Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Smart Sponges for Norwalk

The Smart Sponge program is expanding in North Castle, with the support of the Long Island Soundkeeper. Details here:

"We catch 80 (percent) to 90 percent of the bacteria," he said.

Sal Longo Jr. and Mike Lehman of Longo & Longo Storm Water Treatment of Greenwich installed one of the filters on New Street. They found a toothbrush in the sewer as methane bubbled below.

"We find everything from hypodermic needles to bullets down there," Lehman said.

In the past year, the filters prevented 30,676 pounds, or more than 15 tons, of contaminated grit, grease and garbage from entering the Sound, Backer said.

"We weren't surprised by the garbage or sediment," Longo said. "We were surprised by how blatant people were. It takes effort to throw things into a catch basin."


Dead Crabs in Branford

A company in Branford -- Atlantic Wire -- illegally discharged some kind of acidic liquid into the Branford River earlier this month and seems to have killed a bunch of crabs in the process. I read about it on something called the Lobster Fact Blog, here. The blog post reads like a short newspaper article but there's no indication which paper it might have been borrowed from. It also doesn't say what species of crab.

Update: Apparently they took it from the New Haven Register, as a commenter points out.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Mannahatta Project: Life in the Old Days

There’s a fascinating project underway at the Wildlife Conservation Society. A couple of scientists are trying to recreate, online, what Manhattan looked like in 1609, when Henry Hudson sailed up the river. It’s called the Mannahatta Project. I wrote about it a couple of years ago, here, and this week’s New Yorker has a good article about it.

Unfortunately it’s not online. But fortunately the magazine decided instead to put up 11 of the images that the WCS guys working on it, Eric Sanderson and his colleague, Markley Boyer, have created, here. It’s worth a look. And the project's own website is here.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wildlife, Good, Bad and Imagined

My impression is that our local deer herd had an excellent breeding season this year. I see small, medium and large does every time I walk or drive down the driveway and the road, and at night, when the windows are open, we hear them making that weird wheezy coughing sound as they're laying waste to the edible plants on our property.

The town Conservation Board sent out a flyer the other day reminding us all that the town encourages hunting. Last year was the first year the town took an active role, opening 99 acres of town land and matching hunters with landowners. One hundred and seven deer were killed in town last year, up from 78 in 2005. The flyer says this:

33 deer -- six bucks, 27 does -- were taken from Pound Ridge Town land during the 2006 hunting season. This means that approximately 87 deer will not be eating our woodlands this year.

I'm not sure how they came up with that calculation, but whatever. White-tailed deer are a scourge around here, and the fewer, the better

A sharp-shinned hawk flapped out of the woods late yesterday afternoon, while Gina and I were out on the back deck. It was small and beautiful in silhouette above the trees. My active birdwatching days are over apparently -- I rarely take my binoculars out of their case anymore -- and I haven't gone to a fall hawk watch in years. But I like it that I know most of the birds I hear and see around my house and town. Being benignly surrounded by the natural world is more satisfying than actively searching for birds these days.

But it's still great fun to happen upon upon animals without much unusual effort on my part. I like being able to identify some of the shorebirds that feed on the mudflats in late summer when I'm up to my knees in warm salty water digging for clams on BI's Great Salt Pond and tiny fish are swimming through my fingertips, feeding among the clouds of mud I've stirred up. I recognize semipalmated plovers, and willets, and the call -- a wild call -- of the greater yellowlegs, and I stop and watch when flocks of peeps pass by, flashing in the sunlight as they turn.

Cormorants nest here and there on the reservoirs in our town but the other day I saw a flotilla of more than two dozen on the reservoir up the road, a number that was unusual enough to prompt me to stop the car and point it out to my 14-year-old daughter who was exactly as interested as you'd expect a 14-year-old daughter to be. The water level in the reservoir is so low from the drought that it made me wonder if the lake's fish had been crowded into a smaller area, making them easier for the cormorants to find and feed on.

I wish I had been in Groton yesterday morning, where birdwatchers saw "about 1600 birds of 62 species." They reported it here:

1 COMMON LOON, 1 YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, 3 YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS, 20 DOWNY WOODPECKERS, 400 NORTHERN FLICKERS, 15 RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, 40+ RED-EYED VIREOS, 350 BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, 1 GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (photos), 700 warblers of at least 10 species (most were in flight overhead, and thus not identified) including 30+ BLACKPOLLS, 45 SCARLET TANAGERS, 25 WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, 15 DARK-EYED JUNCOS, both kinglets (1 of each).

Now that's a day of birdwatching that even I could get into.

Have you noticed, by the way, all the hubbub about a "sighting" of a mountain lion in Oxford? State environmental officials think it was merely a large pit bull mistaken for a mountain lion, and I can't figure out which is less likely -- seeing a mountain lion or mistaking a pit bull for a mountain lion. And a driver whizzing past at 65 miles an hour swears he saw a mountain lion carcass on I 95 out near Waterford (here). By the time the DOT got there, it was gone and they speculate that the cougar was really a deer and that someone took it home for the meat. I'll leave it to the press critics to judge whether an unsubstantiated report of a carcass viewed while driving on an Interstate highway is newsworthy.


Monday, September 24, 2007

A Special Session in Hartford But Not For Clean Water

From what Soundkeeper Terry Backer says, it looks like the Clean Water Fund is dead for the year...

Yesterday I received an order of the Governor delivered by the state police, as all legislators did, commanding a special session on Wednesday. In her proclamation the Governor announced she will veto the bonding bill, Emergency Certified Senate Bill 1501 that contains the Clean Water Fund money.

The special session will be to pass a bond authority for municipal and regional school district so they will not have to borrow money to pay contractors for school construction. I guess she is unaware that many of the same towns will need to borrow money to pay for the ongoing improvement and construction of sewage treatment plants. There must be only a very small window in the Governors office reducing their view of the world.

Long Island Sound is suffering from some very bad politics on all fronts. I am hoping to salvage the Clean Water Money at a later date. The leaders of the legislature and the Governor need to forget special projects, which are not all bad, and take care of the big needs. However, its broad based power plays at work – it’s like a war, there seems the need to shed a lot of blood before the resolution that was clear in the beginning can be implemented. And Long Island Sound is caught up in the blood letting.

I stay at it.

1:20 p.m. update: A couple of second thoughts: How much of all this is political posturing is hard to tell. But it's worth keeping in mind that Rell hasn't actually vetoed anything yet, and the Democrats have enough votes to override a veto, if it's that important to them. So there's still a chance, if the pols recognize that enough people want it to pass.


Governor Rell's and the General Assembly's Clean Water Farce

Just a few days ago, after the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bonding package that included $110 million for clean water projects, including Long Island Sound, Connecticut Fund for the Environment was proclaiming it “the greatest day for clean water and Long Island Sound in twenty years.”

If the Hartford Courant is to be believed (here), it’s possible that CFE was a tiny bit premature in its proclamation (either that or the standard for “greatest day” is really low). Here’s what the Courant reported:

Rell took the latest step in the long-running stalemate by vowing to veto a $3.2 billion general-obligation bond package passed late Thursday, saying the borrowing would plunge Connecticut too deeply into debt.

Legislative leaders flatly rejected a demand by the governor that the General Assembly return next week to approve a pared-down bonding package to cover the state's school-construction obligations, which will increase next month by another $44 million.

Legislators are saying that they might not get back to it until February.

In truth, though, the attention shouldn’t be on the perhaps-mistaken optimism of CFE. It should be on Rell and the General Assembly. I’m sure there’s some political posturing going on, but nevertheless the situation in Hartford is disgraceful. (There's some year-old background info here, which will give you an idea of how long this farce has been going on.)


Shellfish at the Farmers Market

Is it true that they sell clams, oysters and lobsters from Long Island Sound at the Wooster Square Farmers Market in New Haven? Apparently it is, if this blog post and this website are to be believed. What a great idea. Dolan Brothers Shellfish Company is the purveyor; Norm Bloom, of the famous Tallmadge Brothers family, is a co-owner.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Connecticut Legislators Approve $110 Million for Clean Water Fund But Will It Survive a Veto by the Governor?

Finally the Connecticut State Legislature passed a bonding package that includes money for the Clean Water Fund -- $110 million a year over two years, which is plenty to get Connecticut’s portion of the Long Island Sound cleanup back on track.

But there are two points of view about what yesterday’s vote means.

Curt Johnson, of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, left Hartford last night proclaiming a great victory.

Terry Backer, the Soundkeeper and a Legislator who represents Stratford, thinks victory is not at all assured. He expects Governor Rell to veto the package and says the legislators will almost certainly have “to go back and try again.”

First, here’s what Curt wrote in an e-mail to the Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance:

Tonight we are all partners in a remarkable re-investment in clean water. Due to all of your support and the incredible leadership of Senator Eileen Daily and Representative Cam Staples (co-chairs of finance), Senator Don DeFronzo and Representative Keeley (co-chairs of bonding sub-committee) and the steadfast support from Don Williams and Jim Amann, *this marks the best news for Long Island Sound clean water funding in two decades -- $110 million in clean water fund general obligation bonds for both this and next year. * While many, many other legislators came out in strong support of this renewed investment, Representative Betty Boukus deserves special thanks for her dogged advocacy and determination.

After nearly two decades of consistent funding by the Connecticut legislature, excellent administration by the CT DEP and great clean water progress, the fund was raided extensively beginning in 2003. No money, no progress, a fading chance of meeting critical clean water goals. We realized we needed to join hands with all of you to make real change possible.

Thanks to the many of you who joined us in the Clean Water Investment Coalition successfully calling for a major re-investment in our clean water future. Not only environmental groups, but civil engineers, unions, the Connecticut Conference for Municipalities, sewer districts. Clean Water. Good Jobs. A Strong Economy. And thanks for all your phone calls, emails and letters that brought
this issue alive for legislators.

While the DEP and towns have made great progress, there is still a long way to go. For example, each year 2 billion gallons of raw sewage flows from combined sewer overflows into local rivers and the Sound during rain events.

Two billion gallons of raw sewage dumped into our waterways each year is a shocking level of pollution. It is the equivalent of two tankers—like you see out on our Sound—each dumping a full load of raw sewage into our waterways every week. This $220 million investment is the highest funding level to date and is a critical step in combating this public health threat. This is not only an investment in the water quality of Long Island Sound; it is an investment in our future.

So thank you all for your great work on this issue. It is important to recognize our big environmental victories!

Terry Backer however isn’t quite as sanguine. He sent this to me at 1:30 in the morning:

I just got home from the State House after a good 14 hours in session. The road from Hartford to Stratford is longer at 1:00 AM. Well, as the saying goes I have good news and bad news. The legislature passed a bonding bill that included $110 million dollars per year for two-year biennium for the State Clean Water Fund; the bill now goes to the Governor’s office. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Governor has made overtones that she may veto the bill. Apparently she has concerns that the rather large bonding bill that surpasses her maximum by something like $600 million and will cause the state’s bond rating to be lower by the bond rating organization thus trigger higher interest cost.

I had hoped that an agreement might have been reached to take care of the essentials like schools, clean water, roads and alike and all the other items that drove the cost higher left for another session. In that way the people would have got what they needed and the legislators who ask for all this stuff would have gone home without the bacon but with the pride of knowing they took care of the important matters that affect everyone. That did not happen. Now we are left with uncertainty on Clean Water and will almost certainly have to go back and try again.

If a remark made to me by one legislator on the way out is any indications I am worried. I said to him we should have just taken care of the big important projects and avoided this show down. He looked at me and said “Hey I haven’t got any bonding for my town in three years”. A statement that is certainly untrue. What he meant is he hadn’t got and special project bonding.

I am afraid he would sacrifice Clean Water money for a new ball field, a town hall make over or some other like project. I hope he is in the minority.

I voted for the bill. I ensure everyone that the Oyster Shell Coalition will keep up the fight.

Terry Backer

I found two stories today that talk about some of the pork barrell projects that Terry thinks will prompt Rell's veto, here and here.


Fens, Bog Turtles, and Cannabis

A number of years ago when I was following a Hudson Valley ecologist through a calcareous fen in my town we came upon an old plastic flower pot, the kind big enough to grow tomatoes in, and the remains of a bag of fertilizer. Nothing was in the flower pot and the bag had been torn open. Marijuana, the fellow I was with said. Someone had been growing marijuana here years ago.

A few months later I brought another ecologist there, to help assess whether bog turtles might be living in the fen. He found the flower pot too and said it's not at all uncommon to find marijuana growing in a fen. And a third scientist, a fellow who had spent a lot of time monitoring a bog turtle population at the Bog Brook Unique Area, near Brewster, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut, told me the same thing.

Fens have an open canopy, so they get a lot of sun. They're moist. They're generally remote and hard to find. And, if you come upon one, you have to slog across rills with knee-deep water and through muck that can take your shoes off and keep them. They're not that much fun to hike through, in other words. Casual visitors rarely intrude.

It turns out that someone thought the Bog Brook Unique Area was an ideal location for a marijuana farm. The cops found it though and yesterday they moved in and took the plants -- some of which were eight to ten feet tall -- away. (Read about it here.)

Two decades ago, Bog Brook had at least 30 bog turtles, which are a threatened species federally and endangered at the state level. At the time the state bought it, in the early 1980s, it was the only preserve the state had ever bought specifically to protect an endangered species. Not long ago I asked the herpetologist who had been monitoring the population how they were faring. Badly, he said. Mainly because of mismanagement, the population of bog turtles at Bog Brook had dwindled to only three. The weed did well though.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

New York State Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council

New York State has a new commission trying to figure out how to keep the Atlantic, Long Island Sound, the Great Lakes, etcetera, from becoming worse than they are.

The New York State Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council met yesterday in Albany, which is sort of far from the ocean and the Great Lakes. I have four quick observations:

1. I hope the work the council does is more substantive than the shallow summary given here.

2. George Stafford is overseeing it, which is good news because for decades he's been a serious steward of the state's coastal zone.

3. I hope the responsibilities of overseeing the council do not detract from his oversight of the state's Coastal Zone Program, for a number of reasons but most importantly now because the fate of the Broadwater LNG proposal probably rests in the Coastal Zone Program's hands.

4. Shouldn't a new state council have an informative website? I looked here and here but could find virtually nothing. (Friday 12:50 p.m.: They do! It's here. Thanks, Emmett.)

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Looking For Bugs in the Saugatuck

Ecologists say that one way to assess the health of an ecosystem is to find out what plants and animals live in that ecosystem. A forested area with Canada warblers nesting in the mountain laurel, marbled salamanders in the vernal pools and river otters searching for fish in the rivers and ponds is in better shape ecologically than one dominated by blue jays and snapping turtles, because the former species can't live in habitats that have been damaged and fragmented, while the latter can.

The people overseeing the Nature Conservancy's Saugatuck River Watershed Partnership in western Connecticut are taking the same approach. Instead of looking for pollutants in the Saugatuck and its tributaries, they want to see what lives there. The Advocate wrote about it a few days ago, here, but here's what Sally Harold, the project director, sent around yesterday:

Please join The Nature Conservancy's Saugatuck River Watershed Partnership as we revisit sites in the watershed to sample macroinvertebrates. On September 29th from 9:00 - 1:00 we will conduct our fourth annual macroinvertebrate identification training workshop with Michael Beauchene of CT DEP at the Weston Grange. Volunteers are divided up into teams and each team is assigned one site to survey. Our indoor training lasts about an hour and a half and teams conduct their site visits immediately following. We are usually finished up by 12:30 or 1:00. Pack your lunch and come enjoy a day in the beautiful Saugatuck River Watershed. Get your feet wet!

To register or to learn more about the program please contact Dave Dembosky, Conservation Manager at (203) 226-4991 x204 or by e-mail at

If the weather's good there are worse ways to spend a Saturday morning.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yachts in Norwalk, Houses in Bridgeport

Big expensive boats are starting to arrive in Norwalk for the 32nd annual Norwalk International In-Water Boat Show. Meanwhile in Bridgeport, officials announced a deal to develop 50 vacant acres on the city's Long Island Sound waterfront. There's no real connection between the two, but reading about them in this morning's papers highlighted for me again the tremendous economic disparity in our region. It also made me wonder not for the first time about the morality of tremendous wealth and the consumerism it allows.

What am I talking about? For one thing, the waste of resources inherent in luxury motor yachts. This Stamford Advocate story cites a marketing guy thus:

Walsh said his Tiara 5800 Sovran with a 650-gallon tank gets about 55 gallons per hour at 30 knots.

Let me do some math here: 30 knots is 34.5 miles per hour. So when this Tiara 5800 Sovran travels for one hour at 34.5 miles per hour, it uses 55 gallons of gas. That's 55 gallons of gas to travel 34.5 miles.

Compare that to a car that gets 20 miles to the gallon. If it travels for one hour at 34.5 miles per hour, it uses about one and a half gallons of gas.

When the extremely wealthy use resources at outrageous rates, or when they build and heat and illuminate a 12,000-square-foot house, do they even think about issues like global warming? Or do they simply think: I worked hard, I have a lot of money, I'm not going to deny myself anything now, I deserve this? More likely, they don't think about it at all.

Here's another item from the boat show story:

Run by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the show is not a trade show but a consumer event designed to sell boats, Pritko said. Prices range from a few hundred dollars up to several million dollars. The grandest, dubbed Queen of the Show, is the 70-foot Azimut 68, priced at $2.6 million.

"It's nicer than most people's houses," Pritko said about the yacht scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

The $2.6 million yacht is nicer than most people's houses. In Bridgeport, meanwhile, the city wants a developer to include 3,000 housing units (apartments, presumably) in its big Steel Pier redevelopment, which is terrific. But (according to the Connecticut Post) here's what they'll be fighting about in Bridgeport: houses for families making $60,000 a year:

The agreement would also require Bridgeport Landing to construct 300 units of affordable housing — 250 units of which would be constructed off-site from the Steel Point project itself.

This was not good news to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, which had been pressuring the city for 30 percent of the Steel Point housing units be set aside for low-income tenants.

ACORN spokesman Nicholas Graber-Grace said Monday that the low-income housing needs of the city are not being met by the Steel Point agreement.

"There would not even be affordable for people who have a decent salary — if you're making $40,000 or $50,000 per year, you couldn't afford them. They would only affordable for people making over $65,000," he said. "This is the biggest development in the city's history — huge tracts of land given over to the developer. How could it benefit the people of Bridgeport, when he only wants to build luxury units? The city does have the leverage — this is prime real estate, on the Sound."

I'm not here to turn into an advocate for the poor and the downtrodden. And lord knows I live in a nice house in a nice town. But the contrast is too stark to ignore: in one city, there's a display of consumerism that borders on the grotesque, while a few miles up I-95 they'll be fighting over whether a new development has enough room for families making $60,000 a year.

One more thing.
The Tiara 5800 Sovran with a 650-gallon tank that gets about 55 gallons per hour at 30 knots?

"We've already sold 16 of these."

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Norwalk's Smart Sponges

Soundkeeper Terry Backer, recently back from a fact-finding mission to Moscow, checked in with some thoughts on Norwalk's experience with the Smart Sponge and my questions about costs and effectiveness. His comments are at the end of this post.


Will Connecticut Finally Decide This Week What to Do About the Clean Water Fund?

Connecticut's General Assembly reconvenes on Thursday to vote on a bond package, which will include funding for a lot of things, including the Clean Water Fund that they and Governor Rell have been all-but-ignoring for two years. (If you're interested in the political back-and-forth, read this.)

Rell wants $70 million a year. Here's what she said in a September 4 letter to the legislators:

Currently, we have indicated that our general obligation bonding will not exceed $1.25 billion this year. While this seems like a high number, you must remember that this number includes $715 million for school construction, $115 million for UCONN 2000, $75 million for the Connecticut State University system, $50 million for the Community Technical College system, $70 million for Clean Water and Sewage projects, $20 million for the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP), $10 million for the state’s open space program, and $30 million for the Local Capital Improvement Program (LOCIP).

The legislators apparently want more than $70 million -- perhaps as much as $140 million to make up for the lost years.


It Might Possibly Be Worth Going to City Island for Soft-Shell Crabs

City Island lost its charm for me on my second or third visit, back in 1988 probably, when I realized that the lobstermen I was waiting around to interview were psychotic racists. That plus the fact that every time I went there, City Island seemed less like the "quaint New England fishing village" of my stereotype-loving editors' description than the kind of neighborhood I left Staten Island to avoid, only closer to the water. City Island readers, don't take this personally. I'm sure there are some nice people there and I'm sure it can occasionally be a pleasant place to live. But it's not my kind of place.

That said, my Google alert sent me a link to this post, in a blog called "At the Sign of the Pink Pig," about Johnny's Famous Reef Restaurant, on City Island. I like the description, although as is my wont I found a couple of things wrong with it -- the first being the assertion that the waters around City Island are too polluted for fishing (they're not), and the second being the opinion that, "It still looks like a little fishing village." (It doesn't. It looks like the Bronx waterfront.)

But here's what really caught my attention:

... the highlight for me is the soft-shells; even if they aren't straight out of the water, they come out of Johny's deep fry impeccably crisp, well-seasoned, and cooked just through. There a few things I dislike more than a deep-fried soft-shell with a cold, liquid center. At $11, usually six to the order.

Can it be true? A half-dozen delicious soft-shell crabs for $11? Soft-shell crabs are still available at my local market, for $5 a pop, and you have to cook them yourself. Given my prejudices, I'm not likely to head down to City Island any time soon. But if by chance I'm ever there at lunchtime, I know what I'll be ordering.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

No Jellyfish, No Ctenophores

There are no real answers to the question of why jellies and ctenophores are absent from Long Island Sound this summer, but there is an agreement that observation is accurate.

The New London Day found several people on the eastern end of the Sound who saw what Sally Harold saw in Westport and Katie O'Brien-Clayton saw from the deck of a DEP research boat -- no jellyfish. Here's The Day:

Greg Ryley, a waterfront supervisor with the town of Waterford, said the months of July and August — when jellyfish usually swarm the shores — came and went without the usual stinging blobs.

“I didn't see a single one, which is odd because the water is so warm,” said Ryley, who has worked at Waterford Beach for 10 years. “I've never seen a year without jellyfish.”

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eating and Reading -- and Turn Out the Lights and Switch the Air Conditioning Off!

I was reading The New Yorker this morning – the “Food Issue,” from a couple of weeks ago, one of those special-topic issues that span two weeks and seem to be published around Christmas or in summer mainly to give everyone at The New Yorker a week off – and I came upon a reference, in a Calvin Trillin piece about food in Singapore, to fish ball noodles.

It reminded me of the time I was interviewing Bob Gabrielson, a Hudson River fishermen, at his home in Nyack. I had read in Bob Boyle’s Hudson River book that, in Boyle’s opinion, the gonads were the best-tasting part of the shad. So, near the end of an amiable interview, I asked Gabrielson:

“You ever eat shad gonads?”

I think Gabrielson liked me in part because he was, as he said, a Squarehead from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and my family tree included a number of Squareheads who had lived in Bay Ridge. So when I asked him if he had ever eaten shad gonads, I could see his eyes twinkle and he smiled a little.

“I didn’t know they had ‘em,” he said.

Which is what occurred to me this morning when I head about fish ball noodles.

Fish ball noodles?

I didn’t know they had ‘em.

The “Food Issue” was terrific, by the way, although I’m weary of Trillin’s I'm-a-clever-and-lovable-oddball food-writing voice (I preferred it when he was doing straight reporting). The issue included an interesting Jane Kramer piece about Claudia Roden, a British cookbook author who specializes in recipes from the Middle East (in fact from Cairo and Alleppo, Syria, which were the settings of a good deal of “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit,” which I read on vacation). John McPhee wrote an amusing piece about strange foods he’s eaten while on assignment, although it felt a bit like a quickie knock-off, as if an editor called and said can your write 5,000 words about weird food you've eaten. And a reporter I’d never heard of, Patrick Radden Keefe, wrote a good account of the famous old wines that were sold 20 years ago under the assumption that they once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. That's the only piece that has a link, though, and it's here.

Food isn't an obsession with us, but it's a topic of some concern, especially when we're traveling, because the quality of the food you get in restaurants in America is, to put it politely, really bad and, to make it worse, frequently pretentious. Block Island isn't a restaurant-food wasteland but it's not good either. What's amazing is how few restaurants there make use of fresh fish and shellfish. Block Island has no fishing boats of its own, but on the ferry from Point Judith, you can see the stacks of cardboard boxes labeled "fresh seafood," which presumably are coming over from the fish distributors at Point Judith. But what happens to the fish when it gets to Block Island? Maybe it all goes to Finn's, which is a fish market and restaurant. We don't eat there, though, eExcept for lobster, which is good there, because on our first visit the fish we hadn't wasn't very well-cooked -- broiled to over-doneness. Of course that was in 1987, so maybe my criticism is a bit unfair.

We also don't eat at the places with obvious pretensions -- Manisses, 1661 House, Spring House, the Atlantic Inn. They are outrageously-priced and if I'm going to eat at a restaurant with a wife whose palate is extremely discerning and critical, and two kids who you never know how much of what they're served they're actually going to consume, I'd prefer that the stakes not be so high. And don't underestimate the pretension. Gina went to look at the menu at Spring House, for instance, and reported that they're selling a roasted "Bell & Evans" chicken for almost $30. I used quotation marks around Bell & Evans because the menu did. Now I don't mean to be a snob, but we ate Bell & Evans chickens in our household for years. They're better than Perdue chickens, but not that much better. The thought of paying $30 for one is mind-boggling. And the thought that a chef would promote it by mentioning on the menu is laughable.

But I digress. Back to The New Yorker. I was surprised to see on its website that this piece, about light pollution, was the most-emailed. I read it on BI during one cloudy spell when we were waiting for the skies to clear so we could see the incredible array of stars, and it turned out to be one of the more interesting pieces I've read in the NYer is a while. Here's an excerpt:

Much so-called security lighting is designed with little thought for how eyes—or criminals—operate. Marcus Felson, a professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, has concluded that lighting is effective in preventing crime mainly if it enables people to notice criminal activity as it’s taking place, and if it doesn’t help criminals to see what they’re doing. Bright, unshielded floodlights—one of the most common types of outdoor security lighting in the country—often fail on both counts, as do all-night lights installed on isolated structures or on parts of buildings that can’t be observed by passersby (such as back doors). A burglar who is forced to use a flashlight, or whose movement triggers a security light controlled by an infrared motion sensor, is much more likely to be spotted than one whose presence is masked by the blinding glare of a poorly placed metal halide “wall pack.” In the early seventies, the public-school system in San Antonio, Texas, began leaving many of its school buildings, parking lots, and other property dark at night and found that the no-lights policy not only reduced energy costs but also dramatically cut vandalism.

The obvious thing occurred to me: how much energy could we save, how much climate-changing carbon would we keep out of the atmosphere, if we started turning out the lights!

And that brought me to air conditioning. My observations lead me to conclude that we as a society don’t like summer any longer. I use my car air conditioner on days that I consider unbearably muggy, and when I’m on the highway. But on beautiful hot summer days, while I'm driving with the windows open, I see car after car in my town and in neighboring towns with the windows up and (presumably) the air conditioning on. On Labor Day weekend – a beautiful, hot but not unpleasantly-hot weekend – I visited two friends’ houses and was amazed to see all the windows and doors closed.

Open the doors! Open the windows! Turn off the car air conditioners! You’ll save energy and save money, and you’ll probably remember that you actually like the summertime. You can even eat outside. Although if you're having shad gonads, or fish ball noodles, I'll understand if you don't invite me.

Smart Sponge Company Declares Victory in Norwalk But Leaves a Lot of Questions Unanswered (For Now, At Least)

The company that put 275 so-called Smart Sponge filters in catch basins in Norwalk almost two years ago says that the devices essentially prevented 1,200 gallons of oil from spilling into Long Island Sound and its tributaries. The company is called AbTech, and it used government funding (400 grand) and the endorsement of the Long Island Soundkeeper to see if its product could keep contaminated stormwater and pollutants out of the Sound. Here's what its press release says:

The Filter Project began as a natural outgrowth of the Soundkeeper's mission to protect the Sound's ecosystem coupled with Connecticut's commitment to clean up local waterways. The central component of the strategy involved fitting 275 catch basins in South Norwalk with AbTech Industries' Smart Sponge® Plus filtration system to catch trash, debris, animal waste, hydrocarbons, oil, grease and bacteria before they enter The Sound. The Smart Sponge technology is chemically selective to hydrocarbons, and permanently bonds them within the structure to prevent leaching or leaking of contaminants back into the environment. Once the hydrocarbons are absorbed, the Smart Sponge transforms the pollutants into easily removable solid waste. The system passes the EPA's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP).

In addition, the Smart Sponge Plus material used in the stormwater catch basins contained an antimicrobial agent that has proven to be effective against a wide variety of microorganisms. It also acts as a fungi, static, odor, and mildew control.

You can find what I've written about the project here. I of course have no way of knowing independently whether the Smart Sponge is worthwhile. Is preventing 1,200 gallons of oil from reaching the local waterways a good thing? Obviously. Spread over the two-year life of the project, that amounts to 1.6 gallons of oil a day. Since Norwalk is a fairly typical old urban area, that presumably means that an equivalent amount is spilling into waterways from similar urban areas. But it's also a large area physically and when you spread out 1.6 gallons, it's not a large amount.

My question is how do you judge how much better the environmental conditions are in an area where 1,200 gallons of oil has been prevented from reaching local waterways? What other benefits were there? Any evidence that beaches were open more often, or Norwalk's shellfish beds?

So what happens now? Should Norwalk continue the project? Should it expand it and should other communities use the Smart Sponge?

I'm not sure how you can figure out if the SmartSponge is worth the cost. At $400,000 over two years, that's about $1,100 a day. But while results are being announced today, the project might not be over and the filters might still have some life in them, so $1,100 a day is a mximum -- it might be less if they continue to be used.

Unfortunately the AbTech press release, here, doesn't answer the questions. Supposedly there's a press conference today, so maybe some reporters will ask. Senator Joe Libermann is a big supporter. Maybe he knows the answers.

Wednesday update: Judging from the information on my stat counter, I'm fairly sure the Anonymous comment below was left by someone at AbTech, the company that makes the Smart Sponge. A non-anonymous comment from the company would have carried a lot more weight. But let me address it anyway.

My question is not ridiculous at all.

I don't know how much damage is caused by 1,200 gallons of oil spread out over two years in an area as big as a section of the Norwalk Harbor drainage basin. Oil spills in summer are far more harmful that oil spills in winter, for example, so if a fair portion of the 1,200 gallons were to reach the waterways in winter, the damage might not be that great.

Also, Anonymous, you ask: 'If the city rolled out a complete project with the filters can you imagine how much oil it would keep from entering the waterways.'

Actually, no -- I can't imagine. That's what I'm asking! But if I were a Norwalk taxpayer (which I'm not) I'd hope to be given a better idea before I was asked to pay a lot of money for the Smart Sponge.

I'm not saying Smart Sponge is a bad idea. All I'm saying is that it's not completely clear from the press release that the environmental benefit is in any way commensurate with the monetary cost. We know that AbTech says 1,200 gallons of oil were kept from reaching the local waterways over a two-year period. What we don't know is whether there is a meaningful benefit associated with that.

Maybe there is. Or probably there is. But I don't know and AbTech didn't demonstrate it. And to me, it's better to know the answer.

Tuesday, 9/18. So maybe I was wrong in guessing that the anonymous commenter, below, worked for AbTech. Take a look at comment 4. That doesn't change my questions though.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Still Trying to Figure Out How to Kill Fewer Fish at the Millstone Nuke Plant

The Connecticut DEP is still trying to figure out what to do about the water that the Millstone nuke plant, in Waterford, draws in from Long Island Sound for cooling. In January, a federal court ruled that power plants had to figure out a better system, because too many fish were being killed (background info here). Here's what the New London Day reports today:

The step, depending on how it is implemented, could require an expensive technological overhaul at many plants, including Millstone. It could include reducing the flow of water used from Long Island Sound or deploying costly, large cooling towers that use significantly less water by recycling what they do use, thereby putting much less strain on the aquatic environment.

The story also includes these two paragraphs, which seem to contradict each other:

According to the DEP, 30 years of ecological monitoring by Northeast Utilities, the previous owner of Millstone, and Dominion show that the discharge of water from Millstone has not adversely affected the Sound.

When Millstone takes in water from the Sound, that water flows into the plant through a large grate, which traps fish and other sea life and returns it to the Sound by way of a vertical conveyor belt. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission study has found that winter flounder larvae were too small to be trapped by the system and died from heat inside the plant.

The nuke plants have not adversely affected the Sound but they're killing winter flounder. Dead winter flounder seems like an adverse affect, but maybe that's just my interpretation.

The cooling water, by the way, flows through the part of the plant that is not radioactive.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Connecticut's Clean Water Fund

I'm told that the Connecticut General Assembly is likely to go into special session on Friday, September 14,* and will take up the Clean Water Fund then. Of course I've heard similar things a lot in the past, so we'll see.

*Tuesday update: Now I'm hearing September 19.


What's that Big Dredging Ship Been Doing Off Sherwood Island?

Yet another question I can't answer, this one from Frank Mantlik, who has been watching the birds of Connecticut for decades:

As an avid shoreline birdwatche
r/naturalist, I have been wondering what that big ship is doing anchored out in LI Sound off of Fairfield, CT., where it has been for months. Just today I was able to see with my scope from Sherwood Island that it was a huge 5-crane dredging ship named "Johanna Offendorf" (I think). What can you tell me about this ship and its operation out there? What's going on?

I don't have a clue. Anyone else?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Water Quality in Long Island Sound is Better than Average this Summer

The low-oxygen conditions that hit the western half of Long Island Sound every summer are not as bad in 2007 as they have been in recent years. The Connecticut DEP’s water quality survey results came out yesterday and the area with dissolved oxygen concentrations below 3.5 milligrams per liter (that is, the point at which things start getting bad) is relatively small – just 67.9 square kilometers (26.2 square miles):

The areal extent is well below the long term average and the lowest since 2002.

Most of the DEP’s 2007 hypoxia maps are now online, here.

Coincidentally, I
wrote yesterday about a question from Sally Harold of The Nature Conservancy, who asked me what I knew about an apparent paucity of jellyfish in the Sound this summer. I had no clue, but the Connecticut DEP noticed the same thing that Sally did. In her water quality report, Katie O’Brien-Clayton wrote:

We have also not encountered many ctenophores in the plankton tows this summer.

Ctenophores are comb jellies.

So I guess it's true. For whatever reason, there are fewer ctenophores around this summer. I'd still like to hear some ideas about why that is so.


Oysters (and Bad Oldies Bands) Both Still Alive in Norwalk

Oysters seem to be rebounding nicely in Long Island Sound from two diseases, dermo and MSX (Multinucleated Sphere X – that’s an oyster disease, not a relative of Malcolm X): "

About two years ago they started coming back," she said. "We're on an upswing; we have a good supply of oysters again."

About 90 percent of the oyster population died off after Dermo and MSX wiped them out in 2000, according to state figures.
David Carey, director of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Aquaculture, confirmed the oyster supply in the state's waters is increasing.

"This industry is rebounding," he said. "Last year, the harvest numbers went from about 25,000 bushels to about 53,000 bushels."

This information, which is clearly good news, comes as the Norwalk Oyster Festival is about to open, here. The oyster festival features, among other things, live music by has-been bands. It also raises an interesting question: is it more amazing that the oysters are rebounding from two pernicious diseases or that Jay and the Americans apparently have been exhumed and are still singing?

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Looking for $18 Million in North Hempstead

North Hempstead decided that it didn’t like a plan to divert its sewage away from Long Island Sound and to treatment plants on the south shore of the island, and so it let a state deadline to get $18 million for the project pass. The diversion would have amounted to a nitrogen removal project, to meet the Sound cleanup’s 58.5 percent goal.

Now the town wants to use the $18 million to do actual nitrogen removal at its treatment plants and the state is saying sorry, you’re too late.

In Connecticut, Norwich is paying a lot more for its sewage treatment upgrades (
here). Norwich is one of a handful of Connecticut cities that still have combined sewers – that is sewers designed to carry sewage and rainwater, and to bypass treatment plants in wet weather – but it has separated 27 of its 42 sections of combined sewers (in other words, there are only – still? – 15 places where raw sewage pours into local rivers when it rains).

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Connecticut is a Dry State

I haven’t heard the word “drought’ used much yet this summer although maybe it’s because I wasn’t paying attention to the news while I was away. In my neighborhood the weeds are wilting and the reservoirs are low enough to show about 30 feet of dirt on the sides. But they’re saying "drought" in northern and eastern Connecticut. Here's what the Courant reports:

"We actually had only 53/100ths of an inch of rain for the whole month of August," Young said. "We are very, very concerned." …

Across northern Connecticut, particularly in the east, a dry spell that set in around Aug. 11 has threatened crops and prompted water conservation measures in some towns and at the University of Connecticut.

The northeast part of the state has been particularly hard hit with low stream flow conditions that have left groundwater levels below normal, said Jon Morrison, hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Stream flows began to decline in the middle of August. The region got only a little more than an inch of rain overall, almost 3 inches below normal though not record setting, he said.

At UConn, they’ve switched to paper plates. The daily water savings because of that change? Sixty thousand gallons. (It would be interesting to see what a complete environmental audit would show about paper plates versus plates that were washed and re-used: The cost of producing paper products and transporting them and disposing of then versus the costs of creating durable plates and transporting them and washing them (including heating the water to wash them.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Where are the Jellyfish and the Barnacles?

When we went to Hammonnasset a month ago we remarked on the lack of jellyfish (lion's manes?) in the water. They can be a major pain, there and elsewhere in the Sound, but we swam for the afternoon and didn't see any.

This morning Sally Harold, who heads the Nature Conservancy's Saugatuck River watershed project, asked me this:

I'm wondering if you have learned anything about what happened to the red jellyfish this summer (they were absent) and why the barnacle population seems so weak. I'm a sailor and we used to have to scrape barnacles off the boat bottom every week, now a light scrub with a sponge to get the slime off suffices. I heard from someone in Westport that gasoline sales at their marina were less than half what they were last summer. I'm wondering if there's a link between improved water clarity and reduced motorboat use...but I haven't seen any sampling data or read any reports. Have you?

I haven't. Has anyone else?

Friday morning update: The answer is yes, the Connecticut DEP has noticed. Katie O'Brien-Clayton's water quality report, which she sent out yesterday afternoon, ended with this: "We have also not encountered many ctenophores in the plankton tows this summer." Ctenophores are comb jellies, which means my speculation above about Lion's mane jellyfish was probably wrong.

Broadwater Debate on Long Island

Citizen's Campaign's Adrienne Esposito is going to go to the mat, so to speak, with someone representing Broadwater next week:

A public debate moderated by News 12 Long Island’s Danielle Campbell on the proposed Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) barge to be permanently moored in the middle of the open waters of Long Island Sound, a federally designated Estuary of National Significance. CCE Executive Director, Adrienne Esposito, and spokesperson Froydis Cameron of Broadwater Energy, a joint venture of TransCanada and Shell Oil, will discuss the ramifications of the Broadwater LNG barge. The debate will address the environmental, economic, safety and security, and policy risks surrounding the LNG proposal. The Huntington Chamber and its Government Relations Committee is hosting the debate.

Monday, September, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Huntington Yacht Club,
95 East Shore Road, Huntington. Check it out if you're on Long Island.

I'll miss it because I'll be helping to lead
this meeting instead.


Hard Times for Commercial Fishermen

The assertions in this story, out of Rhode Island, about how hard it is to make a living as a small-scale commercial fishermen are amazing:

During the last six months, Harvey's 95- foot boat, the Ing Toffer II, consumed $130,000 in fuel, and $40,000 worth of ice. Five years ago, Harvey claims that fuel costs for the entire year were around $100,000. And ice cost half of what it costs now. "In five years, the cost of doing business has doubled," Harvey said. ...

Livernois put his boat up for sale last week. When he listed his boat with a broker in Point Judith, four other fishing vessels from the same marina had been listed for sale during the same week.

point judith draggers

Harvey and Livernois both claim that the terrorist attack in New York on 9/11 started the decimation of the New England fishing industry. Livernois said his insurance went from $28,000 a year to $50,000 almost overnight.

Harvey said he was recently paid $3,500 for a 20,000- pound catch of whiting- barely 17-cents a pound. The cost of fuel for the trip was more than $3,000, and the ice was $1,600. "I lost money. The crew didn't get paid," Harvey said. ...

He cited a sticker that he must have on his boat that says, "I am a fishing vessel," as an example of one of the "ridiculous" charges imposed on fishermen. "I have a 95- foot boat with a huge net rolled up on the stern, and a crew working on the decks, and they make me pay $35 for a decal to identify me as a fishing vessel....

Harvey also said that National Marine Fishery regulations have cut back the number of days a year he can fish. Five years ago, he could go out for 88 days. Now, he is only allowed 48 days. "Next year they'll cut us back another 20 percent," Harvey said. ...

According to government regulations, he is allowed to catch 10,000 pounds of fish in ten days. However, he must stay out for ten days before he can bring the catch in to market. If he catches the limit in two days, he is not permitted to come home to sell it and save on expenses.

I would be more confident in the veracity of the assertions if the reporter had talked to someone from the National Marine Fisheries Service, for example (and not referred to it as "National Marine Fishery"); and I would be more confident if the reporter hadn't also asserted in a subsequent paragraph that:

... Harvey said environmental organizations are constantly lobbying for more regulations to restrict fishing. He went on to say that organizations like the Conservation Law Foundation and Audubon Society regularly sue the National Marine Fisheries for allegedly not protecting our natural resources...

without trying to determine if it's true.

Nevertheless it's sobering.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

No Clean Water Fund, Broadwater Decision Delayed, New Beaches Open and Not

Is it possible that the state of Connecticut still hasn't put money into the Clean Water Fund -- in other words, still hasn't decided to meet its responsibility to help clean up Long Island Sound (among other things)? Hard to believe but apparently true: when I got back from two weeks away there were 52 e-mails in my inbox with "Long Island Sound" in the subject line, and none of them were about the Clean Water Fund.

New York's Department of State will wait until December before deciding whether Broadwater's proposal for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound is consistent with state policies for use of the coastal zone. This is old news -- it broke while I was away -- but it's worth noting nonetheless. Here's the only report about it that I saw.

The state has been buying a lot of terrific parkland on Long Island but it doesn't have the money to open them to the public. The new park on the Sound in Jamesport is among them. In Milford, meanwhile, the city is creating a small new beach out of an area that's been a mess for a while:

When the city acquired the site several years ago, it was covered with large boulders, wood scraps and other debris that officials believed were the remnants of houses destroyed in the 1938 hurricane.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Exquisite Torture

I was riding my bike through Old Harbor one morning last week when I heard someone call out, "Hi, Tom." I stopped, looked around and saw a friend from home sitting on the porch of one of the cafes, eating a muffin.

He was on Block Island for only a few hours, to pick up his daughter, who had spent the summer there working.
I told him we were there for two weeks and he said that for him, he's always ready to go home after one week in a beautiful place. After two weeks, he's ready to stay forever. I called it an exquisite torture -- the knowledge that the idyll has to end, and that work and school will be there to greet you when you get home (and this year, school -- in the form of the bus to high school -- will be greeting us at 6:20 a.m.)

old harbor

I'd consider two jobs, if anyone came calling -- editor of the Block Island Times and head of the Block Island Land Conservancy -- although having lived in a tourist destination (Lake Placid 27 years ago) I know it's different when you live there (it can be better). Of course Block Island's off-season is longer and mofe devoid of humans than Lake Placid's, and my kids would have to agree to go to a school in which the graduating class routinely does not have enough kids for a co-ed basketball team. I doubt they're ready to become isolatoes.

Ferry flag

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Andy's Way

Andy's Way is a little sandy road that leads to the northern section of the Great Salt Pond, one of two places that I consider to be the most benign on earth. Sam Wells says Andy's Way is good for a man's soul. Here's one view of it:

Andy's Way

One of the reasons it's good for a man's soul is that you can get clams there. Here are three dozen (with a couple of cucumbers, for color):

Cucumbers and clams
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