Tuesday, August 02, 2011

SoundVision in Mamaroneck

I spent much of the 45-minute drive to Mamaroneck yesterday afternoon trying to recall when I last visited Harbor Island Park. For a while it had been my professional turf. I started as a reporter in 1983 at a bureau on Library Lane, across the Post Road from the park, and it was a year later that health officials began to close the park’s beach each time it rained a half-inch or more in 24 hours, because of the contaminants in the stormwater that got swept into the harbor.

It was at Harbor Island in July of 1987 that Mamaroneck’s harbor master, Jim Mancusi, alerted me to one of the worst fish kills on Long Island Sound that summer: we’re scooping them up with shovels, he said, and throwing them into garbage bags.

But I think my most recent visit to Harbor Island was in the summer of 2000, to write about an oil spill from a local boatyard that was spreading over the harbor’s East Basin -- light number 2 oil, if I remember, relatively easily cleaned up and hardly a disaster but an unnecessary insult on an otherwise pleasant park.

Yesterday’s visit was for something more positive -- the first public unveiling of the new SoundVision Action Plan, put together by Save the Sound and the Citizens Advisory committee of the Long Island Sound Study. The Schooner SoundWaters was there, docked about as far up into the East Basin as a boat can go, in an area boomed off 11 years ago to keep the oil out. A few feet away, on a lawn that ran to the seawall above the schooner, 10 or so elected officials and representatives of Save the Sound, the CAC, SoundWaters and the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium stood under a canopy to talk about the SoundVision plan and why it’s important.

I was trying to put stuff out on Twitter and take notes at the same time, with limited success, and so the most succinct way to summarize what they were saying is to excerpt the LISoundVision.org webpage:

There has been significant progress in the last two decades. We've restored and protected over one thousand acres of open space and habitat, re-opened miles and miles of rivers, substantially reduced nitrogen pollution, and engaged thousands of children and residents with education programs and volunteer opportunities. But our heritage—which is centered on appreciating beautiful views of the coast, enjoying our beaches, sailing and kayaking, clamming and fishing—remains threatened. Litter still fouls our coastline. Raw sewage continues to close beaches and shellfish beds. And great areas of open beach, marsh and forest along our coast are jeopardized by over-development.

We need to protect our landscape, not only for the birds, fish and other animals that depend on special habitats, but also to re-build the economically vibrant legacy of shoreline industries and neighborhoods for our children and their children.

Today the CAC, advised by the best Long Island Sound scientists and experts, has developed this practical and attainable Action Agenda to heal and restore the Sound. It's time to bring together all who care about the Sound to make a real difference.

That’s the background. As for the Action Agenda itself, Curt Johnson of Save the Sound summarized it yesterday. Its goals are to protect clean water to achieve a healthy Sound; create safe and thriving places for all Sound creatures; build Long Island Sound communities that work; and invest in an economically vibrant Long Island Sound.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Curt said yesterday, “but we have a long way to go.”

He pointed south, to the part of the Sound between Westchester and Nassau counties, and noted that extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen are still common there, to the extent that the area is virtually a dead zone in summer, devoid of marine life. (The Connecticut DEEP has a terrific set of maps showing the extent of the problem, known as hypoxia, over the years, here.)

Curt introduced Nancy Seligson, a Mamaroneck Town Council member who used to be president of Save the Sound. She in turn introduced the politicians: County Executive Rob Astorino, State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, County Legislator Judy Meyers, Mamaroneck Village Trustee Toni Pergola Ryan.

I listened as carefully as I could but by this time those of us who were not under the canopy -- I counted 35, including reporters -- were sweltering and distracted: thunder was rumbling all around and dark clouds had started to pass above the sewage treatment plant, whose tower -- designed to evoke a campanile on a Florentine piazza -- rose above us. The formal presentation broke up and people started to amble down the ramp to the schooner.

The captain, Justin Cathcart, was on the boat watching the radar, and before the press conference was over he had decided he wasn’t going to take the boat out -- too many quickly-developing cells of thunder and lightning. Hilary Starks of SoundWaters was sitting in the stern calling people who had signed up to tell them the news.

But folks showed up anyway and, despite their disappointment, had a good time. Kids fished horseshoe crabs and channelled whelks out of the touch tank overseen by SoundWaters’ Josh Mayo. (Josh said that when he was a kid, in 1977, the town where he lived in Massachusetts paid a bounty of a nickel apiece of horseshoe crabs, which were sent to the local prison, ground up, and used for fertilizer in the prison’s garden -- a tale that amazed me for its benighted attitude toward wildlife). Veterans of the past decades’ environmental battles greeted each other warmly. Politicians needled each other good-naturedly.

And everyone asked Justin Cathcart why we couldn’t go for just a quick little sail -- and then, when he explained why, pleaded with him.

To no avail. Which was probably the right decision. The clouds beyond the entrance to the harbor were blue-gray and thick. The thunder was never right over us but frequently nearby. And as I drove home at 6, passing the county airport on I 684, hail ticked off the windshield and the rain fell so heavily it was hard to see the car ahead of me. I would not have wanted to be on a schooner on the Sound in such a downpour.



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