Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bridgeport and Stratford Should Sell Their Beach to the Fish and Wildlife Service

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch spoke briefly at Saturday’s Long Island Sound Citizens Summit and asked the 150 or so people for their support in his effort to have Bridgeport (and Stratford) sell their barrier beach to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (it's called Long Beach in Stratford and Pleasure Beach in Bridgeport; there’s info from the Connecticut Coastal Access Guide, here).

Finch’s reason was simple and compelling: Bridgeport, always in trouble financially, needs the $10 million it would get from the feds, and if it doesn’t sell the beach, the beach will never be open to the public because Bridgeport can’t afford to open it and maintain it.

Support for the sale is by no means unanimous in either Bridgeport or Stratford. Each mayor wants it, environmentalists and conservationists want it but plenty of people don’t want to sell an asset to the federal government, for fear of losing control and access, which is extremely difficult now in any case. (The Town of Stratford has a poll on its website about the issue. As of this morning 702 of 854 people clicked “yes,” in favor of the sale. Of course when you open the webpage, “yes” is filled in for you, so if you happen to click “submit” by mistake, you vote yes automatically. In any case, a self-selected poll like that one has little validity.)

One of the reasons the Fish and Wildlife Service is interested is that the beach has been abandoned for so long, it has become wild again, and piping plovers, a threatened species, are nesting there. Piping plovers nest across the mouth of the Housatonic, on Milford Point, which the Fish and Wildlife service also owns, and parts of that beach are closed and fenced off from April through late summer to give the birds a chance to raise their young.

Some Stratford and Bridgeport residents are arguing that if the sale goes through, the feds will protect the birds to the detriment of local residents. There’s an interesting letter here laying out the argument against selling – namely, that Bridgeport needs a beach that is more of a park than a wildlife sanctuary (the first letter, hinting that the fire last week on Stratford’s part of the beach was somehow related to the town’s wish to sell, is conspiratorial to an idiotic degree).

But protecting the piping plovers would be the responsibility of whoever owned the beach. On Sandy Point, in West Haven, where piping plovers nest too, the town keeps the beach open but posts signs warning visitors not to interfere with the birds.

Milan Bull, the head of the Connecticut Audubon Society (not to be confused with Audubon Connecticut), had a piece in the Connecticut Post the other day in which he made the point about the landowner’s responsibility…

…it is the landowners themselves, private or municipal, who are liable for the protection of threatened or endangered species on their properties. So no matter who holds title to Pleasure Beach/Long Beach West, nesting piping plovers and other threatened bird species will require protection. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can guarantee public access, maintenance and a range of meaningful public uses, then they may be the best long-term custodians of this coastal jewel.

I'm with Finch and the environmentalists, not surprisingly: sell the beach, protect the birds, and then work with the feds to increase public access and give people in Bridgeport and Stratford a place to swim and enjoy the Sound.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

total agreement here.

1:14 PM  

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