow in the red hat, in the photo above.) Bloom handed the next one to me. I was a bit fastidious about putting the dirty shell to my mouth so I loosened the meat with my finger and slurped it. It was sweet and mild and salty, really good. I ate another later; Perone might have eaten a couple, the Norwalk Hour reporter ate one (I think) but the Channel 12 reporter and the Stamford Advocate reporter declined, the former with a look on her face that said, ‘Sorry, I don’t eat food that’s still alive.’

But Finch set the pace, eating them as Bloom or Backer handed them to him. They seemed to inspire him. So when Backer said that until recently, Connecticut had been the leader in the Sound cleanup, Finch responded, “We’ve broken a promise and we’ve broken a tradition. People say, ‘Oh it’s a lot of money.’ It’s not a lot of money for clean water. It’s been a long standing tradition that we broke.”

He ate some more. I don’t say this to mock him, even slightly. I admired his obvious delight, and he continued to say all the right things about the Sound. And he's not an insignificant Senator; in fact he's chairman of the environment committee. One might ask where he's been for the last few years on this issue (although no one on the boat did), especially considering that he represents Bridgeport, which happens to be on the Sound, and which, as a poor city, needs the state money. The Soundkeeper shouldn't have to work too hard to get his support. Nevertheless, as of this morning, his commitment to the Sound seemed to be solid -- and directly proportional to his enjoyment of the oysters.

“If we come out of next session,” he said, “without a good amount of money for clean water, then we’re going to have had a session that’s not successful.”

The four politicians then stood together and pledged to work to put $70 million in the Clean Water Fund. Backer was beaming. He knew there was no direct connection between oysters and hypoxia – he even said as much. But there is a connection between oysters and clean water, and since the Clean Water Fund is used for projects other than nitrogen removal, the link was legitimate.

Was it Terry’s idea to actually serve oysters on board or was it Norm Bloom’s brilliant idea? No clue. But Terry successfully employed Norm Bloom, a beautiful morning on the Sound, and a small pile of Crassosteria virginica not only to get his colleagues’ commitment but to get it recorded in the press.

He still needs more votes, and the issue needs more attention. But for anyone else in Hartford who needs to be convinced, there are plenty of oysters left.

Measuring Water Quality on Long Island Sound

Long Island Sound’s hypoxia crisis gets a complete and clear explanation in this Connecticut Post story, by Ed Crowder, which makes reference to Soundkeeper-Legislator Terry Backer’s boat trip this morning. Save it for future reference.

One interesting sign of how things have changed: in 1987, ’88 and ’89, when hypoxia was first being measured and described in a systematic way on the Sound, the policy was to not let reporters accompany the research vessels, because (as I remember it) there was so much interest it would be impossible to accommodate all the reporters, photographers and camera crews and still get the work done. Now it appears that all you have to do is call up and ask, and they’re happy to let you spend a long hot day watching them work. I’m glad reporters can get on the boat now. Unfortunately it also indicates that interest in the Sound has faded.

Oystering ... Over on the Hudson, people always say that because of pollution – mainly PCBs dumped by General Electric – the traditional fishermen were being put out of business and that, once they’re gone, fishing would be dead on the river. The first part of that is true – fishermen have been put out of business. But the second part never made sense to me. If the river gets cleaned up and the fishery reopened, why wouldn’t new fishermen learn the trade?

A similar situation is occurring on Long Island Sound. Oystering is an up and down business, peaking in the late 1800s, falling throughout the early decades of the 1900s because of pollution, overfishing, starfish and storms, and then rebounding somewhat into the 1990s, until oyster diseases (dermo and MSX) did serious damage. A recovery is underway again, drawing new people into the business (granted, in a small way).

Connecticut has granted 10 licenses for an oystering cultivation technique called upwelling, which lets oyster growers start their seed in a controlled environment, until they are big enough to try to survive in the wilds. One of those trying it is Jardar Nygaard, owner of a fish market in Cos Cob called Fjord Fisheries. The Greenwich Time has an interesting story about him and the upwelling method of raising oysters, here.

Big Black Birds ... The cormorant population is growing, fishermen blame them for the drop in the population of winter flounder, biologists say that’s an oversimplification. The Connecticut Post reports, you decide.

Whale ... If you were on Block Island last week, you could have seen this dead, 50-foot long finback whale, which washed up on Crescent Beach.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Gift of Good Land

I haven’t been to all that many farmers markets– a couple of small village markets in France 15 or so years ago, the big marches de legumes in Lyon and in Fort de France (the latter in Martinique) –so I can’t judge the diversity of produce we have around here. But I can say I was wide-eyed at the abundance yesterday at the farmers market in New Canaan. Mid-September is really part of two harvest at local farms, and so the stalls were packed with zucchini and tomatoes and peaches as well as pears and butternut squash, pumpkins and leeks – tender produce from the hottest days of summer carefully laid out on the tables next to bushel baskets stacked with produce that thrives in frostier days.

My daughter, Elie, works on Saturday mornings for Riverbank Farm, arranging vegetables under Riverbank’s tent, working the cash drawer, weighing, bagging, and so on. I dropped her off at 9 yesterday, when the canopies were being erected and the trucks unloaded, and went back at 11:45 to pick her up. I wanted to make an inventory, so I took a small notebook and asked my son, Kaare, who is 8, if he wanted to help me list everything we saw at the farmers market.

“No thanks.”

“What? Don’t you want to be a reporter?”

“No. I want to be a minor league baseball player.”

That was an acceptably unusual answer, so I laid off. At the market, my wife shopped and Kaare visited the baker’s stall and came away with an enormous piece of something that looked like chocolate coffee cake. I made my own list. Here it is:

Red peppers, green peppers, multi-colored peppers, hot peppers, purple peppers. Purple eggplant, Chinese eggplant, white eggplant. Watermelon and musk melon. Fire beans, pole beans, wax beans, lima beans. Butternut squash. Broccoli, broccoli di rabe (spelled “broccoli raab” on the sign), red cabbage, green cabbage. Radishes and daikon radishes. Collard greens. Bok choi, tatsoi, mizuna, lettuce, mixed salad greens, cucumbers, and pickling cucumbers. Leeks, copra onions, garlic, red onions, scallions, and shallots. Eggs. Carola potatoes and russet potatoes. Carrots, beets, red turnips, and white turnips. Delicatta squash, acorn squash, yellow squash, zucchini, gourds, pumpkins. Swiss chard. Basil. Sweet corn and Indian corn. Seckel pears, Bartlett pears, red d’anjou pears, apples -- empires, cortlands, jonathans, ginger golds, galas, macintosh, honey crisps, fujis, macouns – purple plums, peaches and nectarines. Tomatoes – beefsteaks and cherries and heirlooms of all colors – and tomatillos. In the shade of half a dozen white canopies, summer and fall for sale in six dozen varities.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Soundkeeper To Push For More Connecticut Funding For Long Island Sound Cleanup

Soundkeeper Terry Backer, who is also a member of the Connecticut Assembly, is planning to use the op-ed piece (“Who Is Killing Long Island Sound?”) I published in the Times over Labor Day weekend to get publicity and support for putting $50 million into the state’s Clean Water Fund, money that is necessary if Connecticut is going to meet its responsibility to upgrade sewage treatment plants.

Terry has organized a Monday morning boat tour, on one of Norm Bloom & Sons oyster vessels, for the press and for some of his Hartford colleagues, including Senators Bob Duff of Norwalk and Bill Finch of Bridgeport, and Assembly member Chris Perone of Norwalk. I’ll be taking my Dramamine and joining them.

It’s almost impossible to overstate how nervous politicians get at the possibility of bad publicity, or how influential press coverage can be in getting politicians to move on an issue. Unfortunately Connecticut’s decision to cut the Clean Water Fund hasn’t gotten much attention at all.

If Terry can use my piece to leverage more attention, I’m all for it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Water Quality Has Rebounded

Long Island Sound was in better shape in late August-early September than it has been in a while. Only one small patch of water, covering 17.3 square km off Port Jefferson, had dissolved oxygen concentrations below 3 milligrams per liter. The entire western end of the Sound – Westchester, Nassau and part of Fairfield counties – had about 5 milligrams per liter of better, which is considered excellent. Since hypoxia (low levels of dissolved oxygen) is a summertime phenomenon, we can assume that the problem is finished for 2006.

The reason September was better, according to the Connecticut DEP, was the cool, rainy weather in late August. That brought water temperatures in the Sound down, and in particular it broke down the stratification that occurs when the deeper waters are cooler than the top waters. That stratification is essential for hypoxia. When it breaks down, the upper and lower layers of water mix, and the waters become infused with dissolved oxygen. Here’s what the DEP’s September Water Quality Sampling Summary says:

Between 25 August and 29 August, rain was abundant throughout the area; Kennedy airport recorded 2.6 inches, Bridgeport recorded 8.05 inches with more than 4 inches falling on 27 August, New Haven recorded 3.87 inches with 3.6 inches falling on the 28th, and Groton recorded 4.96 inches with 2.75 inches falling on 28 August. Rain generally tapered off on 30 and 31 August with only trace amounts being recorded at Kennedy, Bridgeport and Groton. New Haven, however, received 0.27 inches of rain on 30 August. …

Water temperature ranged from 19.6ºC to 22.1ºC. The maximum difference in temperature between the surface and bottom waters was 0.7 ºC (station 22). At sixteen stations the temperature of the bottom water was warmer than the surface water. Of those sixteen stations, ten stations exhibited a difference of 0.1ºC. The remaining six stations (05, 08, 09, 12, 16, 18), all located along the northern shore of the Sound between Stratford and Stamford, CT, exhibited differences between 0.21 and 0.41ºC.

The result was that the area of the Sound affected by hypoxia during this year’s September survey was 28 times smaller than the average September survey from 1991 through 2005.

The September map isn't online yet, but when it is, it will be here. The DEP says an analysis of the whole summer is forthcoming.

It's worth noting, by the way, that the rains that cooled off the Sound also washed enough bacteria into the Sound to close beaches and shellfish beds for days. So it's a mixed blessing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Better Warning System For Sewage Spills

Norwalk wants to install better alarm systems at the 22 stations that pump sewage to the city’s sewage treatment plant. In the past – including a rainy day in August when eight alarms went off – the alarm system told workers only that there was a pump station malfunction and a sewage spill, but not which pump was involved. When the new system is installed (work will start in the middle of next year), they’ll know right away. From the Stamford Advocate.

Parts of Bridgeport Harbor Might End Up In Local Backyards

Bridgeport and the Army Corp of Engineers are working on a plan to decontaminate material dredged from Bridgeport Harbor so it’s clean enough to be used on lawns and gardens. They’re hoping it works because finding a cheap place to dump so-called dredge spoils is difficult, and Bridgeport Harbor hasn’t been dredged in 40 years – long enough so that some ships have to wait til high tide to reach port. From the Connecticut Post.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Local Milk

One way to help make sure that not all of the Long Island Sound watershed is turned into subdivisions and strip malls is to buy food from the farms that have managed to survive in the area. Plenty of people – my family and I among them – prefer stuff produced as close to home as possible.

It turns out that six dairy farms in Connecticut have caught on to this and are now selling their milk locally under the “Farmer’s Cow” brand. Here’s what the New Haven Register reported:

The Farmer’s Cow brand — which sells half-gallons of whole, 2 percent, 1 percent and skim milk — first hit grocery store shelves nearly a year ago, in October. All of the milk is bottled at the Guida’s Dairy processing plant in New Britain.

The Farmer’s Cow is a group of six Connecticut dairy farms — Graywall Farms, which Chesmer owns with his son, Lincoln; Fairvue Farms in Woodstock; Hytone Farm in Coventry; Mapleleaf Farms in Hebron; Cushman Farms in Franklin; and Fort Hill Farms in Thompson. …

While the six farms do not use growth hormones in producing The Farmer’s Cow milk and the milk is labeled "natural," it’s not organic, which requires cows to graze in pastures.

It’s also more expensive than other milk. But it’s probably cheaper in the long run than another housing subdivision.

Urban Development ... Redeveloping the region’s cities is also good for land preservation, for the obvious reason that it helps keep development pressure away from the countryside. SoundWaters, as part of its Business & Environment Lecture Series, is sponsoring a lunchtime talk on September 20 by Graham Stevens, an environmental analyst, with the Connecticut DEP, on how to convert so-called brownfields – urban areas that aren’t pristine but aren’t toxic dumps either – into developable land. Here’s the e-mail address for details:

Hawks … One of the best places to see big numbers of hawks during fall migration is Greenwich Audubon, which is on just enough of a ridge to attract south-flying raptors which, as I understand it, travel on the thermals that rise from the ridge. I always preferred to go during the week, when it wasn’t crowded, but weekends are good too, and next Saturday and Sunday they’re having their Hawk Watch Festival. Info here.

Trash Talk … You can also help out with the International Coastal Cleanup, on Saturday. Check out Save the Sound’s website for details. Long Islanders can help out in Oyster Bay (and many other places, I’m sure), where Friends of the Bay is organizing a cleanup.

Coast Talk … if you’re interested in what’s been learned about the vulnerability of coastal areas following Hurricane Katrina, you’ll be interested in the lecture series that Martha Smith has put together for the Center for Coastal and Watershed Systems at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. If you e-mail her, she’ll probably send you details.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Water Quality In The Sound This Summer: Average to Better Than Average (Although Average Is Still Pretty Bad)

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has recalculated its hypoxia data from early August, and it turns out that conditions in Long Island Sound were not as unusually bad as they seemed. In fact they were about average compared to similar periods in other years (which is still bad, but it could have been worse).

The area of the Sound with dissolved oxygen concentrations below 3 milligrams per liter was about 199 square miles (the total area of the Sound is about 1,300 square miles), which is 1.07 times bigger than the average area from 1991 through 2005.

The DEP sent out the correction yesterday afternoon, along with an analysis of mid-August data, which showed that water quality improved in the middle of the month, and in fact was better than during any similar period from 2002 through 2005. Here’s what the report said:

A total of 250 km2 [96 miles] were found to have DO concentrations less than the CT Water Quality criteria minimum threshold of 3.5 mg/L. A total of 132 km2 [51 miles] were found to have DO concentrations less than 3.0 mg/L.

And the area with the worst hypoxia – DO’s below 2 milligrams per liter – was smaller than in any year since at least 2002. Here are the number of square miles below 2 ppm: 2002 – 55.6. 2003 – 185.7. 2004 – 61.7. 2005 – 95. 2006 – 17.6.

The report also says:

Current conditions have improved from the [early August] survey (August 1-7, 2006) with no stations showing severe hypoxia (DO<0.99 mg/L), and are better than conditions observed during the August hypoxia surveys conducted between 2002 and 2005 …. Thermal stratification is diminishing with a maximum difference in the bottom and surface water of three degrees. The areal extent of hypoxia (DO <3 mg/L) documented during this survey was 3.65 times smaller than the average areal extent of 483 km2 from 1991-2005.

Why? The weather, probably. Winds speeds ranged from 8 miles per hour to 24 miles per hour (wind whips up the waves and injects oxygen into the water). And the days were cooler, with high temperatures in the low 80s (presumably this cools off the water a bit, which makes it capable of holding more oxygen).

So keeping in mind that average water quality condition on the Sound are bad (that's why we're spending so much money to try to improve them), this year was average to better than average.

The DEP hypoxia maps are all here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Developer of So-Called Preserve Is Coming Back, Suing And Claiming They've Been Offered Big Money To Sell

RiverSound Development, the Lehman Brothers-backed company that earlier this year was denied permission to build 220 houses and a golf course in Old Saybrook, says it is revising its development plan and wants to resubmit it. (It’s not clear whether this new development plan, like the rejected one, will bear the ironic name The Preserve, a moniker which must have made the developers smirk with self satisfaction before the town and the state suggested they go away.)

The company is also suing Old Saybrook for denying it a permit to build in and near wetlands; the state DEP for denying permission to build an access road across a state park; and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment presumably for exercising its civic right to protest a bad development plan (although I haven’t seen the suit so I’m not absolutely sure about this last reason).

Sam Stern, who apparently is one of the developers, told the New London Day that the state was being unreasonable because it offered $7.5 million for the land and won’t go any higher ($7.5 million might be the appraised value and the state is probably legally prohibited from offering more, but the New London Day doesn’t raise that question).

Stern also says that River Sound has had other offers that are “many times higher” than $7.5 million. How much would “many times” $7.5 million be? I’d guess that twice as much wouldn’t meet the definition of “many times” but that arguably three times as much might. So that means River Sound has beeen offered at least $22.5 million by more than one potential buyer. Unless Sam Stern is lying or exaggerating.

If that’s the case, maybe River Sound should accept one of those offers.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Who Is Killing Long Island Sound?

That's the question the Times put on top of the op-ed piece of mine they published today, in the Connecticut, Westchester and Long Island sections. One of the key paragraphs says:

...just when efforts to save the Sound should be increasing, the Connecticut Legislature is doing the opposite. It is backing off its cleanup commitment by slashing money for sewage plant improvements. This is particularly distressing not just because of the ecological implications but because Connecticut had been the leader in the cleanup, surpassing both New York State and New York City.

You can read it all here. (And since that link won't last forever, here's the piece, on my other blog.) The opinions and conclusions are mine, but Leah Schmalz of Save the Sound and Terry Backer, Soundkeeper and a Connecticut legislator, deserve my thanks for helping me get my facts straight.
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