Friday, March 31, 2006

Paintings on a Yacht, Spilled Oil, Birds, and (Finally) Wood Frogs

For further confirmation that the rich are different from you and me, read this, about a cruising art gallery that will be coming to the north shore of Long Island, and for an example of why oil spills, even relatively small ones are bad, read this, about the Housatonic River.

I’m sending in my check today for this; and this, which arrived in the mail yesterday, will help guarantee that there are no more cases of mistaken algae-identity in my household.

Every few weeks bloggers who are interested in birds compile a bunch of posts and put them out in something called "I and the Bird." This time I convinced them to use something I wrote a few days ago about a dead cow. Go figure. The current complete compendium can be found at Bootstrap Analysis, a blog which, if you're interested in birds, you should be reading anyway.

But the best thing I have to report is that I followed a colleague through the dry oak woods yesterday toward the clacking sounds of breeding wood frogs, and in the vernal pools and swamps we found them, fresh from hibernation, some already paired up and mating, some having already left gelatinous masses of eggs, each with a tiny dark embryo. As much as bluebirds at the nest box or phoebes singing from behind the garage, wood frogs herald spring.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

When Dissolved Oxygen Levels Fall, the Proportion of Male Fish Rises (Which is Bad News for the Female Fish)

Anyone concerned with Long Island Sound knows about the problems caused by low levels of dissolved oxygen (or hypoxia), a condition that is widespread in the western end of the Sound in summer. Hypoxia has been linked to the lobster die-off of 1999; hypoxia caused the massive fish kills of 1987; hypoxia causes all kinds of physiological stresses; and hypoxia turns what otherwise would be a habitat teeming with life into a dead zone.

A study released today indicates the there might be another problem linked to hypoxia. It creates an overabundance of male fish:

Aquatic dead zones, infamous worldwide for suffocating fish, may also be transforming female fish into males, according to research published today on ES&T’s Research ASAP website … The study not only has dire implications for fish populations: It also hints that hypoxic conditions—water containing less than 2.8 milligrams of oxygen per liter—may be interacting directly with the hormones of the reproductive system, experts say.

The study was done in a lab, published in but scientists think that the same affects might be occurring in nature, depending on when and where fish reproduction and development takes place.

According to the study, which is being published in Environmental Science and Technology, 1 million square kilometers – or 386,000 square miles – of coastal waters are hypoxic. If you click through the maps on this Connecticut DEP site, you’ll get an idea of how much of the Sound suffers from dissolved oxygen concentrations of about 2.8 milligrams per liter or less – in August, basically everything off Westchester and Nassau counties, and Greenwich and Stamford, Connecticut

Environmental Science and Technology Online has a story about it here, and AP wrote about it (and Newsday picked it up) here.

Meanwhile, Connecticut legislators still haven’t passed a bill that would put money in the state Clean Water Fund for nitrogen-removal at sewage treatment plants (nitrogen being the component of sewage that causes hypoxia); New York City forced a renegotiation of its nitrogen-removal agreement that extended its deadline by three years; and Westchester County has yet to announce its nitrogen removal plan.

New York City's Role in Cleaning up Long Island Sound

Back in January there was a big hoopla about an agreement that ties New York City to a schedule for upgrading their sewage treatment plants to reduce the amount of nitrogen the city puts into Long Island Sound. This agreement came 10 years after the first agreement requiring the city to do nitrogen removal, and it gave the the city an additional three years to meet its nitrogen removal obligation (from 2014 to 2017). I groused about it at the time but the truth is that New York City is so powerful politically, and it contributes so much to the Sound's problems (80 percent of the nitrogen that causes hypoxia comes from the city), that any ironclad agreement, even one that gives them an extra three years, probably is a good one.

Yesterday I was at Yale, speaking at a class ("Managing the Coastal Nutrient Problem: The Case of Long Island Sound") being offered to students in Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences (insert your own joke here about the value of a Yale education not being what it used to be), and then stayed to listen to the second speaker, Mark Klein, of the New York City DEP.

In my talk, I said that the city had to be dragged into the Sound cleanup because, compared to the other issues the DEP has to deal with such as drinking water, the Sound isn't that much of a priority for New York City. I pointed out that the part of the Sound that's in the city -- the strip of water west of the Throgs Neck Bridge -- isn't even called Long Island Sound; it's called the East River, which it isn't.

Mark agreed with the competing-interests theory, and said that over the next 10 years the city has earmarked $1 billion in capital improvements for its water supply, $800 million for fixing combined sewer overflows, and $750 million for nitrogen removal at seven treatment plants (four on the Sound, two on the East River, and one in Jamaica Bay).

Mark said that before sewage is treated at the city's plants, nitrogen concentrations are about 30 milligrams per liter. The city has already taken some intermediate steps to reduce that to about 14 milligrams per liter; and by 2017 it will be down to 9 milligrams per liter at three of the four Sound plants and 7 milligrams per liter at the other (Tallmans Island).

That's about a 70 percent nitrogen reduction, well above the 58.5 percent Soundwide goal. Presumably the 70 percent will compensate for nitrogen that conintues to enter the Sound from stormwater from city streets, for example.

In any case, the city has committed a lot of money for capital improvements. And when you add up the CSO and nitrogen removal budgets, it comes to $1.55 billion for water quality. That's impressive, and the 70 percent reduction is impressive. Let's hope they meet the goal.

Lieberman the Long Island Sound Advocate Starts His Reelection Campaign with an Ad Aimed at Enviros

Senator Joe Lieberman is starting his campaign for reelection with an ad that emphasizes his credentials as an environmentalist and an advocate for Long Island Sound, which is as fair and honest as for his Democratic opponent, Ned Lamont, to emphasize Lieberman’s support for the Iraq war.

Lieberman and the rest of the Connecticut delegation (as well as New York’s Sound-area delegation) have always been able to deliver enough money from Washington to keep the administration of the Long Island Sound cleanup going. But the Hartford Courant points out that Lieberman voted for the 2005 energy bill, which made it easier for the federal government to overrule local opposition to the siting of new energy facilities, such as the Broadwater LNG plant proposed for the Sound. Here’s what the Courant says:

Lieberman was one of 74 senators who voted in July for the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill that grew out of Cheney's energy task force. The Sierra Club called the measure "extremely damaging for our air, our water, our special lands and our coastlines."

One of the provisions weakens the public's ability to influence the siting of energy facilities, such as the proposal to locate a floating liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound, Swan said.

But Lieberman's overall environmental voting record is good, as judged by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. The league recently endorsed him.

The commercial promises that Lieberman's environmentalism will be felt closer to home, especially on the embattled Long Island Sound.

"He knows that Long Island Sound is Connecticut's national treasure and he has always worked to keep it a treasure," Pendergast says. "Sen. Joe Lieberman's Long Island Sound Stewardship Act will protect Long Island Sound for generations to come."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Blogs Worth Knowing About: Energy Outlook and OneAtlantic

I came upon a relatively new blog yesterday called OneAtlantic that has laid claim to environmental issues pertaining to the Atlantic and the Atlantic coast:

Global warming, air pollution, energy generation, preserving biodiversity and watersheds, economic justice and prosperity ... these are just some of the complex issues faced along the Atlantic coast. Although they cut across city, county, state and country borders, attempts to solve them are typically defined by those political boundaries -- rather than the geographic unity of the natural feature we share: the Atlantic Ocean.

OneAtlantic aims to look at these and other concerns with a cross-border emphasis that reframes the geography of the east -- looking for the interconnections, laying a foundation for support of policies and projects that will enable people to create a sustainable, healthy, prosperous future for the Atlantic coast.

It’s written by a blogger named Emily Gertz, who I hadn’t heard of before this (not that that means anything). When I get a minute I intend to add it to the list of blogs on the right.

Ditto for Energy Outlook, which I’ve referred to a number of times in conjunction with the Broadwater LNG proposal. Geoffrey Styles almost always has information and points of view that I didn’t know or hadn’t thought of (not that that means anything either).

Monday, March 27, 2006

Over the Weekend: Don't Feed the Seals a Twinkie and Other Stories

Counting Seals ... An annual count of seals in the northeast took place a few days ago. Estimates are that as many as 3,000 winter in the Sound, and some are now breeding here. Here’s a good account, from the Journal News, which has some stories about dumb people treating the seals as if they were as docile as stuffed toys.

Citizens Summit ... A reminder: the subject of this year’s Long Island Sound Citizens Summit, scheduled for April 8 in Bridgeport, is global warming, which threatens to overwhelm everything that's being done to restore the Sound. Scott Carlin, a professor at C.W. Post, talks about the local implications of global warming here, in Newsday.

Papa Needs a Brand New Boat
... A preservationist from Mystic Seaport is going to Cuba to see if he can restore the Pilar, Hemingway’s boat.

McMansions ... I wonder if people in places like New Canaan and Greenwich will eventually develop a nostalgia for McMansions and try to establish historic districts. New Canaan’s Oenoke Ridge Road would be a likely candidate. I happen to think that on a planet faced with the prospect of global warming, huge, oil-burning houses surrounded by vast plains of lawn that require once-a-week mowing and blowing are immoral. The reviewer in yesterday’s Times of a new book called House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live had some other thoughts on McMansions and the people who live in them:

It would have been interesting to explore the McMansion problem, the design world's correlative to the obesity epidemic. Is there something about a need for status that's overshadowing a need for coziness? Is there a great insecurity about new money that leads to these enormous facades? Is it braggadocio or simply confidence that's expressed in the McMansion's size? Are we building mighty fortresses? Is the divorce rate falling because people can live separate lives in the same house, phoning from one wing to the other to negotiate bedroom visitation?

Wild & Scenic ... People in eastern Connecticut are working to have the Eight Mile River watershed designated a National Wild and Scenic River. The Courant has a good story about it.

Legalize It … The always-interesting Michael Pollan, who wrote about killing your own food in yesterday’s Times magazine, says hunting feels a bit like getting stoned.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


The headwaters of one of the smaller tributaries of Long Island Sound trickle out of the oak-and-laurel forest of my town, flow fast over a rocky stream bed in deep woods, and then spread out behind a small dam to form a shallow reservoir full of coves and islands white with shad-blow in spring. Two back roads meet on the eastern edge of this pond; the water from a shrubby marsh flows through a double-barreled culvert under one of the roads, and together the remote intersection and the marsh and the pond form one of the best bird-watching places around, a place made all the better by the fact that almost no one else knows about it.

When it’s early June and I realize I have yet to hear a warbling vireo, I go there. Blue-gray gnatcatchers nest there, and eastern kingbirds. Rough-winged swallows and tree swallows gorge on the flies above the water. In late fall and early spring, there are a dozen species of duck, ring-necked ducks mostly, and in the early darkness of January afternoons great-horned owls call to each other.

Two years ago in early May, work was getting me down and my son, who was six, was on the couch with a fever, and so to clear my head I took my daughter, Elie, who was 11, to the pond. It had been a cool, damp day; the sky was starting to clear in the west and the low glare of the sun made it hard to see what was happening on the pond. I picked out the silhouettes of two or three buffleheads, and I could see a Canada goose on a nest on one of the islands. Elie saw a muskrat near the road, and then we saw two otters. I heard red-winged blackbirds and grackles, a black-and-white warbler, a wood thrush, a Baltimore oriole, a downy and a red-bellied woodpecker, a mourning dove, a song sparrow.

Up the road a bit there’s a place where the deer have missed a patch of hepatica, and I walked up to find it.

Elie followed and after a few minutes I heard her call to me, “Papa, come here. There’s a dead bear by the side of the road.”

I wasn’t in the mood for a joke so I ignored her.

“Papa, come here, I’m not kidding.”

I left the hepatica behind and walked back down the road.

Under the trunk of a fallen tree propped off the ground by one of its limbs lay a large dead animal. Road-kill raccoons are as common as robins, and deer carcasses are unremarkable nowadays, but this was something different. It was big.

And it was indeed the color of a black bear.

“What is it?” Elie asked.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s a bear.”

I could not tell and I did not want to get too close. We walked back and forth on the road, peering into the woods, but we couldn’t get the angle we needed. Its head was bent under its carcass and the carcass was in the shadow of the tree trunk. Through my binoculars I could see its teeth. They didn’t seem to be bear teeth. And instead of claws, it had hooves. It wasn’t far away – 10 or 15 feet – and Elie kept urging me to move closer so I could see it better. We could smell it, although the odor of decay was not strong. A few flies buzzed it. I suggested, because I’m a concerned and loving father, that if she wanted a closer look, she should by all means feel free to examine the rotting cadaver on her own.

She asked me to hand her the binoculars.

We took turns looking. We concluded the only thing we could conclude: it was a dead cow.

I should point out that there are no farms in my town. Several years ago the police blotter in the local paper would occasionally contain a paragraph reporting that yet again a cow had gotten loose from a particular property on the north end of town, but that was a good eight or so miles away and in any case the would-be cowherds got rid of their livestock after four or five attempts at rounding up the wandering bovines on the state highway. So the source of this particular dead cow was a mystery: No farms at all, no houses within at least half-a-mile, a thousand acres of woods and wetlands before you came to any neighborhoods.

We talked over the possibilities. Suppose, for example, a local homeowner had decided it would be fun to keep a cow on his five acres. (In the wealthy suburbs, where there is ample financial means to ensure that no whim goes unindulged, there are stranger diversions.) Then unexpectedly the cow dies. What do you do? One possibility is that you ask the crew of gardeners who leaf-blow your property clean every week to please take it away. And all they know about disposing of a dead cow is that there’s a place not far away where two small roads meet and if you go there early in the morning or late at night you can dump just about anything without fear of detection.

This seemed plausible except for one detail – the carcass was under a fallen tree trunk that was propped off the ground by one of its limbs. Dumping a dead cow there would have involved sliding it under the trunk. Would a cow-dumper take the time to lug the dead animal 15 feet off the road and then slide it under a fallen tree?

We wanted to call someone, but weren’t sure who or why. The police? This wasn’t an emergency and there didn’t appear to be a crime any more serious than littering.

By now it was dusk and the wood thrush was singing. We had to get back for dinner. At home I called the police and left a message. But no one called back. Two days later I heard that the highway department had carted the carcass away. When I went to check, the dead cow was indeed gone and the gnatcatchers were chasing each other through the branches above the road.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Greenwich Take Note: Here's a Plan to Make Sure More People Can Use the Beaches in Rhode Island

More access to the beach and the water for everyone – that’s what two state legislator’s in Rhode Island want. They’ve introduced a bill that would guarantee it. According to the New London Day, the law would:

… better define the beach area. The state Constitution says people shall enjoy fishing and swimming rights, in addition to passage along the shore, but does not define what “the shore” is.

The proposed bill defines it as a 10-foot wide strip of sand above the high tide line, even if the land is deeded privately.

“The intent is to be able to freely walk, without having to wade into the water,” McHugh said, because property owners “don't own the actual beach.”

It would also authorize the Coastal Resource Management Council to require landowners to remove any obstacles they have to build to keep the public off their property.

Those barriers include fences, walls, or riprap, which are boulders put in the ocean, McHugh said.

Is there a northeastern state that is more progressive when it comes to allowing people to get to the publicly-owned waters? I’ve never been to Martha’s Vineyard but I’ve heard that private beaches are the norm rather than the exception. But on Block Island I’ve never found a beach that’s not opened to the public (although the beach at Ballard’s may be an exception). This bill, should it become law, would strengthen that.

No One Reading this Blog Can Afford This

If you’re looking for a house with frontage on Long Island Sound, you might want to consider this place, in Lloyd Neck. It’s available for a song -- $60 million -– and the property taxes are only $195,000 a year.

Vultures & Woodcock But I'd Still Like to See a Sandhill Crane

Two days ago I passed two deer carcasses on Stone Hill Road in my town that had been set upon by black vultures, which I had heard were becoming increasingly easy to find locally but which I hadn’t encountered yet. I was driving so I had to pay attention to the road but I saw at least two at each carcass. They seemed somehow to be less lumbering than the more common turkey vultures, and of course their featherless faces were grayish black instead of the reddish pink of a turkey vulture.

Last evening, at about 6:30, my son and I drove to a place down the road where power lines cut through a fen. It was too cool for peepers or wood frogs but as soon as we got out of the car we heard the peenting of two or three American woodcock and then watched the dark, fluttery silhouette of one flying above our heads.

Still I would have traded both sightings for a look at the six sandhill cranes that birders have seen in recent days in North Canaan, way up in Connecticut’s northwest corner, in the watershed of the Housatonic.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

FERC, LNG, Broadwater and Government Secrecy: Who Forgot to Lick the Envelope?

How careful is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with the supposedly sensitive safety and security information it’s gathering about proposals for new liquefied natural gas terminals, like Broadwater’s proposal for Long Island Sound?

If what happened in Fall River, Massachusetts, is typical, the answer would have to be, “Not very."

You might know what I'm talking about if you were watching NOW on PBS last Friday evening. I wasn’t, but Bryan Brown, who follows the Broadwater issue very carefully was, and he let me know about it over the weekend. There’s a transcript on the show’s website now, and it’s worth reading.

Remember that the polint of contention is this: If you’re concerned about Broadwater’s proposal and you want to review and comment on it, FERC will send you the details but only if you promise FERC you will not reveal those details. In other words, the information is so sensitive that if they send it to you and it clearly indicates the Broadwater terminal is a grave security risk, you can say so but you may not talk about or write about any of the details that led you to that conclusion.

In Fall River, where Hess wants to put a LNG terminal, Mayor Ed Lambert thought that was unacceptable so he had a constituent write to FERC and ask for the information. After five months FERC finally sent him what he asked for – via regular mail and in an unsealed envelope. There's more too.

Here’s the transcript. The Fall River segment is about a third of the way down. You can find it quickly by searching for “Lambert.”

Bryan Brown, by the way, tells me that FERC still hasn’t sent him the documents he requested. Here are the details, from earlier this month.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

River Herring in the Bronx River

I’ve lost track of the number of communities that are working to revive spring spawning runs of anadromous herring – alewives and blueback herring, in particular. Greenwich has a fish passage at a dam on the Mianus River since 1993, Stamford is planning to remove a dam on its Mill River, the state DEP helped pay for a fish passageway on the Oyster River in Old Saybrook, and there are many others.

New York City is now getting into the act, releasing a mess of alewives taken from Brides Brook in East Lyme into the Bronx River, at the Bronx Zoo. Here’s how the Times covered it.

Alewives and blueback herring, which are smaller relatives of American shad, are in dire shape in the northeast, and need all the help they can get. Click on April 2005 in my archives, to the right, and you’ll see a handful of posts I wrote about it last year.

To Keep the Masses Away from Stamford's Beaches, Be Dictatorial

Stamford is thinking of lowering parking fees at its beaches for non-residents, from $30 to $20 a day. Mayor Dannel Malloy supports it as a way to encourage visitors to use the parking lots instead of parking on local streets and walking to the beaches.

A local politician named Patrick White (the Advocate identifies him as “city Rep. Patrick White, D-1,” but I’m not sure what that means; is he a city councilman?) thinks the lower fee will not work because if people don’t want to pay $30 they won’t want to pay $20 either. Here’s White’s heavy-handed solution:

"I think the way to solve it is to be dictatorial. If they knew they were going to be pounded -- that the city was going to tow the car, that you would have to pay $500 to get it out -- that would solve it."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Greenwich Beach Fees: A Forum on a Contentious Issue

A week or so ago some anonymous Greenwich resident sent the Town of Greenwich a check to pay for Paul Kempner’s outstanding entrance fees to Greenwich Point from last year, under the notion that the argument over the non-payment of the Stamford resident's beach fees was nonsense and a waste of time and that everyone would be better off if the dispute would go away (and they had a point).

For the past 10 days or so the Greenwich Time has had an online forum about the beach issue, here. I was surprised at how much sentiment there is for making it easier for non-Greenwich residents to use Greenwich Point. Kempner-the-scofflaw doesn’t get a lot of sympathy but there’s a strong sense that the fees are a bit high for out-of-towners, particularly those on bikes.

Launching the SoundWaters into a Frigid March

It snowed yesterday morning and this morning it was 17 degrees at 6 o’clock, on my hill at least, but on Long Island Sound the SoundWaters schooner is ready to launch. And people will be living on it, beginning in a few days. To prepare, the crew has been roughing it at a Stamford hotel.

"It's going to be cold,” one of them said, “compared to the Sheraton."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Now Let's Really Preserve "The Preserve" in Old Saybrook

The great news out of Old Saybrook over the weekend is that the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission voted to deny the developers of “The Preserve” a permit to construct their project near the 934-acre property’s many swamps and streams. Last month the state DEP turned down a request by the developers to build an access road across a state park. So the project – 221 houses and an 18-hole golf course – is undoubtedly in the ICU, if not on life support.

But of course it’s not enough to stop the development through the regulatory and approval process (as rare as that may be). Now the state and the town have to find the money to buy the land and turn it into a real preserve, not an Orwellian one.

The good news is that the spokesman for the owners, River Sound Development LLC, a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers, seems to recognize that the project is going nowhere fast and is willing to sit down to talk about a sale.

So how much is it worth? The New Haven Register said River Sound wants “up to $20 million.” The Hartford Courant said the developers want $23 million and that their spokesman compared the property to a piece that recently sold for $38 million.

Talk is cheap – cheaper than land, certainly. But in this case, the land is almost without doubt a lot cheaper than what the developer is saying it’s worth. Land derives its value from what appraisers call its highest and best use – that is, what the land can be developed into. Obviously the land in Old Saybrook can’t be developed into 221 houses and a golf course. So if that’s where the $23 million figure comes from, you can start subtracting from there. Here are my earlier thoughts on what the land is worth and why it can be difficult to reach an agreement with the government.

Here’s hoping all sides are reasonable, and that the state and the towns can come up with the dough.

A New Guide to the Stuff that Holds Sushi Together

I can tell a ribbed mussel from a blue mussel, a herring gull from a ring-billed gull, and a striped bass from a bluefish. But do I know a rockweed from a sea lettuce from an Irish moss?

Not yet, but that’s only because I haven’t bought a copy of Peg Van Patten’s new book, Seaweeds of Long Island Sound. Peg is the communications director at Connecticut Sea Grant, which (along with EPA’s Long Island Sound Program and the Connecticut College Arboretum) funded the publication. At $4, it seems like a bargain.

Click here to learn more.

Two Connecticut Legislators Want to Spend (or is it Waste?) $300,000 to Try to Stop Beach Erosion

Traditionally, one of the best ways for a government to waste money has been to try to stop beach erosion. But because some Long Island Sound beaches have been losing sand to the waves and the tides, and probably to rising sea level, two Connecticut legislators want to spend $300,000 to study the currents off Fairfield and design underwater structures that they think will stop erosion and replenish the beaches.

One of the Legislators, by the way, is House Speaker James Amann, who late last year said Connecticut lawmakers decided to cut funding for the Sound cleanup because the issue wasn’t sexy enough for them.

But Amann, who is from Milford, and a colleague of his named Thomas Drew, who represents Stratford, contend that they can save the eroding beaches. The want to begin to study the construction of

underwater "speed bumps" to retain sand and fight erosion from the waves. …

At best, the interlocking concrete-filled, fingerlike devices, which could stretch 200 to 600 feet into Long Island Sound, could rebuild beaches that have steadily lost sand over the past half-century, Drew and Amann believe.

I’ve never heard of these beach-rebuilding devices (no surprise there) and I guess there’s a chance that they represent a new and effective technology.

The Connecticut Post story though is overly credulous and doesn’t even raise the issue of the historical futility of fighting beach erosion. It also quotes, without an ounce of skepticism, an assertion by Drew that I will consider to be dubious at best until proven otherwise:

"Reversing beach erosion also reverses the ecological damage that this erosion has caused," Drew said. "This will essentially, by reversing the beach erosion, revive our fishing industries and it will clean the water."

Fighting beach erosion will help clean up Long Island Sound? A statement like that should have been followed with a simple question: What are you talking about?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friends of Animals Wants Connecticut to Declare that Monk Parakeets Are Not an Invasive Species

There was plenty of noise late last year when United Illuminating began tearing down nests that monk parakeets had built on utility poles and lines, and shipped the birds themselves off to be killed (click on November 2005 in the archives and scroll around). People who lived near the nests protested, Friends of Animals got into the act and sued, and although the program resulted in the removal of 100 or so nests, it was a public relations disaster for UI.

One of the reasons UI was able to get permission to kill the birds is that monk parakeets, which are not native to North America, are considered an invasive species. They settled along the shore of Long Island Sound about four decades ago. Now the Connecticut Post reports that Friends of Animals are asking the state of Connecticut to declare them to be non-invasive.

It’s not clear to me how you can do that with a straight face – either the animals are from here, in which case they are native and non-invasive, or they’re not, in which case they are invasive. It would be like declaring zebra mussels or Asian shore crabs to be non-invasive (which reminds me, I don’t remember Friends of Animals taking up the cudgel in favor of either of those invertebrates).

On the other hand, United Illuminating’s reasoning for removing the nests is that the birds are responsible for fires and power outages, which seems to be merely an assertion – if there’s real proof that the birds are doing that, none of the local papers have written about it. And I haven’t heard of monk parakeets causing problems for other birds by usurping their habitats, the way starlings and house sparrows have done, for example (or zebra mussels and Asian shore crabs in a different realm).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Some Cause for Optimism in Hartford on Funding for Clean Water

It seems, based on today’s Hartford Courant story, that advocates for putting more money in Connecticut’s Clean Water Fund did a first-rate job of making their case at the Capitol yesterday.

Environmentalists and municipal officials have formed the Clean Water Investment Coalition; they want the state to put $70 million in the Clean Water Fund this year, instead of $20 million, and it looks as if they’ve gotten full support from the Democrats who control the state Senate. The money would help fund the sewage treatment improvement projects that are essential to the cleanup of Long Island Sound. From the Courant:

The coalition's point is that limiting grants to $20 million each year does not come close to satisfying actual need. Current funding levels mean only one in five projects that are ready to proceed will be funded this year, according to the coalition. Only one in seven will be able to proceed next year, the coalition said.

The lack of grant funding has a real cost to taxpayers, said Matt Galligan, South Windsor's town manager. Projects that are delayed get more and more expensive because the cost of materials and construction increases each year.

"Every year we wait ... costs are going up 20 to 30 percent in the construction industry," Galligan said. What is now a $14.2 million project in South Windsor could become a $25 million project in a few years, simply because the state money isn't available to get the project started, he said. That's a waste of state and local tax dollars, Galligan said.

State Senator Bill Finch, a Bridgeport Democrat who is co-chairman of the environment committee, said Democrats want to put money back in the Clean Water Fund. The governor’s response, though, does not inspire confidence:

Adding grant money to that total is a priority for Senate Democrats, Finch said, although what the bond commission does is largely under the control of the governor.

A spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell would not directly address the coalition's call for $70 million in grant money this year and $50 million for next year, but said Rell has increased spending.

Quote of the day:

In past years that program provided $40 to $60 million a year, on average, in grants. But that money disappeared in fiscal years 2002, 2003 and 2004.

"We stole the money to balance the budget," said state Sen. Bill Finch.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What if Broadwater is Approved and There's Little Demand for LNG?

Geoffrey Styles of the Energy Outlook blog read the Sunday Times Broadwater story (in the Connecticut and Long Island sections) and came up with an interesting analysis of the recently-released Synapse report on Broadwater’s LNG proposal and its implications for not just the anti-Broadwater effort but the region’s energy needs. Read it here.

Geoff says the best outcome might be for Synapse to be right about the lack of demand for LNG in the region and for Broadwater to be approved:

Paradoxically, if Broadwater were built and turned out to be as unnecessary as its opponents now argue, it could be very beneficial for the region, while its a impact on Long Island Sound would be much less than feared. Residents and businesses would benefit from Broadwater's ability to deflate price spikes with a few well-timed cargoes, but its overall under-utilization would minimize its effect on the environment and shipping in the Sound. That might not be very good for Broadwater's parent companies, but that's their risk to worry about. The bottom line is that opponents can't have it both ways: either the terminal will be fully employed and bring dozens of LNG cargoes a year into the Sound--with whatever environmental consequences that entails--or it will be mostly idle, and thus have little impact beyond the visual.

Connecticut's Clean Water Fund Fight

The fight in Hartford to increase the amount of money in Connecticut’s Clean Water Fund has finally gotten some attention. WTNH just moved this AP story:

A coalition of municipal officials, environmentalists, business and labor groups say the state is not spending enough on upgrading local sewage treatment systems that spill into Long Island Sound and state rivers.

They say the Clean Water Fund, created in 1987, used to provide about $40 to $50 million for projects each year. This year, that amount is dropping to $20 million.
They want lawmakers to set aside $70 million this year.

Curt Johnson, from the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, says the cuts in funding come as the state is halfway toward eliminating the raw sewage being dumped in rivers, lakes and Long Island Sound.

He says if the state continues to spend only $20 million a year, it could take over a century to get the waterways back to being safe for swimming.

Curt of course did not say the state is halfway toward eliminating raw sewage – most raw sewage dumping was eliminated decades ago. But Connecticut is about halfway toward its goal of reducing the amount of nitrogen that reaches the Sound, and it needs to put money in the Clean Water Fund to keep on track. Note, by the way, that the story gives us no idea of when any of this happened or was said.

Overdue Sewage Treatment Bill Might be on the Way for Norwalk

Norwalk spent (if my recollection is right) more than $60 million in the 1990s to essentially rebuild its sewage treatment plant, with the result that it’s one of the best on Long Island Sound in terms of removing nitrogen. Now the city’s public works department is saying it might need $100 million more over the next decade for capital improvements.

That surprises me and it surprises the new mayor, Richard Moccia.

Here’s what the Stamford Advocate reported today:

Moccia said he is concerned about long-range spending on the wastewater plant. The Public Works Department has warned him it may need to spend $100 million over the next decade on capital budget projects, Moccia said.

"I want to look long and hard. It can't just be (Public Works) putting things on the table and saying, 'We need this many million, the state Department of Environmental Protection requires this,'" Moccia said. "I have a hard time reconciling a plant less than 10 years old requires so many upgrades."

The plant was upgraded in the mid-1990s to improve the removal of environmentally harmful nitrogen from treated wastewater flushed into Long Island Sound.

Alvord has said he has found little evidence that the city or Operations Management International, which has run the plant since June 2000, invested enough money in maintaining and improving other parts of the wastewater system.

The extra money may simply be Norwalk’s deferred cost of helping to keep the Norwalk River, the thousands of acres of oysters beds around the Norwalk Islands, and the Sound clean. I say “deferred cost” because in the late 1980s, the Norwalk plant was in such poor shape that it was releasing sewage into the river, from an outfall opposite the Maritime Aquarium, that was about as close to untreated as wastewater coming from a treatment plant can be. In other words, Norwalk residents weren’t paying much to keep the plant in good shape in the 1970s and ‘80s (and probably earlier) and so the bill might have come due now.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Here's What it Costs to Live on the Sound's Waterfront

The Sound must become something more than just the reason that waterfront property costs so much.

Thus it was spoken in 2002, in this book. Whether the Sound has or will become something more is an open question. What is indisputable is that waterfront property is still really expensive. Check out this list of the 10 most valuable homes in Norwalk, from the Stamford Advocate.

Burned Out City Island Club Members Say They Will Rebuild

The members of City Island’s Morris Yacht and Beach Club, which burned down the other day, say they’ll resist offers from condo developers and rebuild their club instead. Sensible zoning probably would require that the waterfront be used for development that requires access to the waterfront, rather than for condos, but City Island of course is part of New York City, where the words “sensible” and “zoning” don’t often appear in the same sentence.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hemingway Liked Oysters: Corrections & Amplifications

Modern pronunciation ... Last Sunday we went to New Canaan to walk around Irwin Park and look at the Gores Pavilion, a small pool house designed by Landis Gores. The town of New Canaan bought the park but is threatening to tear the house down. Here’s what I wrote; it led to the discovery that I did not know the correct pronunciation of the architect’s name:

The house was designed in 1959 by Landis Gores for Jack Irwin, a lawyer, an ambassador (to France) and an Undersecretary of State, and his wife, Jane Watson, whose father happened to be the founder of IBM. Gores designed it as a pool house and personal lodge for the Irwins, and it is set among the pines and hemlocks a hundred yards or so from the Irwins' more conventional house and carriage house, between a well-pruned apple orchard and fields of little bluestem grass. New Canaan bought the property as a park a couple of years ago and is in the process of trying to figure out what to do with the houses. The New Canaan Historical Society, a champion of preserving modern architecture, has put together a friends group, which sent out a letter last week:

"The Town of New Canaan has given the Friends of the Gores Pavilion a very short time to come up with a plan to save this iconic building and provide access for all; otherwise it faces demolition. …"

Gores (his name is pronounced Land-iss Gore-ayz) was one of the Harvard Five architects (Breuer, Johnson, Noyes and Johansen were the others) who lived and worked in New Canaan in the years after World War II (only Johansen survives).

A few days later I received the following e-mail:

Dear Mr. Andersen:

It was with interest I read your article about the Irwin Pool House in New Canaan, Ct.

T.J.Watson bought the land and an handsome well-built house probably in the 1930's
It was not winterized and the second Mrs. Irwin demolished it and built another on the same site.
It is surprising you were able to enter the little house as we were told it was securely locked.

My husbands first name is pronounced as it is spelled. His mother's family surname was Landis and the settled in Pa. long ago. Gores rhymes with Doris.

Thank you for your articles about the "modern" houses.


Pamela W. Gores
(Mrs. Landis Gores)

Bullwhips ... About a year ago, after we had returned from a skiing trip to the Alps, I wrote this post, about a fad, as I termed it, that I found slightly annoying. Every evening, village boys would emerge from their houses carrying bullwhips and spend two ro three hours cracking them, the gunshot noises reverberating off the stone houses.

Out of the blue I received the following email two days ago:

Hello Mr Andersen

Far from being a 'fad', whips have been a part of Swiss life for many centuries. Their use in agriculture has largely faded away, but they still feature prominently in folk tradition and play a role in a number of festivals.

It is quite usual for young people to practice, especially around the dates of some of these festivals.

This page gives a little bit of info on such festivals, and on the types of whip used:

What you experienced was as much a part of Swiss life as the alpine villages and mountains.

D. Branch
English Whips

Ernest ... And finally, I reported back in July, in a post about whether the eastern oyster should be put on the endangered species list, the sentiment that Ernest Hemingway was not a fan of oysters.

"I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead." I think I found that quote in a book by MFK Fisher. Where she found it, I don’t know. But when I read it and wrote it down, I had forgotten about this passage, from A Moveable Feast, which I reread again last week:

I closed up the story in my notebook and put it in my inside pocket and I asked the waiter for a dozen portugaises and a half-carafe of the dry white wine they had there. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Another Big Development Proposed for the Sound's Watershed

The fight against poorly-conceived development is never-ending but one of the best weapons is money. If you have enough, and if the developer is a reasonable person, buying environmentally important land solves a lot of problems. (I'm definitely not talking here about The Preserve.)

Carolyn Hughes, of Audubon Connecticut, tells me that 600 acres along the East River in Guilford are proposed for development. The land is upstream of the Audubon Guilford Salt Meadows Sanctuary, which is home to a globally significant population of the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow. Carolyn writes:

The marshes also support several other state and federal threatened, endangered or special concern bird, mammal and plant species. It is a truly gorgeous river/marsh system that flows directly into the Sound, and preservation of this area is a high priority for Audubon.

On Monday in Hartford there’s a public hearing on a bill to provide state money – up to $3 million – to help buy the land proposed for development. Carolyn writes:

… the Town of Guilford (working with the Guilford Land Trust, Audubon and others) is trying to negotiate the purchase of this parcel. As part of this effort, Audubon was instrumental in getting a bill raised in the CT Legislature's Environment Committee seeking state funding to aide in the acquisition. The bill is being heard in the Environment Committee on Monday, March 13th, and we are trying to round up as many people as possible to testify in support of this bill.

Here is the info on the Hearing:

MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2006
> The Environment Committee will hold a public hearing on Monday, March 13, 2006 from 10: 00 A. M. to 4: 00 P. M. in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building, Capitol Avenue, Hartford. Please submit 50 copies of written testimony to Committee staff one hour prior to the start of the hearing in Room 1E of the LOB. Sign-up for the hearing will begin at 9: 00 A. M. in Room 1E of the LOB. The first hour of the hearing is reserved for Legislators, Elected Officials and Agency Representatives. Speakers will be limited to 3 minutes of testimony.

Here is the bill name and number:


Natural Gas, Sewage, Fire

Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal has been saying for months that FERC should reject Broadwater’s proposal to put a LNG terminal in Long Island Sound, and he said it again yesterday apparently, and for some reason the Hartford Courant considered it news. Here's the story.

Providence is fixing its combined sewer system, which dumps sewage into Narragansett Bay each time it rains. From the Providence Journal.

A historic building that houses the Morris Yacht Club on City Island burned to the ground early this morning.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Long Island Sound Cleanup: Reducing Nitrogen in Westchester and New York City

Until recently, Connecticut has done a pretty good job of improving sewage treatment plants and reducing pollutants that enter Long Island Sound: from 1994 through 2004, Connecticut sewage plants cut the amount of nitrogen that flows into the Sound from 57,600 pounds a day to 36,100 pounds a day.

Nitrogen causes the severe drop in summertime concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the western half of the Sound. So one would think that a 37 percent decrease would help the Sound considerably. And yet over the past four summers, the western end of the Sound has been in worse shape than at any time since the late 1980s.

To me that points to the importance of nitrogen removal programs in the parts of the Sound’s watershed that are nearest to where water quality is worst -- Westchester, Nassau, and New York City.

Today’s Journal News has a story with a good summary and good details about Westchester’s program.

Westchester's four sewage treatment plants by the Sound — New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Port Chester and Blind Brook — with a small amount from North Castle, add 4,200 pounds of nitrogen a day to the waters, the EPA's Long Island Sound Office said. The county must cut the rate to 1,780 pounds per day by 2014….

Westchester, in reaching its goal, faces a challenge familiar in the heavily developed lower end of the county — a lack of space. Of the four sewage treatment plants that empty into the Sound, only the one in New Rochelle has some elbow room to expand, Butler said. The Mamaroneck, Port Chester and Blind Brook plants have no room to grow, he said. So systems must be added in existing space.

With the help of engineering firms, the county tried four systems, three using bacteria to further break down waste and one that used high doses of chlorine. Butler said the county's plan would likely include one or more of the systems that use bacteria and the plants. The chlorine system presents problems. The chemical is expensive and must be removed before the treated waste reaches the Sound.

The county is putting together a final plan that will be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for approval later this year. By 2009, the county is expected to reach an interim goal, cutting the nitrogen almost by half, to 2,454 pounds per day, Landi said.

The story, written by my friend and former colleague Ken Valenti, also says that New York City has used temporary fixes to cut the amount of nitrogen it puts into the Sound, to 75,000 pounds a day, from 95,900.

New York City … agreed in January to spend $710 million to take more nitrogen out of its sewage. New York also was ordered to pay a $2.7 million civil penalty, but the city was given a three-year grace period; it has until 2017 to reach its goal of cutting nitrogen input to 40,000 pounds a day.

(As I’ve said before, if I were Westchester County and I knew that the city had been given an extra three years to reach the nitrogen-reduction goal, I’d consider asking for the same thing).

Ken quotes me, accurately:

Tom Andersen, an environmental advocate and author of the book "This Fine Piece of Water — An Environmental History of Long Island Sound," said the water would improve when New York City, Westchester and Nassau counties make progress in their nitrogen removal the way Connecticut has.

"It's obviously important for Connecticut to do it, but I think what it shows is that until Westchester and New York City and the places in Nassau get their nitrogen-reduction programs going, we're not going to see a whole lot of improvements down here," he said.

Here’s the story. Ken also wrote a sidebar on the annual rite of begging the federal government for sufficient money to keep EPA’s Long Island Sound Program going.

Reports on the LNG Task Force Report

The New Haven Register and Hartford Courant have staff-written stories about the interim report released yesterday by Governor Rell’s LNG task force, here and here. The report doesn’t seem to be up on the task force’s website yet however.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Rell's Task Force Says There's No Need for Broadwater's LNG Terminal

AP reports that Governor Rell’s LNG task force has come to essentially the same conclusion as last week’s Synapse report – that, among other things, there’s no demonstrated need for Broadwater’s proposed LNG terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound:

A plan for a floating natural gas terminal on Long Island Sound fails to factor in costs to the public and has no identifiable market, according to a commission appointed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to study the impact of the project on Connecticut.
The Broadwater Energy terminal would require public expenditures for security and other requirements, the panel said in an interim report.
The panel said there are numerous environmental concerns with the project. It also criticized what it called the lack of a federal energy policy that it says has led to corporations racing to capture a monopoly in the deregulated energy market.

Please, Resist the Urge to Put a Seal in the Backseat of Your Car!

You know how it is when you come upon a seal and you really have the urge to snuggle it in a warm afghan or comforter, or maybe get the car heated up and put it in the back seat? Well by all means, resist that urge.

Newspapers in the Long Island Sound region and beyond have been doing a lot of stories about seals lately, and that’s the advice I got from one of them:

… if you see a seal shaking on the beach, don't attempt to cover it with a blanket or put it in a warm car.

In the newspaper business we called that “news you can use.” You might want to make a printout and keep it in your wallet, just in case.

Meanwhile a harp seal made its way up the Connecticut River to Middletown the other day, causing a fair amount of interest (as did one that hauled out in New Rochelle not long ago).

The picture, by the way, was taken by a Hartford Courant photographer named Cloe Poisson. Considering what seals eat, I have to assume Ms. Poisson knew enough not to get too close.

Money for Clean Water

Speak up in favor of getting Connecticut back into the cleanup of Long Island Sound. The state Assembly’s Environment Committee is holding three public hearings over the next week or so to hear what people think of a number of bills, including one that would increase the amount of money in the Clean Water Fund from $20 million to $70 million. If it doesn’t pass, Connecticut will have to cut back its plans to reduce the amount of nitrogen flowing into the Sound from local sewage treatment plants.

The hearings are March 10 at the Sound School in New Haven, March 13 at Norwich City Hall and March 15 at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. All begin at 7 p.m. As usual, Leah Schmalz at Save the Sound has details: (203) 787-0646, Ext. 121

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Why it's Essential to Put More Money in Connecticut's Clean Water Fund

The Connecticut Legislature is considering a bill that would reverse the funding cuts that have essentially wiped out the state's Clean Water Fund. The bill would put $70 million into the fund, up from a proposed $20 million this year. From her testimony at a public hearing yesterday in Hartford, here's why Leah Schmalz, the director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound, thinks the increase is essential:

The legislation currently before you, authorizing seventy million dollars in bonding to fund the Clean Water Fund projects, is essential if we are to protect our state waterbodies, including Long Island Sound.

For most of the past two decades, Connecticut has reaped the benefits of a consistent, well planned and executed investment in clean water. Capitalizing on this investment, the DEP has successfully planned, partnered with towns and cities and achieved remarkable successes in restoring our rivers, lakes and Long Island Sound. Since beginning this investment in the mid ‘70’s, Connecticut has been able to:
• Reduce by about half of the flow of raw sewage running into major rivers and the Sound caused by overflowing combined sewer overflows during rain storms;
• Reduce by about 50% the treatment plant nitrogen pollution released into the Sound. These reductions are legally required by the Long Island Sound nitrogen TMDL plan approved by EPA to protect water quality and fisheries.
• Replace leaky sewer pipes, and re-build worn out sewage treatment plants with advanced technology.

Recent Years: Falling off the Funding Cliff and a New Beginning
However, the average annual state Clean Water Fund bonding took a nose-dive in the past four years and we enter the 2006 fiscal year with the lowest fund reserve in the Clean Water Fund’s long history. Raised Bill 5624 seeks to increase the $20 million annual rate of investment, which if continued into the future would set back Connecticut’s goals and delay legal obligations to achieve critically important water quality goals by decades, to $70 million—a great start on the road to recovery. This increase would triple the investment in our clean water future and give us a new beginning. It would help ensure that Long Island Sound’s nitrogen clean-up is not delayed by over 2 decades and that we do not have to wait over a century for sewage free water; fates to be suffered if we continue with the original $20 million dollar authorization.

The State Legislature is demonstrating with Raised Bill 5624 that it is accepting responsibility and is willing to continue its tradition of investing in clean rivers, lakes and a restored Long Island Sound. With Raised Bill 5624, the state is stepping-up to the plate and renewing its commitment to Connecticut’s citizens, communities, and future generations.

Connecticut Clean Water Fund Hearing

Leah Schmalz of CFE/Save the Sound just sent me an email saying yesterday's Clean Water Fund hearing (details here) in Hartford was well-attended:

Municipal officials facing a real crunch if funding doesn't come through turned out to talk about community needs and a handful of advocates were there to give oral testimony (a few who could not make it have submitted written testimony to the committee).

She also sent me her testimony, which I haven't been able to read yet (Ii'm off in 5 minutes to give a talk in Riverside). I'll post excerpts later.

Monday, March 06, 2006

How to Save Long Island Sound's Lobsters

A scientist with an organization called the Lobster Conservancy, in Maine, argued in the Times Long Island section over the weekend that to prevent a repeat of Long Island Sound’s 1999 lobster die-off, we need a federal law that prevents lobster fishermen from keeping really big females.

Her reasoning is sound enough: large females are far more fecund than smaller ones. After discussing the causes of the ’99 die-off, Diane F. Cowan writes:

Years of intense harvesting have also hurt the lobster population in the Sound. You see, essentially too many very young lobsters were laying eggs in the Sound, resulting in what I call the "stay-at-home mom" phenomenon. Young, small egg-bearing lobsters tend to stay in the same area along the coast, while larger females travel greater distances and seed vast areas.

The problem is that intense harvesting prevents small lobsters from growing up. And because young females stay close to home, their eggs are fertilized by local male lobsters, and thus the gene pool deteriorates. Genetic diversity — enhanced by large lobsters — allows for a healthier lobster population and prevents it from being wiped out.

A law that sets a maximum size for female lobsters would help, she writes:

Maximum limits are important because a three-pound female lobster produces as many eggs as seven one-pound lobsters and a five-pound lobster produces as many eggs as 14 one-pound lobsters. And it's not just egg quantity: larger females produce healthier offspring and mate more often. Without strong federal laws enforcing size limits, we can't replenish the lobster population.

From what I know, however, a maximum size law would have little affect on Long Island Sound, because even when times were good, large lobsters were extremely rare in the Sound. I hasten to add that everything I know about lobsters in the Sound comes from talking to a lot of lobstermen and lobster scientists, in New York and Connecticut, and reading research papers, 15 or more years ago; I don’t have the direct experience that a lobster scientist like Cowan would. Nevertheless I’m confident think what I wrote in my book about the Sound’s lobsters was right:

In the Sound, lobsters are almost like livestock being raised for slaughter. A lobsterman on the Sound can haul a trap crammed with up to twenty undersized lobsters for every keeper. These “shorts” have gorged themselves on the bait, and since the lobsterman must by law toss them back, he is, in effect, feeding lobsters now so they will be big enough to keep later. But unlike the Atlantic’s lobsters, the Sound’s animals have virtually no chance once they reach legal size. Ninety percent are caught within a year of becoming legal, an efficiency which biologists say is unheard of elsewhere and which makes it that much more critical for the lobsters to breed before they reach legal size. For the lobstermen, the efficiency exacts a price: the typical Sound lobster weighs only a pound or a pound and a quarter. Among the rarer sights on the Sound is a lobster pot with a two- or a three-pounder inside.

In other words, there aren’t any big lobsters in the Sound, so why would a maximum size limit be effective? It wouldn’t be, unless it were accompanied by a law that increased the minimum size limit on females, to let them grow bigger. If what Cowan says about the relative fecundity of big females compared to small females is true, that might not be a bad idea.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Residents of New Canaan Work to Save a Modern Building so Town Officials Don't Tear it Down

gores pavliion side view
[Read 'Modern,' our new modern house blog, here.]

New Canaan is well known both for its scores of mid-century modern houses (there are upwards of 70 still standing) and for allowing McMansion builders to buy classic mid-century houses and tear them down. Now the Town of New Canaan itself seems to be threatening to tear one down, although since it’s in a newly acquired park they won’t replace it with a McMansion.

gores pavilion front

The house was designed in 1959 by Landis Gores for Jack Irwin, a lawyer, an ambassador (to France) and an Undersecretary of State, and his wife, Jane Watson, whose father happened to be the founder of IBM. Gores designed it as a pool house and personal lodge for the Irwins, and it is set among the pines and hemlocks a hundred yards or so from the Irwins' more conventional house and carriage house, between a well-pruned apple orchard and fields of little bluestem grass. New Canaan bought the property as a park a couple of years ago and is in the process of trying to figure out what to do with the houses. The New Canaan Historical Society, a champion of preserving modern architecture, has put together a friends group, which sent out a letter last week:

The Town of New Canaan has given the Friends of the Gores Pavilion a very short time to come up with a plan to save this iconic building and provide access for all; otherwise it faces demolition.

One of the options, of course, would be for the people in New Canaan who think modern architecture is a valuable cultural resource to tell the Town officials that their attitude – raise the money fast or else – is an affront, and make it clear that if the Town doesn’t give them enough time to save the building they’ll hear about it in the next election.

Another option is to simply do what the Town says, which is what the friends group chose to do. They are trying to raise $150,000 to restore Gores Pavilion and convert it into a little museum of modern architecture.

(The Friends of the Gores Pavilion, by the way, includes John Black Lee and Alan Goldberg, both good modern architects, and a number of the people who have been organizing the Modern House Days that the New Canaan Historical Society has sponsored in recent years. It also includes L. Paul Bremer, whose mother and father lived in a Noyes house, which I visited about 20 years ago, when my wife, Gina, and I were invited over for a lecture and slideshow on modern architecture in New Canaan.)

Gina, our son Kaare and I went to Irwin Park and the Gores Pavilion earlier today to look around. The pavilion is small and odd, not to my eye the most beautiful modern house I’ve ever seen, though it has its attractions. Gores (his name is pronounced Land-iss Gore-ayz) was one of the Harvard Five architects (Breuer, Johnson, Noyes and Johansen were the others) who lived and worked in New Canaan in the years after World War II (only Johansen survives). He and Irwin were friends and Irwin commissioned him to design the house after Gores was stricken with polio. The friends’ letter says:

The building was dedicated in 1960 at a grand surprise party in honor of Gores with guests that included I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Eliot Noyes, Paul Rudolph, Edward L. Barnes, Peter Blake and other architecture luminaries of the day.

I don’t know when the house was last used, but the Daily News left on the table is from 1985 and has a front-page headline about the scandal involving Donald Manes, the Queens borough president. It’s not falling apart, but it does need some work. We walked around the outside, peered in through the windows and, when we found a door open, went in. The main room is pleasant and has what the friends group says is a “massive Prairie-style fireplace … worked in dove-gray brick manually cleft by the Appalachian Shale Company…” Behind the fireplace is a tiny kitchen and each wing has a small bedroom.

gores pavilion fireplace

Irwin Park is on Weed Street, at the corner of Wahackme Road (if you’re in the area and drive up Wahackme to Chichester Road you can view several other beautiful modern houses). Here’s the friends website,, if you’re interested. One would think that New Canaanites have deep enough pockets so that they don’t need financial help from outsides, but it’s a worthwhile cause and in my opinion if the friends can show Town officials that modern architecture has broad base of support, they might change their attitude about allowing these worthwhile houses to vanish.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Connecticut to Consider Putting $70 Million in Fund for Long Island Sound Cleanup and Other Projects; Public Hearing on Monday

Possible good news for the clean up of Long Island Sound: the Connecticut House Environment Committee is considering a bill that would put $70 million into the Clean Water Fund. The money would go toward clean water projects throughout the state, including the Sound.

For those of us concerned with the way Connecticut has slacked off in its commitment to clean up the Sound (some background here), it’s an important bill, and there’s an important public hearing coming up on Monday. Remember that last month Soundkeeper Terry Backer, who represents Stratford in the House, said it would take a strong show of support by the environmental community to get it passed.

Here’s what CFE/Save the Sound has to say about it:

Help Protect ALL of Connecticut's Water

Public Hearing at 10a.m. Monday, March 6, 2006

Please testify and support Raised Bill 5624: An Act Authorizing Bonds of the State for the Clean Water Fund

If passed, this legislation will triple the funding levels for the Clean Water Fund, a program that has hit a brick wall in recent years.

The public hearing is scheduled for this Monday, March 6 at 10 a.m. in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building. Sign-up to present testimony begins at 9 a.m. in the first floor atrium of the LOB. Please provide the Environment Committee with 50 copies of written

If you are unable to attend in person and would like to submit testimony, please email your testimony as an attachment to Leah Lopez Schmalz no later than 3 p.m., Sunday, March 5 at We will make copies and submit them to the Environment Committee on Monday. Please include your complete contact information in the e-mail or on the document you attach to your e-mail.

This legislation is the beginning of an new day for rivers, streams, and Long Island Sound.

If you have any questions, please call Leah at (203) 787-0646, Ext. 121 …

Thank you, in advance, for your support.

A Quick Analysis of the Synapse "No Broadwater" Report by Someone Who Knows More than I Do

I check in with the Energy Outlook blog, written by an energy consultant named Geoffrey Styles, several times a week, mainly because it occasionally covers the Broadwater and Cape Wind issues. Styles is from Connecticut, and although I don’t know him, he’s a clear writer, which generally is a sign of a clear thinker. So this morning I asked him what he thought of the Synapse Energy report commissioned by CFE/Save the Sound and released yesterday. I thought he might post something on his own blog, but instead he posted a comment on Sphere. It’s worth pulling out and making into a post of my own. Here’s what he says:

1. The report is generally thorough and reasonable, and reflects adequate knowledge of the subject.
2. Despite this, its conclusions strike me as fairly weak. It seems facile to argue against a project on the basis that it is inferior to some other set of projects, for which the likelihood of their being undertaken is unknown and highly uncertain. The best way to promote that competition is in the marketplace.
3. Synapse places great reliance on other projects that could supply gas to CT and NY. While these may indeed make Broadwater less attractive, they do not address our region's exposure to market conditions upstream (US Gulf Coast and Canada) and downstream (Boston area) of us. This is a fundamental strategic question. Do we want the option of a local source of gas, or are we content to remain at the mercy of these other supply points and markets?
4. A quick look at Synapse's website suggests they bring a primarily regulatory, rather than commercial perspective to bear. That may limit their authoritativeness in assessing commercial markets, relative to a more business-oriented consultancy.
5. Missing altogether from this analysis is any attempt to understand the underlying project economics from an investor perspective. No one puts up $1 billion to build this kind of facility without doing their homework on the market in which it would operate. Having analyzed projects of this magnitude in the past, I would guess that future gas prices and the timing and volume of throughput (sales), including competition from other sources, are likely to top any "tornado chart" for Broadwater's expected return and thus receive maximum management attention. A project like this would only proceed on the basis of a thorough, convincing analysis of the market demand. That doesn't make "trust us" a winning argument, but it also doesn't mean we should assume that Broadwater is staffed by incompetents and fools.

Ultimately, after reading Synapse's report I still don't know if Broadwater is a good project or a dog. Synapse has raised some pretty good questions for Broadwater to address, but I hardly see their report as sufficient to scuttle the project at this stage. If Broadwater has failed to make its case so far, Synapse has also failed to demolish it conclusively, in my view.

Here's What People are Saying About the "No-Broadwater" Study Released Yesterday

There’s plenty of coverage in today’s papers about the release of the Synapse Energy report yesterday that says Shell and TransCanada have not shown there’s a need to put their Broadwater LNG terminal in Long Island Sound. Here are some representative quotes:

Rosa DeLauro:
"We already knew the environmental and economic damage Broadwater would cause to the Sound and we knew the impact it would have on our region's security," Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, said at a Capitol Hill press conference. "What we didn't know until this report was released was the extent to which this facility would not be needed."

Joe Lieberman:
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., said the plan "represents a trade-off between environmental protection and economic health we just do not have to make."

Chris Dodd:
“It's easy to say no,” Dodd said. “But we have some ideas (for alternatives.) The report today shows that from a pure energy standpoint, an LNG facility is not the best solution for our area.”

Steve Israel:
"This is not NIMBYism (not in my back yard). This is about common sense, and Broadwater defies common sense," Israel said.

And from Broadwater’s side:

Consultant Joel Rinebold:
"We need the supply and we don’t have the supply. The report does not address this," said Rinebold,

Flack Amy Kelley:
"Without additional supplies of natural gas to meet demand, consumers will continue to face increasingly volatile and escalating natural gas prices," she said.

Broadwater VP John Hritcko:
“Energy providers and planners have all been saying that the demand is there,” he said. “It isn't just Broadwater. This region desperately needs more gas supplies.”

A link to the Synapse report is in my previous post. You can read more in the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, the New London Day, and Newsday.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

New Report Says There's No Need for Broadwater's LNG Plant

A consultant hired by Save the Sound says Broadwater “has failed to identify any compelling local or regional need for the proposed project that would justify the impact that this project would have on the environmental, economic, recreational and historical value of Long Island Sound.”

Save the Sound interprets this as meaning there's no need for a LNG facility in the middle of the Sound. Read it for yourself here. Synapse Energy Economics, of Cambridge, Mass., did the study, which was released today in Washington.

There’s a press release too, but I don’t see it yet on the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound website.

Broadwater's Attorneys Are Telling FERC Not to Give Out LNG Details

Is the federal government allowing Broadwater’s attorneys (LeBouef, Lamb, Greene & MacRae LLP) to decide who should have a chance to review the all-but-secret details of Broadwater’s proposal to put a LNG facility in the middle of Long Island Sound? From what Bryan Brown tells me, it seems like that might be the case. And if so, Bryan apparently won't be getting the information.

Readers who are following the Broadwater issue remember the flap over keeping details of the proposal secret. Federal rules say that for security reasons, FERC and Broadwater (a partnership of Shell and TransCanada) shall not release certain information about safety and security to the public; individuals can apply to FERC to see that information, but they have to promise not to discuss it publicly. Lots of people, including Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal, think that means there’s no way we’ll ever know if the plant is safe.

One of those who have applied to FERC is Bryan Brown, a Long Islander who follows the Broadwater issue very closely.

The last time we heard from Bryan, he said he had applied for the Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII) information back in September but hadn’t heard anything, so he re-faxed his request (there's background info here and here). Late yesterday he sent me an e-mail with an update. Among the most interesting things is that when FERC gets a request for information, it forwards the request to Broadwater’s attorneys and asks them what they think.

And in Bryan’s case, LeBouef, Lamb (Beef & Lamb) told FERC that he shouldn’t be allowed access to the information. Here’s what Bryan told me in a recent e-mail:

I want to bring you up to date on my personal efforts to gain access to Broadwater CEII.

Here's the chronology:

1. I submitted my original request for CEII on 9/28/05 via a fax that followed the instructions provided by FERC exactly.

2. By mid-January, I hadn't heard anything, so I re-faxed my request.

3. On 1/17, I received a phone call from FERC explaining that there was a backlog and my request from September would be processed soon.

4. Early February, FERC copied me on a letter that they sent to LeBouef, Lamb, Greene & MacRae LLP (Broadwater's counsel) saying that I was seeking CEII and that LeBouef Lamb needed to respond if they felt that I shouldn't be allowed access.

5. Within days, I received a non-disclosure form (a copy of which is attached) from FERC that I was instructed to sign and return (which I did).

6. At the same time, I was copied on a letter from LeBouef Lamb to FERC in effect making the case why I should be denied access.

7. I spoke with FERC today and was advised that they continue to work on my request and that their forwarding of the non-disclosure agreement was pro forma.

Based on my experience, I concur with AG Blumenthal's comments that the process doesn't make any sense. The policy is unclear and I'm scratching my head as to what vetting process I've undergone (I certainly wasn't contacted by anyone from the government; on the other hand, I don't think I have a file at the FBI). It appears that the onus is on me to make the case and that Broadwater (via its counsel) gets to decide.

Then there is the backlog. My original request was made during the pre-filing process but still within days of Broadwater's submission of Resource Report 13. I have already missed the opportunity to comment during the pre-filing phase and who knows if/when I'll
get an opportunity to submit a post-filing comment.

One good thing I learned is that (as per the non-disclosure agreement) I can discuss the CEII with other folks who have been granted access. FERC will tell me if another recipient has been granted access (I'm guessing that I'd have to make a specific query,
rather than be provided with a list of individuals who have been granted access).

As much as I feel that this information should be available to the public, I have some reservations.

Although I haven't read RR 13, I can tell you the approximate distance between the inner and outer hull plates of the FSRU. Not only that, I can tell you how fast a ship displacing 5000 tons needs to travel to penetrate the inner and outer hulls and cause a
breach. How do I know this? From reading the information submitted by Broadwater to the FERC docket that IS available to the public. That, to me, is an eye-opener.

I guess the proof of Beef & Lamb’s (and hence Broadwater’s) influence will be whether FERC gives Bryan the information he wants, or whether Beef & Lamb can delay the applications enough so that people get it too late to comment on it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

To the Beaches, in Stamford and Greenwich

Stamford is thinking about making it easier for out-of-towners to use their beaches, here.

Meanwhile, in Greenwich, where they'd do just about anything to keep out-of-towners away, First Selectman Lash talks tough about making scofflaw Paul Kempner pay his $120 beach entry fee from last year. Kempner seems unimpressed by the threat, though. Here.

RI Says No to Block Island Marina Expansion

If you think a large private marina shouldn’t automatically be allowed to expand over an additional four acres of publicly-owned waters, you’re in sync with Rhode Island officials. Last night the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council rejected an expansion plan by Champlin’s Marina, on Block Island, that would have usurped a large part of an already-crowded portion of BI’s Great Salt Pond.

On a place like Block Island, of course, this kind of fight boils down to the privileged islanders not wanting to be inconvenienced by privileged boat-owners who don’t live on the island. But even though it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the island residents who don’t want more privileged people near them, I’m on their side anyway. Block Island is still so beautiful, and its beaches and shorelines are so widely-accessible to the public, that I can easily agree that enough is enough.

Here's the Providence Journal story.

Can Birders Help Limit the Spread of Avian Flu?

If you're not afraid of avian flu, you're probably not paying attention. But according to author Laurie Garrett, it might be possible to limit the spread of the disease; and if so there might be an important role in the effort for birders. I wrote a post about it for Gristmill, which you can read here.
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