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.


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