Friday, August 19, 2005

Off to Clearer Waters

The editorial and support staff of Sphere is heading en masse (or en famille) to Block Island for two weeks (I know – it’s tough, but someone’s got to help prop up the over-inflated prices there). Judging by the number of visits Sphere has had this week, most of the two dozen readers are on vacation this month too. So we won’t be posting and they won’t be reading, and none of us will be the worse for it.

But if by chance you’re interested in following Long Island Sound news while I’m away, check out the Atlantic Coast Watch news nuggets in the righthand column, and click on MYSound and the DEP Hypoxia Maps to see how low dissolved oxygen concentrations can get (they’re still very low).

And read the Connecticut Fishing blog, by Sandy Pardes, who like me grew up in one of the outer boroughs and writes about the Sound fairly often.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dead Fish in East Rockaway

Several thousand fish, crabs and other marine life died in an inlet in East Rockaway yesterday, presumably because of low dissolved oxygen concentrations. Newsday says most experts attributed the kill to hypoxia but that “man-made” pollutants are also being investigated – as if the nutrients that cause hypoxia are not pollutants.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Shoreline Trail to Connect New Haven and Madison

A walking and biking trail that connects Lighthouse Point in New Haven with Hammonasset is a truly great idea, and Connecticut’s federal legislators deserve credit for bringing home $2.65 million in worthwhile pork for the Shoreline Greenway Trail.

Of course if the LNG plant is approved, the feds will have subsidized a terrific view of a hideous energy facility.

Boaters of All Yacht Clubs Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose But a Huge Energy Factory in the Middle of the Sound

The activists who oppose the use of Long Island Sound for a LNG terminal are hoping to enlist the support of boating organizations, which makes all the sense in the world. I reported in my book that on any given Saturday or Sunday in summer, 90,000 recreational vessels might take to the Sound.

For people like me who live near the western end of the Sound, the so-called Broadwater plant is only slightly less abstract as an environmental issue than, say, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I think the LNG plant is a bad idea and I don’t want it to be approved and built, but as a landlubber who lives half a Sound away, the only time I’m going to get a good look at it is through binoculars from the beach at Hammonnasset.

Recreational boaters, though, are another story. For them – or at least for the portion who sail in the vicinity of New Haven, Shoreham, Branford, etc. – the plant will be an everyday, in-your-face experience. It’s hard for me to believe that as a group they would support the LNG plant. Here’s hoping that Save the Sound/Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the other environmental groups organizing this are successful.

The schedule for three upcoming meetings that Save the Sound is holding with recreational mariners:

Monday, August 22 7 pm
Mianus River Boat and Yacht Club
98 Strickland Road, Cos Cob, CT

Tuesday, August 23 7 pm
Shennecossett Yacht Club
1000 Shennecossett Rd., Groton, CT

Wednesday, August 24 7 pm
Saybrook Point Pavilion
155 College St., Old Saybrook, CT

Jellyfish Invade Exclusive Greenwich Point Public Beach

Yes it's true that Greenwich doesn't want you to go to its beaches. The good news, though, is that if you don't go, you won't be stung by the jellyfish at Greenwich Point.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

DEP Says No to Golf Course Proposed by a Friend of Bush

It's exceedingly hard to stop a development on environmental grounds, but not impossible. A luxury golf course proposed for a sensitive part of the Housatonic River watershed, in Litchfield County, got slammed yesterday by the Connecticut DEP, because of the amount of water it would use.

Called the Yale Farm Golf Club, its developer happens to be "a close personal friend" of President Bush, as the Hartford Courant put it. From the Courant:

Water experts hired by opponents of the project presented studies showing that withdrawing 300,000 gallons a day could deplete the bedrock aquifers beneath the farm, which could severely affect the entire area during a drought year. The water studies produced by the Yale Farm developers were criticized on several technical grounds and the DEP concluded that additional requests for information had not been met by the developer.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Why We Missed the SoundWaters Cruise

The power went off Friday night at 8:30. The thunderstorm that caused it was one of the strongest I remember. We were partially prepared -- we found candles easily but Kaare, my 7-year-old son had taken the batteries out of the emergency flashlight to put in his toy trucks. This didn't thrill me although it did give me the opportunity to act fatherly and tell him that emergency flashlights were for emergencies and that if the batteries were in the trucks, we wouldn't have them for emergencies. This of course seemed ridiculous and probably patronizing to him, but he had the good grace to listen respectfully. As it grew dark, he and I and his 12-year-old sister, Elie, went outside to sit under the eaves on the front step and watch the lightning and listen to the thunder, which barreled overhead without pause. When it was completely dark we all headed upstairs and managed to get ourselves to bed by the light of votive candles.

Saturday morning was hot and sticky, of course, and since we've been softened by five years in a house with central air conditioning, we all thought we would perish if the power didn't come on soon. I called NYSEG, and its automated phone system told me the lights were expected back by 11 a.m. But at 11, we still had no power, so I called again. This time the automated voice said it would be back by 1 p.m.

My daughter was at work at the New Canaan farmers market (she unloads the truck, helps set up, and bags vegetables for Riverbank Farm, which is in Bridgewater, Connecticut, I think). Gina, Kaare and I decided to pick her up when her shift ended at noon, and then hang out in the air conditioning at the New Canaan Library. Then at 1:30 Kaare and I walked over to the movie house, where we watched March of the Penguins, which was both amazingly beautiful and idiotically anthropomorphic. The a.c. was so high in the theater that Kaare had to keep visiting the lobby and bathroom to warm up. I myself wished it were a double feature.

We were home shortly after 3. The power wasn't on. I called NYSEG again. The estimate now was 5 p.m. Gina, Kaare and Elie went to the pool at the town park. I read in the increasingly stifling house and then napped. I woke at 5. The power was out. I called again: 9 p.m.

I called Sole, a restaurant in New Canaan that we like because the waiters are Italian, they act like the enjoy serving you, they take your order without having to write it down, and they serve your food without having to ask, "Who ordered the prosciuto e melone?" because they actually remember who ordered the prosciuto e melone. We also like it because the food is good, as are the martinis. I made a reservation for four for 7:30. When Gina, Kaare and Elie got back from the pool, we packed up some clothes and drove to my mother-in-law's house, which is in the same town, less than a mile from ours, and which had power and hot water and three showers, so we could clean up quickly and make it to the restaurant on time. Sole was good, although it was warm enough inside that the waiters had to pour table salt on the floor to soak up the condensation to keep people from slipping.

It was almost 10 when we got home -- to a dark house. I was close to despondent. I had called NYSEG four or five times and each time the automated voice had said the power would be back on. In truth, I really had no idea whether NYSEG even knew we were without power, whether its automated reporting system really worked. We found our flashlights, grabbed some clothes and two fans (although not, because I was feeling rushed to get the kids into bed, my tennis stuff, even though I had an 8:30 game on Sunday morning), and headed back to my mother-in-law's. We needed the fans because her house, which is low and shaded and has stone floors and so is generally cool in summer, has no air conditioning. We were soon comfortable and asleep, and I woke up at 8, realizing that I needed to get coffee and something to eat, and to drive back home to get my tennis stuff, so I could be at the court, which is an 8-minute drive away, by 8:30. While coffee was brewing, I drove home. The power was out.

I called NYSEG again: 11 a.m. was the new prediction. I dressed, grabbed my racket, and left for the courts. We played doubles til about 10:45. When I got home this time, the lights were on, the condenser was humming and the inside of the house was cool. I quickly drove back to my mother-in-law's, helped pack up our stuff, and we all came home happy.

By this time I had decided we weren't going to head down to Stamford to sail on the SoundWaters. Back in April I had given a talk about Long Island Sound, based on my book, to the new SoundWaters crew. Shane Walden, the captain, had asked me and I agreed to do it without pay because on the next day I was scheduled to give a talk for pay to Audubon Connecticut, and I knew the SoundWaters talk would be a good rehearsal. To thank me, Shane sent me four passes for the schooner, and a couple of weeks ago I had made reservations for the Sunday afternoon, August 14, ecological cruise, which includes trawling and other demonstrations. With the power back on in late morning, I checked the MYSound site for the weather conditions. The apparent temperature on the Sound was already in the 90s. Having gone to Davids Island on Thursday, I had a good recent memory of how hot and uncomfortable it can be on the Sound. And with the western end of the Sound stuck with generally low dissolved oxygen concentrations, I wasn't sure the trawl would pull up much anyway. So two and a half hours at home in the air conditioning seemed like a better idea than two and a half hours on the SoundWaters.

Then at 2 p.m., the sky darkened, thunder and lightning roared through again, rain poured. And at 2:30 the power went out.

It rained and rained. The thunder slammed above us for hours. At 3:30 I flipped on the transistor radio and was surprised to hear that the Yankees were playing in the Bronx, maybe 30 miles to the south -- no rain there. At 6, when the rain had slowed a bit, Kaare and I decided to drive around town to see who had lights. We were back in 15 minutes and as we pulled up the driveway we saw that we had lights. Soon after the phone rang. It was a nice woman from NYSEG, just asking if our lights were back. Yes, I told her.

"I understand you had quite a storm down there," she said.

"Yes, it's been raining for hours," I said. "Where are you calling from?"

"Brewster," she said. Brewster is about 15 miles to the north. "We got maybe two drops."

It rained and thundered til midnight. But the power stayed on.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Severe Hypoxia

The latest Long Island Sound water quality map, from the first week of August, went out yesterday afternoon. The black area in the far western end of the Sound shows where dissolved oxygen concentrations are below 1 milligram per liter. This morning at Execution Rocks, DO was at 0.2 milligrams per liter. (Click on the map to enlarge it.)

According to the Connecticut DEP, 178 square miles have DO concentrations of below 3 milligrams per liter, which means hypoxia is moderate, moderately severe or severe, depending on how low DOs are.

Click here to see the two previous maps for comparison.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sweltering on an Island in the Sound

It was hot on Davids Island today. I think it was as hot as I’ve ever been. The sun didn’t shine, it glared and baked. It reflected off the sand and the bits of mussel shell that the tide had pushed into a berm along the beach and off the fragments of coal left from when the island was an Army base. The sumac and poison ivy and bittersweet were thick as rainforest. I was there from 11:15 until 1:30 and once I felt a breeze. It blew through for five or six seconds.

This was only my second visit to Davids Island - everybody’s been there more often than I have. My first visit was in the spring on 1986, I think. After that I spent about five years reporting critically about a plan by the city of New Rochelle and a developer to build 2,000 condos there, and since the city owned the island and my critical reporting was (I’m happy to say) incessant, no one ever invited me out there again. But today was a ceremonial groundbreaking for what eventually will be a park, and I was on the invitation list.

About 60 people were there in all, ferried out from the old Fort Slocum dock, near Glen Island, on a New Rochelle police boat that took only 15 people at a time. Aside from the politicians (particularly Nita Lowey, who secured the federal money that occasioned the groundbreaking), here’s who was there: Bob Funicello, Marlene Kolbert, and Phyllis Wittner, all long-time proponents of putting a park on Davids Island; Robin Kriesberg of Save the Sound, Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Sean Mahar of Audubon New York, Jennifer Cox of RPA, Carolyn Cunningham, Jim Nordgren and Adiel Gavish, all of Federated Conservationists of Westchester; Edna Sussman, who used to be with FCWC; Barbara Davis, New Rochelle’s city historian; some old colleagues and friends from the newspaper business (Ken Valenti, Steve Schmidt, Suzanne DeChillo); broadcasting crews from channel 12 and channel 4; a handful of young, earnest Congressional aides; people from the Army Corps of Engineers, dressed in black suits and military uniforms (the Army Corps had installed a temporary dock for the occasion, which shows what happens at the federal level when Nita Lowey’s office calls).

While we were waiting for the police-boat ferry to bring everyone back and
forth, we walked around a bit and saw an osprey nest. We stopped to look at a huge cannon called a Rodman gun, which remains on the island only because it weighs about a million pounds and can’t be carted away. What looked like a ’57 Chevy sat oxidizing in an old building. The buildings themselves were like ruins that you come across in th jungle. But it was hard to go too far through the jungle because of the vines, and in any case it was too hot, so for the most part we all stood together in what little shade we could find and waited.

The speeches were quick and for the most part inaudible. Photographers gathered around for photos. The dignitaries took up gold-painted shovels and ceremonially broke the ground. Women in sandals and capris tried to avoid standing in poison ivy.

When the police-boat ferry came to take us back, there was an obvious
unspoken protocol: to avoid heatstroke, older people and people in business suits first. I got on the next to last boat, happy to leave what today was godforsaken, but looking forward to coming back in five 5 years or 10 years to a park in the middle of Long Island Sound where everyone is welcome, no matter what the weather.

Here are two news accounts of the event: The Journal News and The New York Times.

Hillary Says No LNG Plant

Hillary's down with the anti-Broadwater people. Here's the text of the media advisory that went out late this afternoon:

Senator Clinton Opposes Broadwater

New Conference to be Held Friday, August 12, 1:00pm, Creek Rd. in Wading River

At a news conference on Friday, August 12th at 1:00pm, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will join her colleagues in New York and Connecticut in opposition to the Broadwater project. The Broadwater project proposes an Liquefied Natural Gas factory to be anchored nine miles off the coast of Wading River in the Long Island Sound, causing threats to the fragile estuary and shoreline communities. Community activists, including members of the Anti Broadwater Coalition will be in attendance to support Senator Clinton in her decision. The ABC has called for a meeting of the Long Island Congressional delegation to develop a strategy to stop the Broadwater plan. The new conference will be held on the west end of Creek Road in Wading River, New York.

Hillary's LNG Announcement

Hillary Clinton will announce her position on Shell-TransCanada's LNG proposal at a press conference on Long Island tomorrow. What will that position be? I don't know, but the person who told me said that anti-Broadwater people are being invited.

Why the Western Sound is in Such Bad Shape

The far western end of Long Island is in bad shape this week. In the bottom waters between Westchester and Nassau counties there is so little dissolved oxygen that it's as if a wall has been erected to keep fish out of an area in which they'd normally be abundant. At Execution Rocks, off New Rochelle, DO concentrations are 0.3 milligrams per liter -- that is, just 4 percent of saturation. Essentially nothing can live there. And it's been that way for about a month.

My impression from looking at the Connecticut DEP water quality maps (the link is on the right) is that in the area between Westchester and Nassau, this is one of the worst summers for hypoxia in a long time. How does hypoxia -- a severe shortage in dissolved oxygen -- happen? Here's how I described it:

The tides ... infuse the estuary with oxygen, carrying it from the oxygen-rich ocean or roiling the surface so it mixes in from the atmosphere. The waves and winds that chop the water into whitecaps also add oxygen, as does the mass of vegetation in an estuary, through photosynthesis.

Oxygen concentrations fall naturally in an estuary in summer. As the water grows warmer, its ability to hold oxygen diminishes. But the deeper water stays cooler than the surface, and so the estuary stratifies into two layers, warmer water floating on top of cooler water. The stratification is strong; the two layers do not mix. So when the occasional thunderstorm or cold front moves through and churns in oxygen at the surface, it does not reach the bottom layer.

Yet while fresh oxygen is confined to the surface, the estuary's organisms can move freely from top to bottom. The plants and animals that make up the estuary's plankton still consume nutrients, grow and reproduce, and die and sink, using up oxygen as they decompose in the oxygen-starved bottom.

But the stratification stops nutrients that are released from the decomposing organic material on the bottom from returning to the top, where they would feed more plankton. The nutrient supply gradually drops, and so does the growth of plankton that would continue to suck oxygen from the bottom. It’s a natural shut-off valve that keeps the summertime oxygen depletion under control.

Change comes in late summer and fall. Winds pick up and temperatures drop. The upper layer is cooled by the atmosphere, the lower layer by cold, salty water pushing in from the sea. The temperatures of the layers equalize, and the stratification breaks down. From top to bottom, oxygen-rich water infuses the estuary.

Oxygen-rich is a relative term. Even in the best of times the amount of dissolved oxygen in sea water is minuscule. In winter, when Long Island Sound is saturated with oxygen, concentrations peak at approximately eight milligrams per liter, or 0.08 percent. (For comparison, the air we breathe is about twenty percent oxygen.) In summer, under the burden of man-made nitrogen, oxygen concentrations can plummet to zero....

As long as the amount of nitrogen flowing into the Sound remained relatively low, the mass of plankton remained under control and oxygen levels stayed high enough to sustain the winter flounder and blackfish and lobsters that crowded into the Sound. They all relied on that perfect mechanism of self-regulation that shut off the supply of nitrogen to the deeper waters and prevented oxygen concentrations from plummeting. But as the number of people who lived in the watershed grew, spreading across land that had never supported anything but forests and farms, the amount of nitrogen reaching the Sound grew as well. Four centuries of ever-increasing development and population had swollen the Sound's burden of nitrogen to ninety one thousand three hundred tons a year, a one hundred and twenty eight percent increase over the forty thousand tons that researchers had estimated flowed to the Sound before European settlement. The additional fifty one thousand three hundred tons of nitrogen included twenty nine thousand six hundred tons from sewage plants and factories, and eight thousand eight hundred tons from storm water that ran off into the Sound. That flow subverted the Sound's natural safety-valve, because the supply of nitrogen was steady, year-round, and overwhelming. The system that the Sound had evolved for surviving the summertime oxygen-depletion no longer worked. Nothing remained to stop oxygen concentrations from crashing.

When it happened in the late 1980s, fish died from City Island to Bridgeport, and it was rightly seen as an ecological crisis. I've not heard reports of dead fish this year, and improvements to sewage plants are well underway, but in terms of habitat loss and ecosystem health, the crisis now seems as severe as it was then.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hundreds of Ospreys, Thousands of Ospreys: Shifting Baselines

The comeback that ospreys have made in Connecticut, referred to the other day in a story in the New London Day, is indeed impressive – an estimated 250 nests where not long ago there were just a handful. After I posted an item about it on Monday, I got an e-mail from Tom Baptist, executive director of Audubon Connecticut and the co-author (with Joe Zeranski) of Connecticut Birds. Tom filled in a lot of the details about the fall and rise of ospreys, and also made an implicit point about shifting baselines – that is, 250 osprey nests are a lot compared to when things were bad, but compared to when things were good, 250 nests are not a lot at all. Here’s what Tom wrote:

In our region, ospreys have been an icon for the ecological ravages of chlorinated hydro-carbon pesticides and habitat alteration. In the 1800s, ornithologists called this species “abundant,” and, at that time, the nesting population in and around Long Island Sound was estimated to exceed 1,000 pairs. Several authors noted declines in the number of ospreys in this region during the first half of the 1900s, possibly related to the destruction of coastal marshes and water pollution. But, by all measures, the osprey population remained robust until after World War II and the initiation of the widespread use of DDT and similar pesticides. For example, a 1938 survey in the tidal portion of the Connecticut River counted more than 200 osprey nests!

In clear correlation to the human use of pesticides in the 1950s and 60s, scientists documented a 31% annual decline in the Long Island Sound osprey nesting population at that time, and by 1963 only 24 pairs were found in all of Long Island Sound. In 1970, eight pairs nested in Connecticut, and that number was reduced to one active nest in 1974. DDT was banned for use in 1972, and a concerted effort to erect nesting platforms (coupled with the importation of eggs from Chesapeake Bay populations to Long Island Sound) generated an annual population increase of 8 to 10% after 1980. At present, the Long Island Sound nesting population of ospreys is 50% to 60% of the pre-DDT numbers.

The incredible decline and subsequent recovery of nesting ospreys in Long Island Sound sets the stage for an interesting anecdote involving Audubon Greenwich’s effort to assist the recovery of ospreys in Greenwich. In the fall of 2004, Audubon representatives approached Greenwich officials about the possible placement of an additional pole and nest platform on the island in the center of Eagle Pond at the fabled Greenwich Point Park. The request was denied on the basis that the platform would degrade the “quality” of the view of the pond and its tall statue of an eagle, with its glorious wings spread wide, rising from the island in its middle. Well, local ospreys had their own opinion about the Town’s rejection of Audubon’s request, constructed this spring a large stick nest upon the wings of the eagle statue, and successfully fledged two young this summer from the new nest. A check of the nest yesterday [i.e. Monday, 8/8] revealed that one full-grown juvenile remained there with its parents beckoning nearby, and the nest nearly obscures the entire eagle statue.

Since the mid 1980s, and with the support of conservation and recreation officials of the Town of Greenwich, Audubon paid for the construction and installation of eight osprey poles and nest platforms in Greenwich. Two others have been installed by individuals. This summer, eight pairs successfully nested in Greenwich, including the pair that built a home and raised a family atop the eagle statue at Eagle Pond. This was a record number of successful nests for Greenwich.

There are at least three relevant points to this anecdote. First, as ospreys have shown, birds are susceptible to human-induced changes in the environment and thus are extraordinarily useful barometers of the health of the ecosystem. Second, despite the concern of many people and the considerable human effort that assisted the recovery of ospreys, some people now perceive ospreys as less important than the “quality” of a view across Eagle Pond at the exclusive Greenwich Point Park. Third, the recovery of ospreys is proof that informed and intelligent human intervention can produce positive results, to the benefit of wildlife and people.

Public Access in New Rochelle, Milford, Even Greenwich -- But in Clinton, Don't Even Bother Studying the Possibility

Good news out of New Rochelle, where efforts to turn Davids Island into a public park are proceeding. I've been invited to go there tomorrow and will report back if anything interesting happens.

Milford, Connecticut, just got a state grant to open a small part of its 17-mile shoreline to the public. And there's even a place in Greenwich where out-of-towners can get to Long Island Sound (although granted it's not much more than a jetty at the end of a dead-end street).

But in Clinton homeowners have prevailed on officials to not even study increasing public access to a local beach. Truth is, although the Clinton residents who don't want their privileges impinged on might not admit it, public access does not have to equal large crowds. It's relatively simple: just limit the amount of parking. That's how it's done, without controversy, at plenty of parks and preserves, both inland and on the shore.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Stressed Ecosystem

Without healthy concentrations of dissolved oxygen in Long Island Sound, we don’t have a healthy ecosystem. “Healthy concentrations” means about 3.5 milligrams per liter, at minimum. As of late Tuesday morning, much of Long Island Sound was far worse:

Norwalk Harbor – 0.9 milligrams per liter (or 13 percent of saturation), in 1 foot of water.

Western Sound (between Greenwich and Oyster Bay) – 1.8 milligrams per liter (22 percent of saturation), in 52 feet of water.

Execution Rocks – 0.5 milligrams per liter (6 percent of saturation), in 54 feet of water.

MYSound has the details and the maps.

Stonington Increases Access to the Sound

Stonington, Connecticut, which is probably the most beautiful town on Long Island Sound, has a small but fascinating town dock where trawlers, most of them captained by descendants of the Portuguese fishermen who settled there, pull in to unload their catch and tie up three a-beam. I went there a couple of times years ago to interview fishermen. It’s not as big and busy as Point Judith, in Rhode Island, and I’m sure it doesn’t compare to New Bedford, Mass., where I’ve never been, but it’s an interesting place to poke around and glimpse an occupation that generally operates out of sight, and juxtaposed to the Greek Revival beauty of downtown Stonington, it’s especially satisfying.

When I was there I didn’t realize it wasn’t open to the public. But now it’s not only open, it’s much more accessible, including accessible to the handicapped. A number of public and private sources have pooled money to improve the dock and make it more welcoming. The idea behind it is as simple as can be:

“Fishing has been the heart and soul of what this community is all about. We have worked hard to preserve the commercial fleet, but what was missing was an area where the public could observe the fishing fleet or do some fishing themselves,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, who grew up near the dock and still lives less than a mile away.

No more, no less – a place where you can look at fishing boats and fish yourself, if you want. Some communities welcome the public to the shores of the Sound, others don't.

Under the New Energy Law, Expect "Islander East" Pipeline to be Approved. Can an LNG Plant in the Sound be Next?

Here's how the new federal energy law works. Two hours after President Bush signed it yesterday, KeySpan and Duke Energy were in federal court to get permission for their Islander East gas pipeline to cross Long Island Sound. Connecticut courts and regulators have been holding up approval for several years but under the new law, the states don't get to have a say in these energy decisions.

Somewhere the people at Shell, TransCanada and Broadwater must be grinning.

Monday, August 08, 2005


It used to be requisite that every time you saw an osprey you had to stop and look. Now ospreys are everywhere along the coast. Connecticut in fact has as many as 250 nests. Thirty-one years ago there were only nine. The New London Day writes about Great Island and the Roger Tory Peterson Wildlife Area on the lower Connecticut River, an area where ospreys could be found even when they were rare.

Sound Advocate from Long Island is Being Booted from Suffolk's Environmental Council in Favor of a Development Lawyer

Republican Suffolk County legislators want to dump Adrienne Esposito, a committed Long Island Sound advocate, from the county’s Council on Environmental Quality and replace her with John W. Wagner, a real estate attorney who successfully challenged an attempt to protect land in Long Island’s Central Pine Barrens.

Adrienne is the head of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and a member of the Long Island Sound Study’s Citizens Advisory Committee. Newsday reports that Joseph Caracappa, the Suffolk County Legislature’s presiding officer, said she’s being replaced because her activism conflicts with the interests of the council.

But neither Newsday nor Caracappa talk about Wagner’s activism and its conflict with the interests of the council. Here’s what his law firm's website says about Wagner:

Notably, Mr. Wagner was among the small group of land use practitioners that successfully defeated, in the Court of Appeals, the attempt by environmental groups to freeze all development in the “Long Island Central Pine Barrens.” He is currently representing landowners challenging comprehensive zoning changes in the Towns of Brookhaven and Riverhead.

So who do Long Islanders want on the Council on Environmental Quality? An environmentalist or a lawyer who sues on behalf of people who don’t want land protected? And does Caracappa think Long Islanders are so stupid that they’ll accept his reasoning?

Environmentalists and Democrats are rallying to try to get Adrienne reappointed.

More Public Access for Long Island Sound? Not Near Me, Please

There’s no Long Island Sound issue that gets people as riled up as public access does. If you live near the shore, you don’t want the rabble coming in and ruining your idyll. If you don’t live near the shore, you look at the Sound, which you as a resident of New York or Connecticut own, and you say, “Why can’t I get there more easily?”

It’s an issue in Greenwich, in Greenport, in Clinton, and many other places. The Hartford Courant has the latest story on the situation in Clinton, where the town is looking for ways to increase public access and the people who live near the beach don’t want any part of it.

A guy named Tom Callinan argues that the town shouldn’t increase access because “America is a free country.”

Someone named Cynthia Stulpin worries about “these people” who might want to visit the shore – as in, “We start getting nervous when you start inviting these people in…”

If you read the Courant story, by the way, you can take part in its poll. As of about 10:30 a.m., 54 people had voted – 56 percent said there’s enough public access to the Connecticut shore, 37 percent said there’s not enough, and the rest said they didn’t know (which raises the tangential question of why you’d bother to participate in a poll like that if you had no opinion?). I voted with the 37 percent in the minority.

Bridgeport is Making Great Progress on its Sewage Plant Improvement Project

As water quality gets worse and worse in Long Island Sound this summer, it's heartening to see that one of the cities that used to be considered among the worst polluters is making serious improvements to its sewage system. Bridgeport has spent $96 million on nitrogen removal and a general upgrade, and is also starting to separate its combined sewers.

Nitrogen of course is the nutrient that triggers hypoxia -- the drop in dissolved oxygen levels in the western half of the Sound that results in, at best, severely degraded habitat and at worst dead fish. Pathogens in the overflow from Combined sewers result in closed beaches and closed shellfish beds.

Twenty years ago, when the extent of the Sound's hypoxia problem was first becoming known, people would shake their head in despair because poorer cities like Bridgeport, they said, would never be able to afford sewage plant improvements. The Soundkeeper forced the issue in 1986 though by suing Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stratford, and the state of Connecticut made 20 percent of the upgrade money available as a grant and the rest available as a low-interest loan. To fix combined sewers -- which are designed to release raw but diluted sewage into waterways when it rains -- the state grant is 50 percent.

This Connecticut Post article talks about the work in Bridgeport, although as usual with the Connecticut Post the story raises as many questions as it answers.

Meanwhile, dissolved oxygen levels are still dropping in the far western end of the Sound this summer. Officials overseeing the cleanup, which has been going on now for eight years or so, are still saying that we'll see real water quality only over the relatively long term -- maybe another eight years.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bad News from Estuaries & Coastal Waters All Over

There was a big sewage spill in Lynn, Massachusetts, the other day and public officials were outraged:

At a recent City Council meeting, Councilor at Large George V. Colella called the incident ''unacceptable" and demanded that a special meeting be held to receive updates from officials in Lynn, the state departments of Conservation and Recreation and Environmental Protection, and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which operates the broken sewer line.

Contrast his attitude with that of officials in New Haven and Connecticut back in April when a New Haven treatment plant spilled 12 million gallons of sewage into the Sound.

Outrage? No way. Concern? Nope. Worry? Not a bit.

They thought it was no big deal! And I guess the big investigation into the spill, by DEP and the Attorney General, is still continuing. It’s been going on for at least 95 days by now.

Meanwhile, to the south, 6.7 percent of the main section of Chesapeake Bay had dissolved oxygen concentrations of 0.2 milligrams per liter or less last month. Not surprisingly, Larry Simns, president of the Chesapeake Bay Waterman’s Association, was not happy:

“We need someone to do something about it," Simns said. "Everybody knows the source of the problems. No one wants to do anything about it because it costs too much money.”

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Are there More Lobsters in the Sound this Summer or Not?

The difficulty of knowing what’s going on under the surface of Long Island Sound is illustrated perfectly by a story in today’s Journal News, the paper I used to work for, in Westchester County. The issue is lobster abundance, and the question is: are there more lobsters than there were after the big die-off of 1999 or has the population failed to rebound so far?

The answer seems to be yes.

A handful of lobstermen say that there are more lobsters this year than in other recent years. And someone from the New York State DEC says they’ve been hearing anecdotally that the lobster catch is somewhat larger.

On the other hand, some lobstermen say the reports of more lobsters are wrong and misleading. And one of the lobstermen who thinks things are improving also said that in some areas there are no lobsters to be found at all:

… despite the good signs, there were none left in the area around the Bronx-Westchester border, which is filled with deep holes where lobsters once sought shelter, making it the best spot in the region for seeking the delicacies.

"There's nothing from New Rochelle to City Island," Mueller said. "There's not a lobster to be found."

My bias is with the marine fisheries biologists of the Connecticut DEP (that is, I’m biased in favor of scientific inquiry over anecdotal evidence; both are important but they tell you different things). The same biologists – Penny Howell and Dave Simpson – have been systematically keeping track of fish and lobster abundance since the days of the severe hypoxia crisis in the late 1980s. Here’s what the Journal News reports, citing Penny:

While numbers have not been refined, they appear to be little better than last year's trawls, which showed it to be the third worst year of the 21 years the agency has been doing the survey. … they showed an average of 2.5 lobsters in 2004, down from the record, 18.5 in 1998. The numbers had averaged about 7 in the late 1990s before reaching the record. Since 1998, the numbers have dropped off severely and steadily.

This year's number will be slightly higher than last year's, but still will be less than 3, Howell said.

I sent off an e-mail to Penny Howell this morning, and she responded with some additional insight:

The only good news is that 2002-2004 seem to be the bottom and 2005 may be just a bit higher, but obviously it's too early to be optimistic or sure of an end in the downward trend. Whatever happened in 1999 has played through the entire age structure and will take years to recoup - if conditions remain favorable which is still open to question. The only thing we can say for sure is that the fishery is not the cause - but they must be part of the solution.

What seems to be beyond dispute is that if the population is rebounding, it is doing so very slowly. And it will do so, as Penny says, only if water conditions remain favorable.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Water Quality Continues to Worsen in Western End of the Sound

It's safe to say that there's not much life right now in the bottom waters of Long Island Sound between New Rochelle, Larchmont and Mamaroneck in Westchester and Matinecock Point and Hempstead Harbor in Nassau. Dissolved oxygen concentrations in 54 feet of water at Execution Rocks are at 0.7 milligrams per liter, which is only eight percent of what they should be.

A few miles further east, at the Western Sound location, between Greenwich and Oyster Bay, DO levels are 2.5 milligrams per liter, or 32 percent of what the water should hold, at 51 feet deep.

Those readings come from UConn's MYSound sensors, and they of course represent just two locations in a big estuary. The area between the two locations no doubt would show a gradient from 0.7 up to 2.5. The Connecticut DEP is sending out its water quality monitoring boat later this week for broader testing, and its results should be available early next week. With hot weather forecast for the next few days, there's probably not much chance that DO levels will do anything but fall.

Near the surface at both the Execution Rocks and Western Sound sensors, DO concentrations are much higher -- 10.1 or 137 percent at the former and 8.2 or 118 percent at the latter. The 137 percent and 118 percent readings mean the water is supersaturated with oxygen, which means there's a bloom of algae occurring.

Here's what the MySound site says about DO saturation:

The amount of dissolved oxygen that water can hold depends on both the water temperature and salinity. Warm water holds far less oxygen than cold water (warm water holds less of any gas then cold water). What this means is -- in the summer, even if the water is 100% saturated, the amount of oxygen availiable for marine organisms may still not be enough. Occasionally, the water can be supersaturated, that is the percent saturation is over 100%. This would happen if there were a phytoplankton bloom (phytoplankton give off oxygen as they photosynthesize) concurrent with 100% saturated water. Saturation is measured relative to what we would expect for a body of still water that has reached equilibrium with the air.

How bad are this year's readings? Let's use 3 milligrams per liter, which is the level at which the water is no longer habitable by fish.

2005 (as of two weeks ago): 60 square miles were below 3 miligrams per liter.

2004: 258 square miles were below 3.5 milligrams per liter.

2003: 345 square miles were below 3.

The low dissolved oxygen conditions typically end in early September, so we have about a month to go of potentially worsening conditions this year.

Looking further back, to the worst of the worst:

1987, the year of the great fish die-offs: 350 square miles were below 3 milligrams per liter.

1989: 517 square miles were below 3.

Dissolved oxygen drops because nitrogen, mainly from treated sewage, fertilizes the Sound's phytoplankton, and when they die and decay, they use of oxygen. The Sound is bad but other coastal waters are much worse. Imagine, for example, if your nitrogen conveyor was as big as the Mississippi River. Actually you don't have to imagine it. The Mississippi River is a nitrogen conveyor, into the Gulf of Mexico, where a vast area -- 4,564 square miles -- is virtually dead again this summer because of low oxygen levels. The area is so big, newspaper accounts need to resort to comparing it in size to states and countries:

The zone's size varies year to year. At 5,800 square miles, last year's was bigger than Connecticut. The record of 8,500 -- about the size of Israel and a bit smaller than New Jersey -- was in 2002.

Nitrogen fertilizes our crops, we consume it when we eat, and it ends up in our sewage, or else it runs off farms into water ways. The Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound -- it's all the same problem.

"Broadwater's" Profits from Using Our Sound? Sorry, it's a Secret

John Hritko and his Big Energy boys at Shell-TransCanada want to put a liquefied natural gas facility in the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound, and they have an idea how much money they'll make if the federal government lets them do so.

But even though they'll be using waters we own to enrich themselves, thy're keeping their estimated profits a secret.

Why? My guess is that they don't want us to know because the profit from building their industrial facility on our waters will be somewhere between outrageous and obscene.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Ivory-billed Woodpecker: Skeptics are Now Much Less Skeptical

The Times has a story in Tuesday's paper reporting that the ornithologists who were about to challenge the evidence that the ivory-billed woodpecker was alive in the Arkansas woods have listened to a tape recording of its call and are now convinced that the bird has risen from the ranks of the extinct. Unlike in partisan politics, scientists apparently can consider new evidence and admit that they are wrong. Amazing.

Don't Use Long Island Sound to Subsidize a LNG Factory

By bad coincidence, yesterday’s “Bi-State Day of Celebrating Long Island Sound” (which was the stealth name for the anti-Broadwater event that took place in Branford, Connecticut) came just a couple of days after the passage in Washington of a new energy bill that stripped the states of any say in where to locate liquefied natural gas terminals.

So officially, people who think the middle of Long Island Sound is a bad place for a major energy facility will have to rely on the political appointees at FERC to protect our publicly-owned resource.

Unofficially, we might have to rely on the likes of Charles Schumer. From a May post:

Schumer said yesterday he'll stop the project, which is a joint venture of TransCanada and Shell, by pressuring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to Newsday:

"FERC is very susceptible to what Congress wants. We set its budget and approve its members," Schumer, a Democrat, said. If FERC approves the project, Schumer added, he will push for special legislation to block it.

The New Haven Register reported that 75 people showed up for yesterday’s “celebration,” which was held in the adjoining backyards of two public officials from Branford.

Although I had other plans though and couldn’t make it, I was flattered that Leah Lopez, of Save the Sound, asked me to give a short talk on the history of the Sound, and even offered to get copies of my book to sell and sign. But today I got a chance to say what I think anyway when a reporter, Ali Macalady from a monthly called the Northern Sky News, called to interview me about Broadwater.

I told her what I would have told those at yesterday’s event: Long Island Sound used to be an industrial center, and while the local wealth created by manufacturing led to a golden era in many of the region’s cities, it also led to astonishing pollution.

The industrial era is long gone. And now that factories have abandoned the region, leaving the heavy metals that still contaminate our harbors and the useless mills that blight our cities, we’re finally shaking the attitude about the Sound that the industrial era typified – namely, that the main function of Long Island Sound and its tributaries is to subsidize our incompatible economic activities.

In the old days that subsidy amounted to free disposal of industrial waste. Now, with Broadwater, the subsidy would be the use of publicly-owned waters for private corporate gain. But there’s no difference. In both cases, it’s not what Long Island Sound is for.

Quieter Boats, Please

Noisy boats, including those obnoxious cigarette-type boats, are in for bigger fines in Connecticut if their owners decline to have their decibel level tested. Now if they can only do something about the smell of diesel exhaust and the scandalously low mileage that outboards get.
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