Friday, September 30, 2005

Hooting Back at the Owls

I was in the bathroom with the water running at about 10:15 last night when I thought I heard the dogs barking, Louie and Wags, our neighbors’ beagles. It was the first really autumnal night of the season and all the upstairs windows but one were closed against the chill. The open window was in the bathroom, so I leaned down and listened at the screen.

From a tree just beyond the stone wall that marks our property line, there came an astonishing series of barks and growls. A couple of possibilities flashed through my brain. Coyotes? Raccoons? Then I heard the diagnostic “Who cooks for you?”

Two barred owls – males, I surmised – were going head to head. I called downstairs to my wife, Gina, so she could listen. They were so close we could hear their voices quaver. They sounded like monkeys, like dogs, and occasionally like barred owls – “aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-aw—whooah!” – the “aws” ascending in pitch and culminating in a burst followed by a low sustained hoot filled with vibrato. It was as if we could hear their vocal cords quivering.

We live in a part of the outer suburbs with enough protected land, watershed property and big unsubdivided tracts to support a satisfyingly large number of animals that are qualitatively different than the standard deer, raccoons and skunks of suburbia. On our three acres alone we’ve found box turtles, wood frogs and gray tree frogs, ringneck snakes, luna moths and walking sticks, and an easy walk brings us to places where wood turtles and spotted turtles, marbled salamanders, bobcats and river otters can be found. Broad-winged hawks and red-shouldered hawks nest in our neighborhood, and in just about every month of the year we’ve heard the barred owls’ “Who-cooks-for-you? Who-cooks-for-you-all?” hoot.

But for reasons I can’t explain September has become the month for barred owls. Last September we heard them for 10 days in a row, or until their calls became so commonplace that I stopped counting. We heard them at three in the afternoon, and we heard them at 7:30 in the evening. We heard them before we went to bed and we heard them in the early morning.

One morning I woke up at 3:45 and couldn’t fall back asleep. An hour or so later, one of our cats wanted to come in, so I got up and opened the door. A barred owl was hooting. From down the driveway I heard it make what I think of as the other distinctive barred owl call, the ascending “aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-aw—whooah!” Then from the woods to the west an owl responded with a single syllable: “whoaw.” I stood listening for a few minutes and then stepped onto the deck. I realized there were two owls calling from down the driveway. They were regaling each other with the same “aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-aw—whooah!” call. The early morning was humid and cloudy but bright – there was a big moon behind the thin clouds. Every few minutes a slight wet breeze blew. The owls went back and forth, over and over. Finally, as I was preparing to go back in, I heard another one, far to the south, call “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all.”

Four barred owls or had one flown away and resumed this interaction at a distance?

I couldn’t tell and, since I was wearing nothing but boxers, I was too chilled to linger to see if the answer revealed itself. Whether it was three or four, I was glad to know they were there, that I was living in their woods. But I wanted them to know they were in my woods too.

I cleared my throat and cupped my hands to my mouth and as best I could called back, just once – “Whooa!” And went back to bed.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

John Jay, Dam Removal, Encyclopedia, Oysters

The Jay House in Rye is interesting, among other reasons, because it's a historic site that's open to the public but hasn't yet been restored. So you can see what the inside of an old house that came close to being destroyed by neglect looks like, and you can watch the excruciatingly slow process of restoration. (The Jay Heritage Society even has its annual gala inside the building, which makes for an unusual setting, to say the least). The house, a spectacular Greek Revival that is next door to an equally spectacular Greek Revival, was built in 1838 by John Jay's son, on the site of the Jay family's long-time homestead (the Jays are all buried nearby too).

I wrote about this restoration-being-done-in-public back in 1997. It's still going on, with the same craftsmen doing the work, but it's now going to move along a lot faster thanks to a $3 million gift by one of the women who worked throughout the 1980s to save the property from being turned into a housing development. The place is worth visiting and when you're done at the house you can walk down through Marshlands Conservancy to Milton Harbor and the shore of the Sound....

There are so many dam-removal and fish-ladder projects in the Long Island Sound watershed that I've lost track. Here's another one, by the Nature Conservancy, in the Eightmile River area of eastern Connecticut....

The Encyclopedia of New England -- it's New England from A to Z, with foreword by Donald Hall, whose essays (in Here at Eagle Pond, String Too Short to Be Saved, Remembering Poets) are terrific and whose book of poems about his wife's death was too heartbreaking to get through. If my friends at Yale University Press send me a copy, I'll tell you what I think of it....

The Providence Journal tells an interesting story about oyster farming in Narragansett Bay and the attempt to have the eastern oyster declared an endangered species. Native oysters are so rare in the bay that oyster farmers won't say where they find them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Commercial Fisherman Sues Branford & New Haven Over Sewage Issues

Nick Crismale, a commercial fisherman based in Branford, has sued the town of Branford, claiming that its sewage treatment plant has ruined his shellfish beds and that pollution from the plant is threatening the public trust.

The New Haven Register wrote about it this morning. Near the end of the story it offhandedly mentions something that I don’t think has been reported yet: that Crismale has also filed a suit against New Haven for the huge sewage spill in late April and early May.

Sphere regulars may remember this as the spill I’ve been railing about not only because it elicited almost no outrage but because it prompted the state attorney general to announce that the state was investigating the incident – an investigation that as far as I can tell has gone nowhere. (See my previous post, for example.)

Crismale is co-owner of the Branford River Lobster Company, and he is president of the Connecticut Commercial Lobsterman’s Association. The Register reported:

Crismale said his five-boat, 12-man operation was shut down for almost two weeks afterward, and he wants compensation.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Connecticut's Sewage Spill Investigation

People in the audience raised their eyebrows yesterday when I mentioned that it's been almost five months since Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the state was investigating the 12-million-gallon sewage spill in New Haven in late April and early May.

As part of a talk I gave in Essex at the annual meeting of Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, I suggested that perhaps the reason the investigation has gone on for so long is that the sewage spill did not draw much attention to begin with, and the lack of concern and outrage allowed Blumenthal and the state to either put the investigation on the back burner or drop it all together.

The circumstances were these: The spill took place at the East Haven treatment plant over the weekend, beginning on April 30 and continuing for two or three days. Despite it being one of the biggest spills in years, the only news coverage it got was from Channel 8 (which aired stories on consecutive days) and the New Haven Register (which ran one story).

The Channel 8 story quoted Nick Crismale, a lobsterman and clammer who harvests clams on state-owned beds in the New Haven area:

"The landlord here is the State of Connecticut and the attorney general," he says. "What is our landlord gonna do for us?"

"I'm sympathetic," says Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal says the Department of Agriculture is the landlord for the shellfish beds and as its lawyer he'll investigate shellfisherman claims that this is a recurring problem.

I sent off an e-mail to Blumenthal, through his press office asking about an investigation. On May 4, his spokesman responded with the Attorney General's official statement:

The sewage spill in the Morris Cove neighborhood of New Haven on April 30 is a very serious and urgent concern. I understand that DEP is continuing its active investigation. This factual investigation should provide a full understanding of the cause, nature and extent of the spill. We then will determine, in cooperation with DEP, what legal action under the water pollution laws may be appropriate. I am strongly committed to the protection of Long Island Sound from all encroachments and damage, whether from sewage or unnecessary and inappropriate utility projects. Long Island Sound is a precious and irreplaceable resource, and I will continue to fight to protect it.

In a post here that day, I asked two questions: Should New Haven should be fined for violating its state permit to discharge pollutants? Is New Haven responsible for damages to natural resources such as shellfish beds?

Once or twice after that I asked again about the investigation, and Blumenthal's spokesman's response was always the same: I'll check and get back to you. So far though, nothing.

Then in this post, about 10 days ago, I raised the following possibilities:

Perhaps, in the best case, state officials are diligently doing their jobs and carefully looking into the incident, and that it really does take almost five months to figure out what happened.

Or perhaps they investigated and quickly determined that it was no big deal, that nobody did anything wrong, and that no violations occurred. That certainly was the state DEP's attitude early on, when an official was quoted as saying that mother nature would take care of the problem. I can understand why, if that were the result, they'd want to keep it quiet: who would believe that a 12-million-gallon sewage spill violated no regulations?

Or finally, maybe there never was a state investigation to begin with, and that Blumenthal said there was just because it's one of those things you say when you think you might feel some heat but then you realize there really is no heat because the only person paying attention is a some self-appointed guardian of the Sound who lives in New York and happens to have a blog. (I hope that's not it, for more reasons than one.)

A handful of people at yesterday's event said they'd be checking in here today to read the AG's statement and then getting in touch with his office to see what's up. If you click on the Archives link for May in the right-hand column, and then scroll all the way down, you can read the handful of posts I wrote about the sewage spill.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A Victory for Public Access in Old Saybrook

Connecticut courts have again ruled that public land is in fact public and that people ought to be able to use it to reach the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound. This case pertains to nine small pieces of land, adding up to less than an acre, at the ends of roads at Cornfield Point, a 1930s-era subdivision in Old Saybrook. At the time they were deeded to the town. Over the years some homeowners apparently decided that they would prefer it if the land was theirs. The Hartford Courant called it a "land grab":

In recent years, First Selectman Michael Pace has led officials in a bid to reclaim these endings for use as small public parks. Neighbors and their neighborhood association opposed the plan, and sought to justify their land grab in court.

But a Superior Court judge said the town's land is in fact the town's, and Old Saybrook can open the parcels up to the public.

It's a good victory. Everyone knows that when it comes to the Sound, in many places you can't get there from here. The road-endings are not going to attract thousands. But even if they attract only a couple of dozen people from surrounding neighborhoods, it will be a good thing for the Sound.

One Opinion But a Larger Truth?

Twenty years ago I was always amazed that many people who grew up near Long Island Sound (which I did not) seemed to hate the Sound because of how bad water quality had become -- as if it were the Sound's fault. I assumed that in the years since, attitudes had begun to change. But maybe not. This piece, by a student at SUNY New Paltz, isn't a reasoned argument about why anyone should feel revulsion at the Sound -- in fact it mentions the Sound only parenthetically. But in one throwaway line about how the author would not eat anything caught in the Sound, it perhaps reflects what the next generation of local environmentalists think, and in that one mention, you can feel the revulsion. It's not good news when young people give up on a place.

Start Spreading the News About Broadwater

Here's the most-frequently e-mailed Hartford Courant story, according to the paper's website this morning. My guess is that the people sending it around are not Broadwater executives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Public Speaking

I had no idea there was any such profession as a cosmetic chemist, no less a society of cosmetic chemists, but nevertheless I found myself giving a talk last night to the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, at a golf course restaurant in Fairfield.

I had to take the Merritt Parkway eastbound at 6 p.m. to get there, which meant the half-hour drive took an hour, but I agreed to go because I’m speaking on Sunday to Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, and I needed the practice. The Cosmetic Chemists turned out to be a nice bunch of folks, and they were interested in the Sound – in fact, they had spent part of the day doing a beach cleanup at Short Beach, in Fairfield – so it was well worth my while..

As soon as I got in the car for the drive home I began thinking about what went well and what didn’t, and how I should revise the talk for Sunday. That got me thinking about some truisms of public speaking:

1. It is virtually impossible to be over-prepared when you stand in front of a crowd and talk. Every time I give a Long Island Sound talk – and I’ve given several dozen over the last couple of years – I realize this again. I have a friend who owns a business that trains people to speak in public, and one of his mantras is “rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.” And even when I’ve rehearsed, there are a couple of seconds when I first look out at the audience and think, “I could really bomb here tonight,” and there’s at least one time when, intimidated by all the expectant faces, I find that the words catch in my throat and I have to force myself to perform.

2. The audience will tell you how you’re doing. You can see on their faces when they are interested and when they aren’t. If I hit a stretch where interest flags, I try to change my tone of voice or speaking rhythm until I get (as quickly as possible) to a section that grabs them, and when I do, I can see people literally straighten up and pay attention again.

3. People like to hear stories. See number 2 above.

4. A talk or lecture is not a reading, and it shouldn’t sound like a reading. Another of my friend’s mantras is: Use the voice you use when you’re telling your friends a good story. Even if there are parts of my talk that I have to read, I try to rewrite them to sound like talking. But for the most part, I try to know the material cold so I can just tell it instead of having to read it.

5. Slides and PowerPoint presentations get in the way of communicating with the audience. Speakers who use slides or PowerPoint often spend as much time looking at the screen or fiddling with the equipment as they do looking at the audience. I once went to a conference at which the keynote talk was given by an ecologist who read a lecture while showing PowerPoint slides filled with different information from what he was reading. To understand what was going on, the audience had to chose to listen and ignore the slides or read the slides and ignore the lecture. I got nothing from the talk, and I’m pretty confident that few others did either.

A Long Road Trip to Support Broadwater

If you thought it was a good idea to put a big liquefied natural gas facility in the middle of Long Island Sound and you happened to live in San Francisco or Pennsylvania, would you go to a public hearing in East Lyme, Connecticut, to make your opinion heard?

Two people did, and it makes me wonder if Broadwater paid their expenses or even just flat-out paid them a fee to do so.

Judy Benson, of the New London Day, covered last night’s hearing in East Lyme, and here’s what she reported:

Representatives of Broadwater, a partnership of TransCanada Corp. and Shell Oil Co., attended the meeting but did not speak, but a group of liquefied natural gas engineers and seamen spoke on their behalf, sometimes to a hostile reaction from local residents in the audience of about 50.

“We are all consumers of energy,” said Bill McHugh, who identified himself as a mariner on LNG carriers and a resident of the New York area. “LGN is clean, and can be transported and stored safely.”

John Andrews of Altoona, Pa., a retired shipyard engineer, and Michael Blakesley of San Francisco, a sailor on LNG carriers, said fears the barge would be vulnerable to strong hurricanes are unfounded, because the facilities are built to the highest safety standards and have safety records better than those of the petroleum industry.

I suppose it’s plausible that their union or even their employer sent the two sailors. I can’t figure out why the retired shipyard engineer from Altoona would travel all the way to eastern Connecticut though.

I’m not implying that there’s anything wrong with helping your supporters get to the hearing. Save the Sound sent me an e-mail the other day asking if I planned to go to tonight’s hearing, because if I was, a bus was leaving from Westport in late afternoon, making a stop in Milford, and arriving in Branford by 6. I declined but it seemed perfectly appropriate for them to make the offer.

That said, I’d be interested in knowing more about the speakers from California and Pennsylvania and any other unlikely location.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

No Exaggerations Needed to Oppose Broadwater

Anti-Broadwater organizers did a good job getting pols out to Milford yesterday to announce their opposition to the big LNG terminal that Shell-TransCanada wants to put in the middle of Long Island Sound.

Some of the pols, and some of the reporters who covered the event, even said things that made sense and were true.

"This is the beginning," state Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, warned. "If this is approved, we will see the beginning of the industrialization of the Sound."

Although this can’t be proven, it is plausible. If the feds OK a terminal between Branford and Shoreham, why not put another between West Haven and Mount Sinai, or for that matter, why not stick one way out on the north shore of Long Island?

"This proposal is a terrible and stupid idea," Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said.

It’s an opinion and can’t be proven, but he’s right.

"We are at a crossroads here on the Sound and in the nation as to whether we will tolerate these kinds of liquid natural gas facilities to be built willy-nilly on our shores."

So said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who apparently found time to break away from the big investigation into the New Haven sewage spill. He was right to imply that unless we deal with these issues as part of a coherent energy policy, we’re going to be fighting them one after another.

Other assertions were much more questionable. Some verged on the idiotic. Here are a few not from the local pols but from the reporters.

The terminal would also fill the Sound with ships carrying liquid natural gas.

In fact, there will be two or three deliveries of LNG a week, according to FERC's Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.

Whether the facility will be visible from the Connecticut shore in Fairfield County is in dispute.

It’s probably true that on the clearest days, the terminal will be visible from parts of Stratford, which is about 15 miles away – but only barely. Are tankers going in and out of New Haven Harbor a visual blight in Stratford? If not, then the LNG terminal, which is further away, won’t be either. Anything west of Stratford is simply too far away. From Compo Beach in Westport, for example, you can’t see tankers leaving New Haven, and Compo faces due east. And of course you would not even be looking in the right direction from any beach or harbor or coastline that faces west.

The plant would be visible from most of the Connecticut coastline.

Long Island Sound is a big place – 111 miles long and 21 miles at its widest. The site for the LNG terminal is approximately in the middle. Hammonasset is 18 miles away, which puts it at the very edge of visibility. Anything east of there is highly unlikely to be affected by a view of the terminal. The mouth of the Connecticut River is about 30 miles away; New London more than 40. Stamford is about 35 miles away, Greenwich 40.You can’t see that far, even on a clear day.

Long Island Sound is not an industrial district, and it’s a bad idea to put a major industrial facility in the middle of it. In fact, it’s a bad enough idea that there’s really no need to exaggerate just how bad it will be.

(Full disclosure: CFE and Save the Sound sponsored yesterday's event.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Fishing on Long Island Sound: $40 a Person to Catch Next to Nothing

As an economic asset, Long Island Sound is worth about $5 billion a year to the economies of Connecticut and coastal New York. But what does that mean in real-life terms?

My friend and former colleague Ken Valenti went out to do a story about recreational fishing on Long Island Sound, and found a business – a party boat in Port Chester called the Snow Goose 2, owned and operated by Kevin Reynolds, of Fairfield, Connecticut – that without a doubt will be suffering if the Sound cleanup does not succeed. Ken wrote:

The 50-footer, built in 1987, holds 40 people. On the recent trip, he took 22 fishermen on the six-hour trip. The cost of $40 per adult, $30 per child 12 and under covers the six-hour trip, with bait and tackle. An angler can rent a rod for $5.

The fishermen on the Snow Goose 2 were looking for fluke that day, but didn’t do too well. In six hours, they caught a combined total of 15 fish. Ken’s story though did not say when the fishing trip occurred (I was pretty sure I knew why: the Journal News often holds stories for weeks, waiting for room in the paper, and when they finally do publish them, they’re sheepish about saying the events you’re reading about took place more than a month ago.)

So I sent Ken an e-mail and asked him when exactly it was that he went out on the Snow Goose 2. August 17, he said.

I did not have to look at the DEP hypoxia maps to know what was going on then off western Fairfield County, where the Snow Goose 2 was fishing that day, but I did so anyway: dissolved oxygen levels were less than 2 milligrams per liter.

Could the link between clean water and a healthy economy be any more clear? Fish can't live in water with less than 2 milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter. I wonder how often the customers of the Snow Goose 2 will return to pay $40 to catch next to nothing.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Here's a Way to Avoid the Environmental Hyocrisy the Providence Journal Thinks We're Guilty Of

"... wouldn't it be nice if we all spent more time pondering the paradoxes of our public rhetoric and private actions?"

Thus asks a Providence Journal editorial writer, who suggests (not unjustly) that environmentalists and elected officials are hypocritical when the oppose LNG terminals and offshore wind farms while living in big air conditioned houses, recreating in big, gas-inefficient power boats, and driving big, gas-guzzling cars:

Then there's Rhode Island Governor Carcieri, who wants to convert state cars from gasoline to comparatively clean natural gas, but doesn't want liquefied natural gas coming into Narragansett Bay on oceangoing vessels to supplement our increasingly expensive and uncertain natural-gas supplies. Nor does he want LNG arriving through any other mode except the thousands of trucks that each year bring both LNG and pollution.

Meanwhile, we haven't heard a peep about the presumably explosive gasoline barges that come up the Bay. Perhaps they should be banned, and we could run all southeastern-New England cars on vegetable oil.

Then, of course, we have governors demanding that the price of gasoline be cut (encouraging us to use more of it), while at the same time spouting the need to "conserve" energy. How?

It's not a bad point if you can overlook the sanctimoniousness. Another thing the Providence Journal might want to encourage while preaching at us to trade in our SUVs for hybrids is for us to stop buying newspapers. High among the environmental desecrations on our planet is the production of paper for newsprint.

Here is what writer Alex Shoumatoff reported on his website and in OnEarth, the NRDC journal:

If there were an international tribunal that prosecuted crimes against the planet, like the one in The Hague that deals with crimes against humanity, what is happening on the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Tennessee would undoubtedly be indictable.

The crime—one of many clandestine ecocides American corporations are committing around the world—has taken place over three decades. About 200,000 acres on this tableland have already been clear-cut by the paper industry, and the cutting continues. ...

The biggest landowner on the southern plateau is Bowater, the largest manufacturer of newsprint in the country...

I have no idea what company the Providence Journal buys newsprint from. And it's unlikely that many Sphere readers actually buy the Journal. But here's an idea that will allow us environmentalists to stop feeling like the hypocrites the Journal's editoritalist says we are: Read newspapers on the web. It's free and you won't have to worry about contributing to the rape of pristine landscapes like the one in Tennessee that Shoumatoff describes. Even better, maybe the Providence Journal should give up its print edition and publish only on the web. Computers, of course, use energy. But at least we and the Providence Journal will be able to eliminate one of our hypocritical behaviors.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Connecticut's Sewage-Spill Investigation is Now 135 Days Old. Any Results Yet?

It's now been 135 days since Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that the state was investigating the biggest sewage spill on Long Island Sound in years -- the 12-million-gallon spill that went on for days in East Haven in late April-early May. (See here and here).

I wonder how it's going, or even if it's going. One would think that over the course of 135 days, investigators could interview a lot of people, check a lot of records and permits to see if a violation occurred, and look into damages to natural resources.

However at the risk of stating the obvious, three things come to mind:

Perhaps, in the best case, state officials are diligently doing their jobs and carefully looking into the incident, and that it really does take almost five months to figure out what happened.

Or perhaps they investigated and quickly determined that it was no big deal, that nobody did anything wrong, and that no violations occurred. That certainly was the state DEP's attitude early on, when an official was quoted as saying that mother nature would take care of the problem. I can understand why, if that were the result, they'd want to keep it quiet: who would believe that a 12-million-gallon sewage spill violated no regulations?

Or finally, maybe there never was a state investigation to begin with, and that Blumenthal said there was just because it's one of those things you say when you think you might feel some heat but then you realize there really is no heat because the only person paying attention is a some self-appointed guardian of the Sound who lives in New York and happens to have a blog. (I hope that's not it, for more reasons than one.)

Certainly the the news media hasn't paid attention to it. Nor has the Sound's environmental community.

So what's up with the 135-day investigation?

Would a Big Hurricane Blow an LNG Terminal Out of the Water?

What would happen to a liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound if a big hurricane hit Long Island and southern New England, as it did in 1938? That possibility hadn't occurred to me until this morning, when a New London Day columnist named Bethe Dufresne raised it in the context of Broadwater's proposal to put an industrial-sized LNG terminal in the Sound.

She refers to a terminal in Louisiana:

The Web site for Trunkline LNG Terminal in Lake Charles (La.) noted that the facility is built to withstand winds up to 150 mph.

Perhaps I'm just being picky, but on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, a category 4, like Katrina, has “dangerous, sustained” winds of 131 mph to 155 mph. That's a five-mile doorway to doomsday, not to mention a “cat 5.”

Read it here. The column bounces around a bit and despite its early promise, doesn't really focus on the hurricane issue (she never says, for example, how the Trunkline terminal fared in Katrina, or whether worst-case storms will be considered in Broadwater's safety review), but she raises the question, and it's one worth looking into.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Sound is in Bad Shape Again, and We Shouldn't Be Surprised

Hypoxia has not quite loosened its grip on the western end of Long Island Sound. In fact, it seems to be holding on longer than in any year since at least 1997.

After a number of years in the late 1990s and through 2000 when dissolved oxygen levels showed an improvement trend, last year’s hypoxia was characterized as “surprisingly low,” as was 2003’s and 2002’s. This year makes four years in a row of bad conditions.

Perhaps it’s again time to consider severely low dissolved concentrations to be the norm, to go back to thinking of the western Sound as a severely stressed ecosystem, uninhabitable in large parts by marine life. And to stop saying we’re surprised by it.

At Execution Rocks, off New Rochelle, dissolved oxygen concentrations this afternoon were 1.6 milligrams per liter; yesterday they were about 1 milligram higher. Even a bit further east, between Greenwich and Oyster Bay, today’s reading was only 2.6, which is bad.

If you click here you can look at the DEP hypoxia maps through the years. In 2001, DO levels stayed low through at least September 10, but I clicked back through 1997 and found no other year in which they were as low as 1.6.

The Greenwich Time sent reporter Michael Dinan out on the DEP research boat during one of its third-week-of-August cruises. Near Eastchester Bay, it recorded 0.05 milligrams per liter. Quoting Matthew Lyman, the DEP environmental analyst who does the mapping, the reporter wrote:

"It stresses the animals," Lyman said. "The fin fish simply won't stay in a place with no oxygen, some die, and others are unable to reproduce. It can disturb the entire ecosystem by disturbing the food chain."

Other results of hypoxia stations the DEP team visited report 1.97 mg/L at Wescott Cove in Stamford, .94 mg/L at Hempstead Harbor on Long Island's north shore, and .05 mg/L at the DEP's westernmost station near Eastchester Bay in the Bronx.

"That's about as close to zero as you can get," Lyman said of the Bronx reading. "That's what I'd call very severe."

Those who study these things think that in addition to the huge amounts of sewage and other pollutants we continue to put into the Sound, much of the blame for the bad conditions of recent years can be placed on the weather: Hotter temperatures, warmer water, less rain, more rain at the wrong time.

Back in the late 1980s, Eric Smith of the Connecticut DEP Marine Fisheries bureau, made the common-sense point that hypoxia has two causes: nitrogen, the main source of which is sewage, and the weather – and we can’t do anything about the weather.

The premise of the Long Island Sound cleanup was that we can do something about nitrogen, in sewage and elsewhere, and a lot of money was spent on computer models to figure out what to do and where. The result was the requirement that sewage plants in the region take steps to reduce the amount of nitrogen in their discharges to the Sound by 58.5 percent by 2014.

That nitrogen-reduction program is ongoing, and it’s true that until New York City, which accounts for 80 percent of the Sound’s sewage, starts showing progress, all the work done by everyone else is small potatoes.

Dissolved oxygen will rebound soon, of course, as the weather continues to cool and fall storms blow through. But I doubt that hotter summers and warmer water temperatures can be considered abnormal any longer. In fact, they are probably our future. I hope the computer modelers have taken that into account.

LNG Hearing

I didn't see anything in this morning paper's about last night's hearing on the proposal to put an LNG terminal in Long Island Sound. The meeting was on Long Island and it was primary night and because resources are not infinite, Newsday probably decided it wasn't worth it (or else buried the story on its website where I couldn't find it). If it pops up on Atlantic Coast Watch later in the day, I'll link to it. If anybody who attended wants to fill me in, drop me a line.

In Connecticut in the meantime, Waterford's board of selectman voted to officially oppose the LNG plan.

Civil Disobedience: Stamford Cyclists Rides into Greenwich Point Park Again, and Police Let Him Go

If you feel like riding your bike into Greenwich Point Park for free, my guess is that this would be a good time. You might get a ticket but I don't see how Greenwich can make a fine stick against you if they're allowing Paul Kempner to ride in for free.

Kempner is the 75-year-old Stamford resident who was given a ticket, with a $92 fine, earlier in the summer for riding in and not paying the $10-a-day non-resident fee. He did it to make the point that cyclists and walkers should be able to get into the park, and to Long Island Sound, without having to pay. He took the case to court, where it was dismissed because prosecutors said it would be too expensive to go to trial.

When he said last week that he would do it again because he knew that in a trial a judge would declare Greenwich's park policies for non-residents unconstitutional, the town's first selectman, Jim Lash, said Kempner would be ticketed and fined again.

But he wasn't. He rode in yesterday. Police asked him to leave but when he wouldn't, they let him go.

"All I can think of is that they don't want this thing to appear in front of a judge," Kempner said. "We think our case is overwhelming that I have a right to use the park."

The Greenwich Time said it was unsuccessful in its attempts to reach Lash for his thoughts.

Meanwhile, mayoral candidates in Stamford want to change the city's policies for charging out-of-towners.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Broadwater's Stacked Deck: Other Opinions

In the environmental review of the big LNG facility proposed for Long Island Sound, Broadwater is playing with a stacked deck. That was my assertion last week. Two readers responded with good insights and more information.

The first response, made as a comment to the original post, challenges my assertion outright:

I was one of the authors for the FERC EIS for the Iroquois Pipeline. I must respectfully challenge your implication that the contents of the EIS are determined by the applicant.

Preparation of the Iroquois EIS involved considerable consultation with numerous government agencies. A draft EIS was subject to intense scrutiny by federal, state, and local government agencies (besides FERC), NGOs, Civic Groups, and individuals. I personally addressed many of the comments made on the draft document.

Consider the last two sentences in your friend's explanation. The NEPA/SEQR process opens up the evaluation of a proposed project to people who might otherwise not be included. I remember reading and responding to a letter from a gentleman who was "considering" becoming a commerical shellfisher. This is the kind of inclusiveness that the process facilitates.

The EIS process doesn't stack the deck. Instead, it opens the process and prevents an applicant from being the sole source of input for the decision that the lead regulatory agency must make.

This is good news if true, and I have no particular reason to believe it isn't. One underlying problem is that the process is designed to mitigate environmental impacts (you'll notice, for example, that the environmental review did not result in the Iroquois Pipeline from crossing the Sound), not to determine if the project should be built or not. I wonder what would have resulted if they had started the Iroquois project with the question, "What should be built along the bottom of Long Island Sound between Milford, Northport and Hunts Point?" rather than "What are the environmental impacts of this pipeline and how should they be mitigated?"

In fact maybe that's how we should start the Broadwater process, with this question: What should be built on the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound between Branford and Shoreham?

Ask the question that way and the answer is not likely to be, "A huge liquefied natural gas facility."

The second reader sent me an e-mail explaining the environmental review process better than I did:

Broadwater's role in the NEPA process is not unique. The role you attribute to Broadwater also describes just about every applicant in every SEQRA process with which I've been involved (my involvement being on the public side, pushing for public scoping, raising community awareness, submitting comments, etc.).

Broadwater is no different than the local developer going before a town board or commission that is acting as the lead agency, like FERC. In fact, in many of those cases, the applicant was the one who wrote the EIS.

Yes, the way NEPA/SEQRA works, it certainly does give the applicant (be it Broadwater, Walmart or Joe Bloe Construction Company) the potential to exert much influence over what ends up in the EIS.

It's particularly troublesome when the applicant and the lead agency are even more entwined than Broadwater and FERC. One example is the way the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) has handled the SEQRA process for the siting of power plants on LI. LIPA is the lead agency and the merchant utilities are the applicants. LIPA already has a contractual relationship with the applicants. LIPA is looking for the power. You can see the tremendous conflict of interest that arises from that situation.

On the other hand, if a particular agency or community doesn't want a project, SEQRA becames a weapon. Whether the project is worthy (say, affordable but higher-density housing) or not (another big-box store) is almost immaterial. SEQRA can still be used to stall projects.

For these reasons, I very much agree with your friend as to the importance of meaningful community outreach, education and involvement. Facts (slanted or otherwise) must be addressed with facts and not propaganda or innuendo. They will become part of the record. Endless repetitions of "I oppose Broadwater because it endangers the health and safety of Long Island Sound" will have very little impact compared to a fact-based argument.

Having seen (read?) the NEPA process in action for the KeySpan Providence and Hess Weaver's Cove LNG applications, I have some peace of mind that a thorough review will be conducted of the environmental impacts of Broadwater. How FERC interprets the information developed in the EIS process is still the concern.

The Providence and Fall River applications demonstrated the level of participation available to governmental agencies and the public. The Massachusetts and Rhode Island Attorneys General developed very strong arguments against both applications, based on the testimony of local and national experts. ...

Based in part on the records developed by the AG's, FERC allowed KeySpan's application but on conditions that KeySpan feels thay cannot meet. FERC approved the Weaver's Cove application.

The NEPA/SEQRA process does not demand a totally independent arbiter of the enviromental impacts. It establishes the ground rules by which the impacts must be evaluated by the lead agencies. I certainly agree that the NEPA/SEQRA process has its limitations and could use some tweaking. For now, we have to work with what we have, which means making reasonable, fact-based arguments.

Both comments are much less cynical than mine and are cause, perhaps, for some small bit of optimism. The public hearings start this week, with meetings Tuesday and Wednesday on Long Island, and continue next week, with meetings in Connecticut.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

New Blogs on the Blogroll

I've added four blogs to my blogroll. Two of them (10,000 Birds and DC Birding Blog) link to Sphere, and the other two (Bootstrap Analysis and A Whipporwil) don't but I like reading them so I've added them anyway. Check them out.

Also Matt Sasso's Long Island Diver blog, which was quiet all summer, has a good post on things he and a friend saw while diving near a bridge on the north shore of LI that I'd never heard of (at least I think it's on the north shore). Good stuff -- a glimpse of what's going on under the surface.

Quotation Marks: The Edge-of-the-Continent Light

Her family had a place on the Connecticut shore, the gray-green waters of Long Island Sound glittering in the distance. The morning light was crystalline. On bright days the light was so sharp it hurt your eyes. It had the quality of platinum, as opposed to the dull iron of the Midwest. My father, standing on a sand dune at Westport, called it the edge-of-the-continent light, an eastern doomsday light without interference until you reached Portugal; and when he mentioned this to his girlfriend Jo she looked at him with a slow smile and said, Well, yessss, except Long Island would get in the way, wouldn't it?

"And you're looking at Venezuela, actually."

-- Ward Just, An Unfinished Season.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

See You in Essex on 9/25?

I’ll be in Essex, Connecticut, on Sunday, September 25, to give the keynote talk at Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound’s annual meeting. I usually fill my talks with amazing and appalling anecdotes – good and bad, current and historical – that fit under the topic of “What is Long Island For?” I’m also planning to squeeze in a few thoughts about the ongoing hypoxia crisis in the western Sound.

It's at the Connecticut River Museum, and everyone is welcome, although I admit that if it turns out to be a beautiful September afternoon and the choice were between listening to me or being outside…

In any case, go here or here for more information.

I understand that Tom Callinan might be there as well, to sing his new anti-Broadwater song. Should be interesting.

I’m available for speaking engagements, by the way. I’m cheap (although not free), I tell good stories, and I never use a PowerPoint. Previous engagements include Audubon Connecticut’s 100th anniversary meeting; Fishers Island’s “Nature Days” event; Audubon New York’s semi-annual Audubon Council meeting; the Society of Conservation Biologists’ annual convention; and the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium. Send me an e-mail if you’re interested.

Stamford Cyclist Keeps Pushing to Increase Public Access to Greenwich Point, to the Discomfort of Greenwich Officials

The 75-year-old Stamford man who was arrested earlier this summer for riding his bike into Greenwich Point Park without paying the $10 entrance fee is making a real pain-in-the-butt of himself to Greenwich officials, It's fun to watch.

First, he insisted on going to trial rather than simply paying the $92 that the town wanted to fine him. The prosecutor considered the cost of a trial (and probably the bad publicity that would accompany it), thought better of it, and dropped the charges. The next day the man, whose name is Paul Kempner, rode his bike into the park again and received a warning, but no ticket, from two cops.

Then he and his attorney, Joseph Bainton, met with a handful of Greenwich officials to try to work out a solution. The Greenwich Time account makes it sound as if the meeting was less than a success:

Bainton, a Manhattan-based attorney, said he told Town Administrator Ed Gomeau, Town Attorney John Wayne Fox and Parks Superintendent Joseph Siciliano that the town's policy violated the 2001 court rulings striking down the town's residents-only access policy.

The rulings overturned a lower court decision from 2000 that upheld the town's residents-only policy -- finding that the towns' parks are held in trust for all state residents. Based on this, Bainton said, the town's policy of different fees for out-of towners and residents is unconstitutional.

"The price should be completely level for all citizens of the state of Connecticut," Bainton said. "If you charge a resident $25 for a seasonal pass and a nonresident $70 a week, doesn't that seem like discrimination?"

Kempner insists that he is going to keep riding his bike in and forcing them to arrest him. Greenwich's First Selectman, Jim Lash, insists that the town will do just that. Bainton says prosecutors can't keep dropping the charges and that if Kempner is arrested, they are going to be in the uncomfortable position of having to go ahead with a trial, at which Greenwich's public access rules could be declared unconstitutional.

All I know about Jim Lash is what I read in the paper, but he seems like a pretty weak and defensive leader. He did little back in April, when three environmentalists were arrested in Greenwich for protesting, in clear violation of their First Amendment rights (the charges were dropped). He presided over a bad decision by the Town's recreation department to kill nuisance Canada geese when other choices were available (and decision the town reversed after people protested).

It's not even clear from the Greenwich Time story if Lash was at the meeting with Kempner. Kempner and his attorney seemed to be looking for a compromise. Lash's only response was that they should go to the recreation commission meetings and work something out with it.

Here's a better suggestion: How about if Kempner and Lash (with the Board of Selectmen) work out an agreement and take it to the rec commission together?

Here's what I suggest: Make Greenwich Point free for bikers and pedestrians. Lower the entrance fee for out-of-towners to something reasonable -- use Westport's fees as a model ($15 per car on weekdays, $30 on weekends). And make it payable at the entrance instead of forcing out-of-towners to go to Town Hall first.

I'm pretty sure if they do that, the sky won't fall on them. If it does, keep changing it until they find something suitable.

But that would mean that would mean that Greenwich would actually have to want out-of-towners on its beaches. On the contrary. Greenwich has set up its out-of-town entrance fees to accomplish exactly what everyone knows they want to accomplish -- to keep out-of-towners out.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Broadwater's Stacked Deck

There’s another point to be made about FERC’s environmental impact statement process for the LNG facility in Long Island Sound, and it’s this: He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Technically, FERC is conducting the environmental study and writing the impact statement. But Broadwater – that is, Shell and TransCanada – are paying for it. That means the people who stand to make a huge profit from a proposal to usurp a public resource have the ear of the federal regulators pretty much whenever they want it. It also means they have tremendous influence on how the environmental impact statement is written: how comprehensive it is, how easy it is to use and to understand, what gets emphasized and what gets underplayed.

As a friend explained it to me:

The fundamental issue under NEPA/SEQR [the National Environmental Policy Act and the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which govern environmental impact reviews] has always been on the one hand to force governmental decision makers to consider the environmental impacts of their decisions (integration of environmental values) versus “putting the fox in charge of the hen house.” FERC is to some extent the captive of the industry it regulates so it is hardly impartial. That is why the NEPA requirement for intergovernmental and intra governmental comment on the DEIS is so important. It is also why public scoping under SEQR is so important.

Never forget that Broadwater is paying the piper. The deck is stacked. But it’s not stacked so badly that the people who don’t want Long Island Sound to become the site of an industrial facility can’t win. The place to start, though, is at next week’s meetings.

Will We Have to Pay to Get to SoundWaters? Also, Public Access Problems on Narragansett Bay

Some Stamford officials want the city to charge an entrance fee to pedestrians at its waterfront parks, including Cove Park. The Advocate quotes Brendan Leydon, the fellow who successfully sued Greenwich to force it to open Greenwich Point, as saying it's a bad idea.

Cove Park, of course, is the home of SoundWaters, which has a small aquarium and lots of public programs. The Advocate story (which was published yesterday) doesn't address the question but I wonder -- will visitors to SoundWaters have to pay to get there?

The question of who gets access to the Sound and how much they have to pay pops up over and over again. While I was away, Cynthia Stulpin, of Clinton, Connecticut, took issue with a post I wrote about a month ago about her town’s decision to forego a study of how to increase public access in her neighborhood, and her role in it. Here's the post and her comment.

In particular, she was unhappy that I quoted her (as she was quoted in the Hartford Courant) saying that she didn’t want “these people” in her neighborhood (she said the Courant quoted her out of context).

I don’t claim that this is a balanced blog, though I do aim to be fair, so I’m linking to this story, from Rhode Island, in an effort to show that on some of these issues there is no right answer.

On Narraganasett Bay’s Nayatt Point, residents of a dead end street that was opened for public access last year are having problems with recreational fishermen:

According to an anonymous letter sent to the Barrington Times, another resident of Nayatt Point has been appalled at other disruptions along the waterfront.

"The shell-fishermen have been loud and continue to use foul language," the letter stated. "They undress, change clothes, urinate and defecate without regard for the people on shore."

A photograph included with the letter displays an apparent example of a boater in a stage of undress. Ms. Sartor said she couldn't confirm the sight of any naked fishermen, mostly because she is at work during the day. Ms. Slocum said she had not seen a similar sight, but did recall years earlier when a couple was seen "in the act" on the beach.

Now, having said that there’s no right answer to some of these issues, I’ll also say that a municipality that takes the trouble of increasing public access in a particular neighborhood also has an absolute responsibility to police the area, and it can also set reasonable limits on when the public can visit. Not many public parks are open round the clock, and public access points do not have to be either.

Fighting Broadwater on the Sea and in the Meeting Rooms

The effort to enlist the support of recreational boaters in the fight against the liquefied natural proposal has gotten some decent publicity. The New London Day ran an AP story out of New Haven today, and the Connecticut Post editorialized favorably.

Public meetings will begin next week (Broadwater’s site has the dates and times). The meetings will combine FERC’s scoping sessions for the environmental impact statement, and sessions to discuss safety and security with the Coast Guard. If I understand scoping session correctly, they are essentially meetings at which the issues to be studied in the environmental impact statement are discussed and decided upon.

Broadwater’s John Hritcko keeps saying that the public shouldn’t draw any conclusions about the LNG proposal until the environmental studies are done (as I’m sure he himself is not drawing any conclusions until then either). The scoping sessions are critical for ensuring that the studies are done right.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sylvia Earle is Giving a Lecture in White Plains on Monday

Sylvia Earle, the acclaimed oceanographer and marine biologist, will be speaking in White Plains on Monday, September 12. Her topic is “Sustainable Seas, The Vision and the Reality.” The program starts at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 11 a.m., and it’s free.

The location is the White Plains Performing Arts Center, 11 City Place, between Main Street and Martine Avenue. (914) 328-1600.

She’ll talk and then answer questions. After another truly miserable summer on Long Island Sound, it will be interesting to ask her for a broader view on just how impaired our estuaries and coastal waters are.

Monday, September 05, 2005


It seemed as if half the people on Block Island wore some article of clothing with the Red Sox insignia -- tee-shirts, jerseys, hats, shorts. Fewer people, though still a big percentage, wore Yankee hats and shirts. One shop sold red tee-shirts that said, "My favorite teams are the Red Sox and whoever is playing the Yankees" and navy blue tee-shirts that said, "My favorite teams are the Yankees and whoever is playing the Red Sox."

Red Sox-Yankees, Yankees-Red Sox. I grinned when I saw a tee-shirt worn by a college-age guy: "The sports team from my area is superior to the sports team from your area."

The S.S. Yaz

In Red Sox Nation, which includes Block Island, people apparently name their boats after their baseball heroes.
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