Thursday, September 24, 2009


In the old days -- 20 years ago, maybe -- overseeing a sewage treatment plant on Long Island Sound that had serious water quality violations might have been ignored. Today, in Bridgeport, it gets you fired, which seems like a pretty good incentive for people to do a better job.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who Cares About the Sound License Plate Money?

This dude, who lives out in Norwich and writes for the Stonington Times, is wrong but he also makes an important point about funding for Long Island Sound and the Sound license plate fiasco that the Connecticut legislature has inflicted on the public, namely, if you can't get to the Sound, why should you care about it:

Point in fact, much of the Connecticut shoreline on the Long Island Sound is private property anyway, and even those with the special license plates can't have access to it. The only time the rest of us have anything to do with the shoreline is after hurricane season when someone is sought to help pay for repairs and rebuilding (usually on exactly the same spot where the damages all happened in the first place).

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Monday, September 14, 2009

The Money Connecticut Drivers Paid for LI Sound License Plates Will Not Be Used for LI Sound

Connecticut has decided to use money raised by its Long Island Sound license plate program for things other than Long Island Sound. Does this seem familiar to anyone?

Several years ago the Connecticut legislature and governor started using money in the state's Clean Water Fund for things other than clean water projects, and it wasn't until a lot of environmental advocates noticed and took umbrage that the politicians in Hartford fully funded the CWF.

That money is for capital projects like upgrading sewage treatment plants on Long Island Sound. Money from the Sound license plate program generally goes to other Sound-related projects.

But if you shelled out $50 or $85 or $100 for a Sound license plate recently with the expection that the state would actually do what it said it would do with the money, the joke's on you. The new state budget takes all of the money -- $143 million over two years -- and sweeps it into the general fund to be used for anything Hartford wants.

Even more of a joke: the state plans to keep selling the license plates, even though the money won't be spent on the Sound.

The Connecticut Post has an excellent story about it, here (although it doesn't talk about the Clean Water Fund raid). Here's an excerpt:

Christopher Phelps, director of statewide initiatives for the nonprofit Environment Connecticut, said the Long Island Sound Fund was an unlikely victim of the budget process this year, since protection of the Sound is a bipartisan issue.

"The Long Island Sound license plate was created and people bought those license plates under the express understanding that extra money they were spending was going specifically to help protect and restore Long Island Sound," he said. "Now that money is just being swept right into the General Fund and the people who chose to paid that extra money for the specific purpose of protecting the Sound are not getting the money to go to that purpose."

Phelps said that over the decades, all the state's environmental protection needs have been chronically underfunded.

"But in Long Island Sound, being the signature natural resource for the state, we have made incredible progress at the state and national level, working in partnership effectively and with New York, cleaning it up over time and obviously, we're nowhere near done cleaning it up," he said. "One of the funding streams that has really helped make that happen has been things like the Long Island Sound license plate, knowing that the broad environmental protection funding in Connecticut has never really gotten where it should be."

And Terry Backer, the Soundkeeper and a member of the General Assembly, bluntly said that people shouldn't waste their money on the plates:

"My sense is they shouldn't buy the plates anymore," Backer said in a phone interview. "The main reason why people bought Long Island Sound plates is they cared about the Sound, they used it, or didn't use it, but they cared."

The Post story also has a good summary of projects the fund has paid for over the years:

All told, the money collected from the "Preserve the Sound" license plate program went to 294 projects since the fund was created in 1993. Here's a list of some of them:
-- $23,000 for the Bridgeport Board of Education's Aquaculture school for raising scallops in 1994.
-- 18,000 for the installation of floating docks at Shelton's Sunnyside boat facility on the Housatonic River.
-- $50,000 to help pay for the demolition of the former Long Beach cottage community in Stratford.
== $1,250 for Derby's Kellogg Environmental Center to create banners portraying drainage basins.
== $25,000 for the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center in Milford to invest in a salt-marsh laboratory.
-- $4,150 to send water conservation brochures to every home in Darien.
-- $5,775 for a population study of diamondback terrapins by Fairfield University.
-- $13,000 for Seymour middle school students to study the Naugatuck River.
-- $60,000 for the Stamford-based Sound Waters to help with learning labs at Cove Island Park and with after-school programming.
-- $16,900 for Friends of Sherwood Island State Park's nature center displays.
-- $25,000 for a clean boating program by the Norwalk-based Long Island Soundkeeper Fund designed to cut down on human waste in the Sound.
-- $2,500 to help the New Canaan Nature Center Association Inc. establish a Girl Scout and Brownie program.
-- $140,000 in several grants to the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, including $18,614 for a live webcam at the Sheffield Island lighthouse in Norwalk harbor, a $24,000 traveling science show for elementary and middle schools and a $20,000 study of harbor seals.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Manatee is Revisiting Its Old Stomping Grounds

The manatee in Rhode Island can be identified by its scars as one that has been to RI before. People are feeding it though and state officials are saying that's a bad idea because it might discourage the animal from leaving in time to make it back south before the waters turn too cold for it to survive. And of course it's illegal to interfere with an endangered species.


Manhattan, 400 Years Ago

There's a terrific illustration from the Mannahatta project in the Times today, and in color on its website, here, of what Manhattan probably looked like from the air 400 years ago. It accompanies an op-ed piece by Eric Sanderson, the head of the Mannahatta Project, about 9/11.

Sanderson points out the beach on the Hudson shore of Manhattan and notes that it's where the World Trade Center stood. For people interested in the history of Long Island Island Sound, it's also where Adriaen Block's ship, the Tyger, burned during the winter of 1613-1614. The charred timbers were uncovered during the construction of a subway stop in the area about 100 years ago (or has the identification of those timbers as part of the Tyger recently been debunked? I seem to remember hearing or reading that somewhere). Block had his crew construct a new, smaller jacht, the Onrust, which he used that spring on his last journey through the Sound.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pollan (and Allport) on Diet and Health

Michael Pollan connects health care reform with agriculture and food policy reform in today's Times:

One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.

But the economics of health insurance under a new system will change that:

As for the insurers, you would think preventing chronic diseases would be good business, but, at least under the current rules, it’s much better business simply to keep patients at risk for chronic disease out of your pool of customers, whether through lifetime caps on coverage or rules against pre-existing conditions or by figuring out ways to toss patients overboard when they become ill.

But these rules may well be about to change — and, when it comes to reforming the American diet and food system, that step alone could be a game changer. Even under the weaker versions of health care reform now on offer, health insurers would be required to take everyone at the same rates, provide a standard level of coverage and keep people on their rolls regardless of their health. Terms like “pre-existing conditions” and “underwriting” would vanish from the health insurance rulebook — and, when they do, the relationship between the health insurance industry and the food industry will undergo a sea change.

And speaking of diet and health, our friend and neighbor Susan Allport was on Leonard Lopate the other day talking about how changes in our diet have led us to consume a greater proportion of omega 6 fats compared to omega 3's, which may help explain many contemporary health problems. The interview was based on an article she wrote for Prevention. You can get links to both the radio show and the article on her website, here.

A Lot to Swallow

I've been impressed on the occasions that I've seen dozens and maybe hundreds of tree swallows gathering on phone wires in late summer in preparation for migration. But yesterday a boatload of bird watchers on Long Island Sound, off Old Lyme, saw not dozens or hundreds but 250,000. Amazing.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Manatee Alert

A manatee is hanging around Point Judith, Rhode Island -- supposedly the same one seen in or near Long Island Sound last week (which was news to me).

When was it that a manatee spent a lot of time up here? There was one in 2008 (it died in a truck on the way back to Florida) and another in 2006.


Dead Fish in Northport

There was a good-sized fish kill in Northport Bay over the weekend. The inner part of the bay was filled with dead mossbunkers, some of which were bleeding in a way that John Waldman, a fisheries biologist at Queens College, says he's never seen before. In an email he sent me yesterday afternoon, he said, "... the redness of these specimens is pretty amazing. I've seen mild hemmorhaging in stressed bunker but nothing like this."

John didn't witness it though. A fellow named Andrew Silver, an engineering geologist, told John about it and took pictures. Here's what Andrew said:

I was in the back of Northport Bay on Saturday and there were thousands of dead bunker washed up on the shore and in the spartina.

I found about 8 fish swimming in circles and three of the fish had bright red heads and tails – they looked like Koi!

I can only assume that this color results from the stresses associated with hypoxia, but hadn’t seen this displayed in bunker before.

The pictures (phone not camera) do not do justice to the intensity of the hemorrhaging. The color could be seen from 30 feet out. With the water temperature so high and the shallow nature of the back of the embayment (7 feet -8 feet at the most), I was pretty sure that the red was stress-related to anoxic conditions, however, I have never seen this in bunker and none of the hundreds of dead fish strewn about had this color. I thought that the lack of color in the dead fish was notable as well, –but I was about 2 hours out from low tide, and the fish were scattered through the tufts of spartina to the high tide line- so maybe the blood drained out of the cheeks, head and tail.

Dissolved oxygen in the main part of Long Island Sound has been higher (that is, better) than usual this summer, but shallow bays and harbors can easily lose virtually all their oxygen, especially when the water is very warm. If bunker epecially get trapped there, they suffocate. The picture belows shows one of the red fish that Andrew said were swimming in circles

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Throw Back the Big Fish

Andy Revkin of the Times goes fishing off Montauk with Carl Safina, here, and learns that we really should throw the big ones back.
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