Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Nissequogue, Millstone, and a Saugatuck Oysterman

There's a plan afoot to protect the Nissequogue River on Long Island, which Newsday says ...

... runs through one of the largest coastal wetlands on the North Shore and is the only major tidal river draining into Long Island Sound whose coastal portion remains relatively undisturbed.

An activist in eastern Connecticut is suing to have the state removed from overseeing the work at the Millstone nuclear power plant that is designed to reduce the number of fish killed by the plant's cooling system. But leading environmentalists think that if the state keeps working on it, the solution will come sooner. From the Hartford Courant:

Every day, the Waterford plant draws 2 billion gallons of water from Niantic Bay to cool its two nuclear reactors, then dumps the heated water back into Long Island Sound. The recycling system would cut the amount of water the plant needs — and lower the fish kill by 90 percent.

If it can't install such a system, Dominion would have to come up with an equivalent plan. In the meantime, the company has agreed to take immediate measures to cut its water usage.Two environmental groups who helped negotiate the terms of the new permit say it finally will put Millstone on the right track. Terry Backer, head of one of those groups, Soundkeeper, said that the permit will accomplish in three years what could have taken a decade through the courts.

"I'm not sure getting into court will in any way expedite getting rid of the giant fish-killing machine," he said.

Environmentalists still fault the DEP for failing to press Millstone harder through the years. But Roger Reynolds, an attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said that the DEP has made progress since Gina McCarthy took over as commissioner.

But in her lawsuit now before the Supreme Court, Burton is asking the court to take over the process. She contends that the DEP has illegally allowed Millstone to operate with an expired permit. The plant's water discharge permit, required under the federal Clean Water Act, expired in 1997.Burton charges that "collusion and corruption characterize the relationship between DEP and Dominion." She said in the lawsuit that former DEP Commissioner Arthur Rocque signed off on emergency authorizations to extend Millstone's permit, even though he suspected that they might violate the law.

Burton also charged that the DEP hearing officer overseeing the permit has a conflict of interest because she once ran an agency that oversees transport of Millstone's radioactive waste to a South Carolina dump.

The state dismisses her accusations as baseless. The DEP has blamed the long permit delay on changing federal policies and court battles.

And here's a good profile of one independent oysterman in Westport -- a bit melodramatic at times but worth a read.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Some Sound News

Some people who have boats in Greenwich don't like ospreys nesting near them. I would have liked this story better if it had included some reaction from Audubon Greenwich or Audubon Connecticut.

Fresh from the winning referendum on whether Stratford should sell Long Beach West to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the city (or is it a town?) signed a deal with the Trust for Public Land to serve as intermediary. This story doesn't say how much TPL will make on the deal though.

And some people in Connecticut want to keep the lobster v-notch program going, here and here.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ever Seen a Mountain Lion? These People Think They Have

One story that never goes away, for people interested in wildlife, is whether there are mountain lions in the northeast. The official answer is no. And yet there's been an intermittent but endless stream of articles about mountain lion sightings. The best of these is Edward Hoagland's great essay, "Hailing the Elusory Mountain Lion," but I remember reading a good piece in Audubon magazine about 25 years ago, too, and others since.

Yesterday my former colleague Mike Risinit had a good story in the Journal News. What jumped out at me was the number of people who said they had seen mountain lions in eastern Putnam and Dutchess counties, along Route 22, near the Connecticut border. Here are some excerpts from Mike's story and from the online comments about it:

... a Patterson family spotted a possible mountain lion in their Somerset Drive yard.

Nicole Rubin, the Patterson mother who said last month that she saw a mountain lion, said several neighbors reached out after seeing The Journal News article about her feline sighting and shared similar stories. John Prophet of Patterson, who lives a mile away from Rubin, said he saw a mountain lion - "big head, big body, long, long tail - in his yard about five years ago....

Christine Belcher, who lives in Dutchess County, said she was driving near her home last month and had to stop her Honda CR-V to let three mountain lions cross Dover Furnace Road.

"It was like a momma and a couple of smaller ones with a long tail, a flat face and big ears," she said, recalling the animals that were so close she could see their whiskers. "In my mind, I called it a mountain lion."

... I'm sure i saw a mountain lion a year and a half ago on rt.22 just north of wingdale. it was about 75 yards ahead of me running across 22. I distinctly remember that long thick tail and tight fur, it wasn't a dog and wasn't a bobcat....

... I previously posted that I saw a mountain lion this year in Dutchess CO. and after talking to family and neighbors, I have learned that there has been several sightings in the past. One sighting was a road kill. The same person who saw this had one run across Rt.22 in the same area several weeks later....

That area is not exactly wilderness but it is the heart of the 6,000-acre Great Swamp and it's close enough to the Taconic Ridge, the Berkshire Mountains and the Highlands so that I suppose it's not implausible that some mountain lions are holed up there, or at least pass through with some regularity.

Mike's story includes a photo that someone submitted purporting to be a mountain lion in Columbia County. I wish he had said when it was taken and by whom. (Thursday a.m.: Mike told me yesterday that the shot was taken by the brother of a colleague of his, using one of those cameras that are triggered when wildlife moves into its path.)


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Last Green Valley

I guess it depends on what you mean by "significant," but an organization called The Last Green Valley, based in Danielson, Connecticut, says the 1,085-square-mile watershed of the Quinebaug and Shetucket rivers (which flow into the Thames and then Long Island Sound) is "the only significant stretch of rural and forest land between Boston and Washington, D.C."

Actually it was Judy Benson of the New London Day who made that claim, in this story, but the information on the group's website, here, makes a pretty good case for it being true. They've got a terrific-sounding consciousness-raising program scheduled to start next spring:

”Source to Sea” will take place from April through June throughout the 35-town region and extend southward into the New London County towns that flank the Thames, which is formed by the convergence of the Quinebaug and Shetucket in Norwich and is one of the three major rivers that feeds Long Island Sound.

The Long Island Otters

We have three small rivers in our town that flow into Long Island Sound -- the Mianus, the Mill and the Rippowam (which joins the Mill somewhere in Stamford) -- and in all of them river otters are not uncommon. You have to be lucky to see one, but a lot of people are lucky and have reported sightings.

It turns out that on Long Island river otters are far less common -- in fact a researcher quoted in this story estimates that there might be only a dozen or so on the whole island. But they seem to be breeding near Oyster Bay, in Nassau County, which is amazing:

Michael J. Bottini, a wildlife biologist from Springs, said a survey of likely otter habitats he carried out across Long Island last winter found unmistakable signs of a female and several pups living in and around the 60-acre Shu Swamp nature preserve in the Village of Mill Neck in Oyster Bay.

The signs were the distinctive fish scale-riddled droppings otters leave in waterside latrines that signal one another of their comings and goings.

Mr. Bottini, who heads the Long Island River Otter Project, theorizes that small numbers of otters may be picking their way along water routes from relatively otter-rich Connecticut and Westchester across western Long Island Sound to Nassau’s North Shore, and fanning out from there....

Following the otters’ logical route eastward, Mr. Bottini found signs in a Nissequogue River lagoon in Sunken Meadow State Park; by a pond in Smithtown’s Blydenburgh Park; on a tributary of the Peconic River in Southampton; in the Nature Conservancy's Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island; and, following up a tip of a reported otter sighting, along the Forge River in Brookhaven.


A New Long Island Sound Blog

A fellow Matthew Houskeeper, who lives in Connecticut, has started a new blog about Long Island Sound and is making an effort to get out and visit places, and to write about them (in contrast to me: I make an effort to glance at my "Long Island Sound" Google alerts when they come in).

The blog is called Soundbounder, and if you click here you can read about his visit to Larchmont's Manor Park, a truly beautiful place.

From Australia: A Link Between Salps and Climate Change?

On Block Island last August, the beaches were rimmed with sparkling lines of translucent salps -- tiny planktonic vertebrates -- in numbers that few people there had ever seen before. Now there's speculation out of Australia that salps "could be part of the planet's mechanism for combating global warming."

The jellyfish-like animals are known as salps and their main food is phytoplankton (marine algae) which absorbs the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the top level of the ocean. This in turn comes from the atmosphere. ...

By eating the algae, the salps turn the algae and their carbon dioxide into faeces which drops to the ocean floor. They also take carbon to the floor with them when they die after a life cycle as short as only a couple of weeks.

This is thought to be a natural form of carbon sequestration similar to what scientists are trying to do with carbon capture from emission sources such as power stations.

This story also offers an explanation about why they can be so numerous:

"They are interesting because they are the fastest reproducing multi-celled animal on the planet and can double their numbers several times a day."


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not-So-Idle Thoughts About Westchester's New No-Idling Law

It will soon be illegal in Westchester County to let your car idle for more than three minutes. Local cops and county police will enforce the law, which carries a $250 fine.

How a cop will know whether your car has been idling for three minutes is a mystery.

A more important mystery, though, is: why three minutes? The Consumer Energy Center recommends that you turn off your ar if you're going to be idling for more than 10 seconds (or 30 seconds, depending on which sentence on this page you prefer). Here's the reasoning:

For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about one mile. Research indicates that the average person idles their car five to 10 minutes a day. People usually idle their cars more in the winter than in the summer. But even in winter, you don't need to let your car sit and idle for five minutes to "warm it up" when 30 seconds will do just fine.

But you're not going anywhere. Idling gets ZERO miles per gallon.

The recommendation is: If you are going to be parked for more than 30 seconds, turn off the engine. Ten seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it.

A columnist for Slate magazine agrees -- if you're going to be idling for more than 10 seconds, turn off your car.

I'm glad Westchester County is passing the new idling law. But it could have been a bit tougher, no?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Sewage Fix on the Hudson Gives Researchers Immediate Data

When a sewage treatment plant needs to be fixed, the operators can't just shut off the flow of sewage into the plant. They have to plan the repairs for a time of low-flow (very late at night or very early in the morning), disinfest the sewage as best they can, continue to release it partially-treated, and hope for the best.

When Westchester County announced recently that it had to do just that, three researchers took it as an opportunity to get real data. Here's what the Journal News reported (although oddly it doesn't say which treatment plant the repairs were made at; the count has three on the Hudson: in Yonkers, Ossining and Peekskill):

Just hours after the predawn release, the three testers found levels of the sewage-indicating enterococcus bacteria that were four times higher than usual.

The highest levels recorded exceeded recommended federal guidelines for primary exposure, such as swimming.

Though the scientists' overnight data showed bacterial spikes, the levels receded within 24 hours, as expected. ...

"There have been dramatic improvements in the water quality of the Hudson River since the (1972) Clean Water Act," said Juhl, a research scientist with Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades. "But the current data sets consist of averages. People don't go into the average water on an average day. They go in at specific locations at specific times."

Out of 27 spots that Juhl and the crew tested repeatedly in 2006 and 2007, 21 had at least one instance when enterococcus levels per 100 milliliters of liquid were higher than allowed by federal authorities for anyone with direct contact with the water, such as swimmers.

The bad news is that the repair crews didn't finish the work and will have to try again. The good news is that there aren't likely to be many swimmers in the water at this time of year.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Rich Are Different

What is it with rich people and their sense of entitlement? On eastern Long Island, a financier named Ronald Baron had a 100-foot-long, 30-foot-high sand dune excavated and removed from his property. His attorney called it a "pile fo dirt" but the town of East Hampton's director of natural resources begged to differ. The pile of dirt, according to Newsday

... was in fact a 3,000-year-old "fossil dune," which requires a natural resources special permit to be changed in any way.

"He can't touch that dune without a permit," Penny said Saturday, noting it is part of a 3.5-mile secondary dune that runs through oceanfront East Hampton. "It was one of the first dunes to form in the double dunes area when that [sand] material came on shore 3,000 years ago," he said.

And yesterday while sitting in a waiting rom, I saw a Wall Street Journal story about Dirk Ziff, an heir to the Ziff publishing fortune, whose employees thought it was OK to take trees and shrubs from nearby nature preserves to landscape their boss's property on Martha's Vineyard.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Snowy Owl at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk

I drove to Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk yesterday morning to see if I could find the snowy owl that had been there for four or five days. I had never seen a snowy owl and, in the days when I was more interested in birding than I am now, I used to imagine that finding one would be the culmination of a great effort, rising at dawn, a tramp along a cold beach and marsh, tedious minutes scrutinizing the horizon through my binoculars, and finally seeing the snowy owl, ghost-like, stopping only briefly after flying down from the tundra in search of food.

Yesterday I pulled into a parking space facing the water and a jetty and immediately saw something white, almost like a large white football, within easy view of the car. I couldn't believe it might be the owl. I reached into the back seat and got my binoculars. Even through the windshield it was like looking at a snowy owl in a field guide.

There were 10 or so people with scopes and binoculars further along a path that ran along the water (in the photo above, the owl is just to the left of and beyond the sign, which says "Keep Off Rocks"). I walked down and stood near a woman with a scope. The owl was maybe 30 yards away. I told her I had had no idea it would be so close, and she said neither did anybody else -- on previous days it had been farther away. She let me look through her scope. Arcs of dark feathers formed parabolas across its breast, and there was a crown of brown feathers along its forehead.

I looked at it from several perspectives along the walk and shot some pictures with my little digital. The bird opened its eyes and closed them, and turned its head. At one point it flew about five feet, from one rock to another. The wind blew softly off the water, wet and cool. One woman was bundled up in a winter coat and hat; nearby a young man wore a tee short. The stretches of water in between the Norwalk Islands were quiet. I could see only one oyster boat working. People stolled strolled by and asked what was up. They all brightened when they were shown the owl.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Connecticut Wants to Buy The Preserve

The state of Connecticut is ready to pounce on The So-Called Preserve if Lehman Brothers is liquidating.

Mr. Schain at the Department of Environmental Protection also indicated the state’s own deepening financial crisis would not likely affect its ability to buy the land if a price was reached.

“We would move quickly on this,” he said.

That's from this Times story in tomorrow's Connecticut section. Connecticut's A.G. doesn't think Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy is going to lead to any bargains though:

“The initial first blush reaction is that there could be a fire sale of Lehman assets,” he said. “But the reality is that the bankruptcy court would not allow Lehman assets to be sold at bargain basement prices. There are a lot of creditors out there.”

(One good sign that you're too busy is when you write a pretty decent blog post and forget to click the "publish" button. I did that on Wednesday with a post about The Preserve. I didn't even realize I hadn't published it until now, when I went looking for it to link to from this post. It was still in the queue. The way this blogging program works, if you publish something a day or two after you wrote it, it appears in its original time slot. So even though I hit "publish" just now, it looks as if it had been published on Wednesday.)

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sell Long Beach West to the Feds? Stratford Voters Say Sure

Voters in Stratford said yes on Election Day to a proposal to sell the town-owned Long Beach West to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It wasn't even close -- more than 13,000 voted for it and about 8,500 against. Audubon Connecticut's Sandy Breslin let me know via email soon after the polls closed and the Connecticut Post wrote about it here.

What's Been Going On Near the Water? Snowy Forecast

I've never seen a snowy owl and some years back, when I was far more interested in tracking down new birds than I am now, I occasionally dreamed about them -- ghostly images never quite in focus on bleak landscapes.

There are two, maybe three snowies on the shore of the Sound now. (There are terrific photos of Sound-area snowies here.)

In Norwalk, from the daily email sent by the Connecticut Ornithological Association:

From Frank Mantlik:
11/05 - Norwalk, Calf Pasture Park -- 6:35-6:50am (at least) SNOWY OWL on ground in parking lot, located with the help of a few crows. I walked in, as gate was not opened till 6:50.

From Mardi Dickinson, Larry Flynn, et al:
11/05 - Norwalk, Calf's Pasture Beach Park -- 9:52 SNOWY OWL continued to the right of pier roosting on jetty rocks. The owl stayed in that area for most of the day. The Owl did however fly several times back in front of the stone wall, the grassy area next to the pier, and the fence along the path with incredible looks and photographs were taken. Sara Zagorski and I stayed till 5:15PM watching the owl sitting on the post fence looking around gearing up for it's evening hunt for food. Not a care in the world!

In Stratford:

From Bev Propen:
11/05 - Stratford, Stratford Point -- 1 SNOWY OWL. I could only stay from 10:30AM-11AM, but I got magnificent views of this majestic bird; Beautiful gold/yellow eyes, and some dark streaking on its crown. Blood still on its claws from a recent hunt.

The report also gives this warning about the Stratford site:

For people interested in seeing the Lordship Point bird: the Connecticut Audubon Society is currently carrying out wildlife studies on Lordship Point and there is limited public access to the site. You can enter while the front gate is open, but please stay on the mowed trails and off the sea wall. There is some environmental mitigation going on on-site and heavy equipment needs easy access. Please park outside of the gate to avoid interference with the site work (there is a small parking area to the north of the main gate on Prospect Drive) and stay clear of the work zones. If the gate is closed you can still access the beach along the high tide line. Park on the parking area north of the gate and walk to the northern edge of the chain link fence. A narrow trail follows the fence across the peninsula and will put you on the beach. Alternatively, you can walk in along the shore from Short Beach Park.

What's Been Going On In and Under the Water?

Peter Kaminsky, an outdoors columnist for the Times, went fishing off Stonington not long ago and described what he and his guide encountered near Fishers Island:

A red ball of bait — tens of thousands of bay anchovies — pulsed like a giant beating heart as bluefish, their sides flashing like metal, ate their way through the frenzied bait. They looked like a flowing skein of silver. We cast a dozen times but got no takes, which often happens when competing with so much bait.

And my favorite over-writer, Captain Morgan, had this in a recent column:

Schools of small to keeper-size striped bass have moved in and several of the tidal river entrances have been hot spots for light tackle action. These fish are aggressively taking live eels, other live baits, plugs, and soft plastics. Schoolie bass can be found throughout many tidal rivers including the East River. With much of the bluefish pressure gone from the upper reaches of these rivers, more striped bass are being caught from shore and small craft.

Both inshore reefs like Cornfield, Crane, Menunketesuck, Duck, Charles, and Brown’s are all seeing an increase in bass activity. A little farther out, Inner/Outer Southwest, Faulkner’s, Goose, and The Beacon were home to some bigger fish while trollers hit Six Mile for a mix of bass and blues. Slowly drifting eels along the edges of Long Sand Shoal and Kelsey produced memorable catches.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Kennedy to EPA?

Is Bobby Kennedy Jr. going to head-up Barack Obama's EPA? That's the suggestion here, via Chris Zurcher.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Buy the Preserve

Now that there's an agreement to buy and protect the Goss property, near Long Island Sound on Guilford's East River, the state of Connecticut should turn its attention again to the so-called Preserve, the Orwellian name for the 1,000-acre subdivision that Lehman Brothers had proposed (and had had rejected) for Old Saybrook.

I thought of this last week, after writing about the Goss property, and as I did I remembered having seen in my Google alerts recently a published piece arguing that with the fall of Lehman Brothers, this might be a good time for the state to pounce. Turns out it was an op-ed, and a good one, published in the Courant on October 12, by Suellen Kozey McCuin, a founding member of the Alliance for Sound Area Planning, a coalition formed to make sure The Preserve gets preserved.
She makes a good, cogent case:

Even the darkest of clouds can have a silver lining. As painful as the economic disruption has been, it presents a unique opportunity to save a jewel-like piece of land — a 1,000-acre forest near Connecticut's coastline. By acting now we would create a legacy that would be applauded forever.

State and local leaders must do everything feasible to purchase and protect this precious area, dubbed "The Preserve" by now-defunct Lehman Brothers — its mortgage holders and potential developers. Lehman Brothers has, for 10 years, been trying to build 221 homes on it (down from an original proposal of 308 single-family homes), along with a Jack Nicklaus golf course and more.

This area simply should not be developed. Located in southern Middlesex County, in parts of Old Saybrook, Essex and Westbrook, The Preserve is the last and largest coastal forest and wetlands complex of its size between New York City and Boston. It is an important part of a 2,500-acre block of intact coastal forest that extends west to Branford and north along the Connecticut River to the Maromas section of Middletown.

The Preserve is home to many wetlands, freshwater seeps, shallow bedrock areas and rock outcrops. The property sits atop a Class A aquifer that provides pure drinking water to three towns and hosts headwaters and tributaries of three rivers that drain to Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River. All but 15 percent of this parcel is interior forest canopy that is a lifesaving stopover for migratory birds.

There are abundant and thriving plant, amphibian and mammal communities, including the most significant and productive vernal pool (and community) ever seen by at least one renowned expert on the topic.

In short, the parcel is a pristine coastal system, an invaluable natural resource. Once it's gone, it's gone forever.

We must move now. While it may be difficult at best to get collapsed Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers or their agents to focus on this particular asset, the dust will settle and assets will at some point be on the table. Connecticut's leaders must be first in line to purchase this coastal forest for present and future residents of the state. To save The Preserve in these perilous financial times would be one piece of good news for the people of Connecticut.

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