Friday, June 30, 2006

Huge, Dangerous Creatures Invade Southern New England's Coastal Waters!

“My initial impression was, it was some kind of vine that was creeping and surrounding me. It was a very penetrating, burning sensation.” – Phillip Beauregard, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Now that the sun is out you might be thinking about going for a swim at the beach, except that if you go to Rhode Island or adjacent parts of Massachusetts you should worry about encountering a Portuguese man-of-war.

At least 15 of these enormous, dangerous siphonophores have been seen at beaches in Little Compton, Rhode Island, in the last few days; they’ve also been in Westpost, Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reported that the 15 at Little Compton compares to about a half a dozen in the area over the past decade:

Portuguese men-of-war traditionally live in tropical and subtropical waters but drift to the north Atlantic on the Gulf Stream, said Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium. While not common in the region, they are occasionally spotted off the southern coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, off the south-facing side of Cape Cod, and off Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, as water temperatures rise in late summer, he said.

The recent, unstable weather patterns could explain their early, more frequent arrival on New England shores. Warmer air has been moving up from the South for nearly a week, said Alan Dunham, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Taunton.

… The tentacles can sting even when the man-of-war is dead and washed up on the beach. Although its sting is believed to be potentially fatal, the man-of-war has no known record of killing people. But the danger is that some people could have an allergic reaction to the venom, could go into shock, panic, or drown.

Sounds like something worth avoiding.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality Misses the Most Important News About the Long Island Sound Cleanup

Probably the most important action taken on Long Island Sound this year has been the Connecticut Legislature’s refusal to fund the ongoing cleanup of the Sound. Amazingly, the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality, an agency whose job it is to keep track of such things, didn’t notice.

You remember the background: Connecticut’s representatives in Hartford decided that even though the state is mandating towns and cities to upgrade their sewage treatment plants, and even though the state promised years ago to provide grants and low interest loans to the towns and cities, they were not going to put money in the Clean Water Fund for the sewage plant upgrades. Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound has estimated that unless the decision is reversed, it will delay the cleanup for 25 years beyond its federally-approved 2014 deadline.

The Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality, which was created in 1971 as an independent board whose job is to review environmental trends in the state and report annually to the governor, released its 2005 report yesterday and, astonishingly, it says nothing about the Legislature’s abandonment of the Sound cleanup.

On the contrary, the report paints a rosy picture of nitrogen removal. Here’s an excerpt that sums up the report’s point of view on the issue:

Connecticut’s investment in nitrogen-removal technology has been successful. The goal for 2004 was met three years ahead of schedule.

True enough, I suppose, as far as it goes. But remember, the controversy over funding the Clean Water Fund was going on as long ago as last November. You’d think the agency whose job it is to track trends would have noticed.

Oyster Bay Says No to Avalon

It wasn't that long ago that it was almost impossible for local activists to stop development proposals. It's still difficult, but it can be done -- as the anti-Avalon people in Oyster Bay have shown.

Avalon Bay wanted a zoning change from the town so it could build high-density apartments. Yesterday the Town Supervisor, John Venditti, decided the people who thought that was a bad idea were right. From Newsday:

"There are times when it becomes self-evident that a proposed change of zoning is so widely unacceptable ... that you don't listen to it, you don't hear it, it never hears the light of day," he said.

Congratulations to Friends of the Bay and the others who persuaded him.

Leave a Comment But Identify Yourself

This blog doesn’t get a lot of comments but lately there have been some really dumb ones, left anonymously. I don’t mind if people say dumb things. I do it myself often enough. But at least when I write something, people know I wrote it.

So I’m going to allow anonymous comments only under unusual circumstances – for example, if you have something material to add to a post that you might not be able to say publicly because you work for government or an environmental group. But if you just want to mouth off, you’ll have to identify yourself. Of course I reserve the right to make the decision I think best for any particular comment.

If you want to appeal decisions made based on this policy, send me an e-mail and state your case.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Killing Lobsters in 'Enormous Automated Crushing Machines.' Also, 'Homo Sapiens Is In Charge.'

The Whole Foods-lobster debate continued in this morning's Times with four or five letters to the editor, including one by Trevor Corson, who might turn out to be to the lobster industry what Eric Schlosser has been to the fast food industry.

To the Editor:
Perhaps Whole Foods should consider no longer selling processed lobster meat as well as live lobsters. Processed lobster comes from lobsters that die inside enormous automated crushing machines. They are loaded alive into a cylinder, and the water around them is compressed to several times the pressure found in the deepest trenches of the ocean.
Tests by animal-welfare experts are under way, but it is not yet clear how long the lobsters suffer inside these high-pressure processors before they die.
While perhaps more humane than boiling alive, it is certainly not more humane than pithing a lobster with a kitchen knife before you put it in the pot.
Trevor Corson
Washington, June 25, 2006
The writer is the author of a book about the biology of lobsters.

Something tells me that the people at Whole Foods have more of a headache than they were expecting from this.

There’s also a letter from a fellow who believes:

… we live in a world where Homo sapiens is in charge, and other orders are subject to our whims and rules…

That sums up our problems pretty well, I’d say.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More Talk About the Well-Being of Our Food

The discussion about Whole Foods’ decision to stop selling live lobsters because of concern for the lobsters’ welfare reached the Times Week in Review section Sunday. Frank Bruni, the Times restaurant reviewer, looked at the issue and, significantly, I thought, drew a distinction between concern for the welfare of luxury animals like lobsters and the geese that produce foie gras, and the much vaster number of animals that provide our daily chicken breasts and hamburgers:

Are the calls for fundamental changes in the mass production of food simply elitist, the privilege of people wealthy enough to pay more at the checkout counter? Does fretting about ducks give people a pass on chickens? Does considering the lobster allow seafood lovers to disregard the tuna?

"Foie gras and lobster are not at the heart of the real tough issues of animal welfare, which are feed lots and pigs and cattle and chickens and how billions of animals are treated," said Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," which traces the messy back stories of our meals. "On the other hand, the fact that we're having this conversation at all — that we're talking about ethics in relation to what we're eating every day — strikes me as a very healthy thing," he said last week. …

"People look at the lobster and try to imagine what its experience would be like, but they don't look at a package of chicken breasts and imagine what the experience would be like," said Jay Weinstein, a Manhattan caterer whose book "The Ethical Gourmet" was published this month. "It's because they're closer to the final step of the killing."

While the lives of "free-range" chickens are hardly ideal, the lives of other chickens are even worse, Mr. Weinstein said. The birds' feet are lacerated by the wire they are forced to stand on, while their beaks are clipped so they can't peck at each other in the tight quarters they occupy. He questioned whether any of that was less offensive than the force feeding of ducks.

Bruni discusses shellfish and fish, and quotes chef David Pasternak (who was profiled memorably last year in The New Yorker) as saying that he can tell from the quality of a fish’s flesh how it was treated while and after it was caught. But there are real distinctions among animals that probably should affect our attitudes about how they are treated and eaten, Bruni and the people he quotes argue:

Ample scientific evidence suggests that various creatures have varying levels of consciousness. "There really is a difference between the sentience of an oyster and the sentience of a lobster and the sentience of a cat," Mr. Pollan said. "These lines really can be drawn."

Some weeks ago I heard Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation, being interviewed on WNYC by Leonard Lopate. Schlosser pointed out that the mass alienation from our food and its sources is a relatively new thing, measured only in decades. Until a century ago or less, people were much more likely than we are to know where their food came from. Schlosser’s point was that the more you know about your food and its source, the more likely you are to be concerned with how it was raised and treated.

We may roll our eyes and snicker at the worry over lobsters and geese and chickens, but if we do, in the grand scheme of things, we’re the ones who are out of touch.

Monday, June 26, 2006

How to Protect a Phillip Johnson House

The current Forbes magazine explores the financial ramifications of selling your house as a tear-down versus protecting an architecturally significant house so that when you sell it, it can’t be torn down. One of the examples is New Canaan’s Hodgson House, which Phillip Johnson designed and which is across the road from his Glass House.

The Hodgson family protected their house by donating a conservation easement to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust owns the Glass House and all its outbuildings, and no doubt was interested in not having a McMansion built across the road from its modernist masterpiece. Author Ashlea Ebeling explains:

The Trust will monitor any proposed changes to the house or landscape. A new owner can update the kitchen, but can't add an attached garage, for example.

The Hodgsons loved the place and were willing to take slightly less than what a broker thinks they could get for it (not peanuts in either case -- $4.3 million compared to $5 million). If that discount holds up in an appraisal, they’ll be able to take a tax deduction on the $700,000 difference.

That’s great for them. What’s great for those of us who are fans of modern houses is that the Hodgson House will be protected, and so will its setting across from the Glass House.

Sick Clams, Sick Marshes, Eelgrass, and News from Other Estuaries

Sick clams ... Clams in Guilford have been dying from a disease called disseminated neoplasia, which newspaper accounts describe as a form a leukemia (but which can’t be transmitted to humans).

From what I can tell through a quick online search, disseminated neoplasia has been found in 15 kinds of bivalves, but around here it seems to be most prevalent in softshell clams (the kind used for steamers):

Prevalence exceeding 90% has been reported; the disease is progressive and can result in significant mortality of affected populations. Softshell clams, Mya arenaria, and mussels, Mytilus trossulus, from the east and west coasts of North America, respectively, and cockles, Cerastoderma edule, from Ireland, appear to be especially susceptible.

The same abstract says the disease seems to be transmitted virally from clam to clam, and that environmental degradation makes the situation worse (no surprise there).

Spartina and eelgrass ... I first heard about this eight or so years ago, when the salt marsh at Marshlands Conservancy, in Rye, started receding. Unfortunately marsh dieback is not confined to Rye. Also unfortunately, scientists have no idea what’s going on. That's not good news for the Spartina grasses that constitute a salt marsh's dominant vegetation or all the organisms that rely on them for food and shelter.

In Greenwich, the shellfish commission is trying to replant eelgrass, in hopes of getting scallops to grow. It’s early but the experiment doesn’t seem to be going well.

Other estuaries ... News about Long Island Sound has been so sporadic lately that I started looking elsewhere for interesting stuff. It turns out that you can fish for salmon on the Penobscot River again. And a population of short-nosed sturgeon has been discovered in the Penobscot; biologists aren’t sure if they’ve returned or if they’ve been there unnoticed all along.

See no evil ... The Marine Fish Conservation Networks’s report, “Turning a Blind Eye: The ‘See No Evil’ Approach to Wasteful Fishing,” which I wrote about earlier this month, got some play over the weekend in the Portsmouth Herald.

The network report found that there is already a lack of bycatch information. The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed to limit public access to fishery data, including bycatch data, when revising and renewing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary federal law that governs our nation’s fisheries. The network will submit "Turning a Blind Eye" to members of Congress who are currently considering legislation to reauthorize this law and will urge Congress to strengthen the law to help eliminate bycatch in U.S. marine fisheries.

"It is astounding that the NMFS would propose to limit access to bycatch data," said Jan Pendlebury, N.H. representative for the National Environmental Trust. "Data is the integral component of any plan intended to help restore declining fish stocks."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

How Many Bird Bloggers Are There? Read This to Find Out

In a craven and thus far unsuccessful attempt to bring in new readers, I submitted a post I wrote a whole year ago (about Sandy Point, in West Haven) to a so-called blog carnival known as I and the Bird. Some of you may have seen it before. They apparently don't like to hurt anyone's feelings so they accepted my post. It and many others are here, at a blog called Hawk Owl's Nest. If you're interested in birds, or if you're interested in finding out how many people blog about birds, click through the entries. It's worth it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Boiled Lobsters, Eating Oysters Alive, Suffocating Fish

I mentioned on Friday that Whole Foods would no longer sell live lobsters because of concern for the way lobsters were treated after they were caught. As an aside I asked whether it was odd that the company was concerned with the way lobsters were treated after they were caught but apparently less so with the fact that these sentient creatures are cooked by boiling them alive.

A couple of years ago Gourmet magazine sent writer David Foster Wallace to Maine to cover a lobster festival. Much to Gourmet’s surprise, he returned with a piece about the moral and ethical implications of boiling a live animal. This PETA website, which is devoted to lobster liberation, scanned the article and has a link to a PDF.

Is it so terrible to boil a lobster alive? Mark Kurlansky, in his oyster book, notes that when we eat raw oysters, we’re eating them alive. When fishermen catch a striped bass or flounder, and put it on ice, the fish suffocates to death (although I think someone told me that when you catch a bluefish you need to whack it sharply in the head to kill it before it bites you).

Predators catch and eat their prey. It’s the way the world works. I’m not a vegetarian, and I’m not an ethicist or a philosopher (no surprise there). I suppose it’s no odder to be concerned about the welfare of lobsters before we cook them than it is to be concerned about the welfare of chickens crammed into inhumane coops or of cattle living in filth in western feedlots. I’ll still eat lobster once or twice a year, and it would be terrific if Whole Foods' decision resulted in improved conditions.

Here’s the original post, with some interesting comments, including one that came in this morning.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Better Days Might Be Ahead for Narragansett Bay Unless RI Politicians Follow Their Connecticut Counterparts

John Torgan, the Narragansett BayKeeper, is celebrating an agreement in Rhode Island to require two big sewage treatment plants to do nitrogen removal as part of their year-round treatment process. Hypoxia can be as bad in the Bay as it is in Long Island Sound, and nitrogen removal is equally important in the two estuaries.

Read down, though, and you’ll see that RI faces the same problem we have on the Sound: mandating nitrogen removal is one thing; getting the politicians to allocate the money so communities can upgrade their treatment plants is another.

Remember that Connecticut mandated nitrogen removal but in recent years has not put any money into the Clean Water Fund. The state helped identify the hypoxia issue, the state decided how and when each community had to solve it, but then the state said, “Sorry, that’s your problem, not ours.”

Monday, June 19, 2006

Volunteers Will Try to Protect Sandy Point's Piping Plovers from Fourth of July Fireworks

Volunteers in the New Haven area will be getting together around the Fourth of July to help protect nesting piping plovers at Sandy Point from fireworks. Here's the announcment, from the Connecticut Birds e-mail list:

The Office of Cultural Affairs, City of New Haven is requesting volunteers to help protect piping plovers at Sandy Point Beach, West Haven, for the City of West Haven's fireworks celebration on 6/29/06 and for the City of New Haven's fireworks celebration on 7/4/06. Volunteers will be provided with T-shirts and badges identifying them (or wear your own environmentally-conscious T-shirt). A police officer will be on hand. It runs from 6:30 pm - 10 pm both nights, but volunteers can come for either a short shift or the whole night.

Sandy Point is an amazing place for birds, but it’s also irresistible for people, and in nesting season the two don’t mix as well as one might hope. I wrote about Sandy Point a few times last year, here and here, and specifically about the fireworks issue, here.

Greenwich's Beach Access Policy Prompts Another Lawsuit

Greenwich is being sued again by a Stamford resident who wants easier access to Greenwich Point Park. The litigious out-of-towner this time is Paul Kempner, the bicyclist who last summer kept riding to the beach without paying. He says it’s OK to charge a parking fee but an entrance fee for pedestrian of cyclists is unacceptable. It was another Stamford resident who successfully sued Greenwich about six years ago to force them to change their residents-only policy at their beaches. From the Greenwich Time:

In the latest lawsuit over access, Stamford cyclist Paul Kempner accuses the town of discriminating against nonresidents by charging excessive fees to visit its beaches. Those fees, the lawsuit says, violate the spirit of the 2001 state Supreme Court ruling that declared the town's residents-only policy a violation of nonresidents' free speech rights and opened the beach.

Greenwich is one of only a few communities that charge nonresidents for both admission and parking at its beaches. Madison also charges a $10 daily admission fee.

"Greenwich has ignored these binding rulings of the Connecticut courts and, in willful and wanton contempt of those courts, continues to discriminate in respect of access to its public parks against citizens of Connecticut, who reside in municipalities other than Greenwich," the lawsuit says.

The paper quotes a handful of defiant local residents who want the town to vigorously defend the beach policy.

The story also notes that when the town’s parks board recommended earlier this year that the town lower the fee to $1 a day for pedestrians, four of the board’s nine members were given the boot. Good luck, Paul Kempner.

Friday, June 16, 2006

No More Live Lobsters at Whole Foods

How are lobsters treated by wholesale suppliers? I’m not sure but apparently not well enough to satisfy Whole Foods. The chain has decided to stop selling live lobsters because of concern for their well being.

"Although we discovered significant improvements are possible from capture up to in-store tank conditions, we are not yet sufficiently satisfied that the process of selling live lobsters is in line with our commitment to humane treatment and quality of life for animals," said Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of quality standards for Whole Foods Market. "At this time, we believe it is too difficult to maintain consistent conditions throughout the entire supply chain to ensure the health and wellbeing of lobsters outside their natural environment for such a long period of time. Many lobsters are held in storage facilities for several months."

Isn’t it a little odd though that they’re concerned with the way lobsters are treated after they are caught but apparently aren’t concerned with the fact that these sentient creatures are cooked by boiling them alive?

Maybe the Journal News will ask that question.

Where are the Fish? Right Here

There are a lot of fish in Long Island Sound and the fishing magazines and columnists do an amazing job of reporting where they are. To a non-fisherman like me, the reports are a terrific window into the stuff going on under the surface:

As of yesterday the squid moved back onto the reefs (the Watch Hill/Fishers Island Reef Complex) so Sugar Reef and Catumb Rock turned back on Tuesday. Kevin himself said that he also saw some concentrations of squid off Fishers Island recently.

A 43-pound bass that was 51.5 inches was taken on a live bunker Saturday somewhere in the Noank area

Nick Massaro of Fisherman's World in Norwalk said that Jose Zecura caught a 40-inch striper at Penfield Reef using a bunker chunk, and that Eric Louvis hit the big time with his catch of a 39.6-pound bass that was taken on a bunker chunk at Norwalk Island.

Sandy Pardes, of the Connecticut Fishing Reports blog, reproduces the accounts verbatim (which is between her, her conscience and the copyright laws, I guess) here. They are masterpieces of straightforward reporting.

Wind Off Jones Beach

There’s so much happening on the wind power front, off Cape Cod and off the south shore of Long Island, that I have a hard time keeping up with it. The OneAtlantic blog, though, discusses the LIPA project proposed for the Jones Beach area. It sounds to me like blogger Emily Gertz falls into the “global warming is more important than your view” camp.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Big Oyster

I started reading Mark Kurlansky’s latest book, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, from an odd perspective. A few winters ago I was reading one of his earlier books, Cod, when the method of his productivity dawned on me. Kurlansky had written a lot of books – Cod, and Salt, and The Basque History of the World, and Choice Cuts among them. I wasn’t sure in which order they were written, but it didn’t matter: I realized you can’t write comprehensively about cod without knowing that salt was an essential preservative and without also knowing that Basque fishermen were among the first to travel across the Atlantic to the great cod fishing grounds. What Kurlansky was good at, among other things, was using leftovers. The stuff he learned and didn’t use in one book went into the next, culminating in Choice Cuts, a compendium of food stories and anecdotes, excerpts and recipes.

At the time this insight came to me (and I realize I wasn’t the only one it ever came to), I was tormenting myself about having written one book but not a second. Kurlansky provided the answer, I thought, or at least the model – I needed to mentally comb through my left over research to see what might lead to another book. Adriaen Block and the Dutch were interesting, but I’m a reporter not a historian and I didn’t want to commit myself to a lot of library research and no first-hand reporting. The problem of the pollution of coastal waters by nitrogen along the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico was extremely important, but I didn’t think I could find the money to finance the reporting trips or the time to take them.

And then I thought of oysters. Oysters were a luxury food, and so might be considered glamorous and sexy; there was a lot of good and accessible primary and secondary material about them; they were directly connected to environmental health; there were viable remnants of the oyster industry nearby for convenient reporting; and I had folders full of information I had used in my book.

So for several weeks I set to it, reading and taking notes and thinking about what form an oyster book should take. And then, for reasons having to do with maintaining a fulltime job and a reasonably happy family life, I let the oyster project drop.

When I heard, some months ago, that Kurlansky was about to publish a book about oysters, my first thought was, “Damn, it could have been me.” My second thought was, “That’s probably not true because if I could have done it, I would have, and in any case, it makes perfect sense for Kurlansky to have done it.”

So a couple of weeks ago I started to read a copy of The Big Oyster that my wife, Gina, had brought home from the library. I was prepared to dislike it; I had gotten only about three quarters of the way through Cod, a small book, before being bored. But it turns out that The Big Oyster is fun and lively, and worth a look. And if a book about oysters and New York isn’t enough to interest you on its own, keep in mind that when Kurlansky writes about the oysters of New York Harbor, he means not just the Upper and Lower Bay but all the connected harbors and rivers and streams, including Raritan Bay and what oystermen called the East River, which was Long Island Sound as far east as Norwalk and Port Jefferson.

Not surprisingly in a book by someone who wrote Choice Cuts, The Big Oyster is mainly about eating oysters. Kurlansky reproduces 33 old oyster recipes, and sketches at length the many ways New Yorkers ate oysters, particularly in the 19th century. More surprisingly is that there are long sections that seem to be about eating in general, and have very little to do with oysters per se. There’s also stuff about native oysters and oyster cultivation and about the environmental degradation that has damaged and destroyed oysters and oyster beds – in fact one of the threads of the book (and it’s a thin thread at times) is the penchant of New Yorkers for using their best ecosystems to dispose of garbage and sewage.

Kurlansky ties the thread in his epilogue, when he writes:

It is difficult not to ask the question: Are ten million or more people not too many to be living on one estuary? … Perhaps it is not just unnatural but a threat to nature. Perhaps that many people just won’t fit. After all, that is not what estuaries were designed for. Ten million people produce far too much garbage.

Those are good questions but after what Kurlansky has described, they seem a bit too timid. They are also perhaps a bit beside the point: Are ten million or more people not too many to be living on one estuary? Well, yes, but it’s a bit too late to stop it.

Kurlansky is a pro and he turns out his books at a rapid pace, but one of the disadvantages is that sometimes he seems to be writing on auto-pilot. Forced transitions and wooden phrases are not uncommon (although they’re not common enough to have made me stop reading). He appears at times to hardly have re-read what he wrote. On page 277, for example, he says, “As for the Gowanus Canal … it still does not have enough oxygen for fish or oyster beds.” But on the next page he asserts, “Even the Gowanus Canal got a flushing system that made the water clear enough for fish to return.” And he calls a little embayment on the south shore of Staten Island both “Prince’s Bay” and “Princess Bay.” When I was growing up on Staten Island, you’d see it spelled both ways and nobody knew which was right; but if you’re using it in a book, you need to pick one and stick with it.

But as I said, I enjoyed The Big Oyster. It’s loaded with interesting facts and anecdotes.

Kurlansky writes, for example, that the Dutch word for shell was “kalck,” which I deduce has the same root as calcium and from which, I figure, is the source of the word “cultch,” which is what oystermen call the old oyster shells on which they plant spat – which, by the way, Kurlansky says is the oystermen’s past tense of spit, because oystermen thought that when oysters emitted eggs and sperm, they were spitting.

He mentions, as all observers do, that in the old days, North American oysters were huge (European oysters, which are a different genus, don’t grow as big). In fact, oysters around here were too big, in the eyes of some. William Makepeace Thackerary, the English novelist, couldn’t deal with them at all. Eating American oysters, he said, was “like eating a baby.” But still people bought them. Saddle Rocks, an oyster named after part of Norwalk’s oyster beds, sold like crazy at a time when you could fill a bushel basket with 25 of them (rather than 250, which was a more typical amount in a bushel).

In the 1800s, he writes, oysters could be had in New York for six cents – not a piece, but all you could eat. This was at a time when strawberries imported in the cold months from the Mediterranean were selling for half a dollar each.

And, most interestingly to me, Kurlansky says that some biologists estimate that New York Harbor contained half the world’s oysters. There were so many, in fact, that they were capable of filtering the entire contents of the harbor in a few days. If nothing else, this sounds to me like a great argument for doing all we can to bring back the great oysters beds of the old days.

Suffolk County Hopes Royal Land Grants Will Stop Broadwater's LNG Terminal

I have no idea whether this should be taken seriously, but here it is: The Suffolk County Executive, Steve Levy, is trying to get a county law passed that would ban Broadwater’s proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound. Newsday says:

The proposed county measure says Suffolk's jurisdiction in the Sound dates back to royal land grants in Colonial times as well as state legislation, including "Chapter 695 of the Laws of 1881, an act extending jurisdiction of Queens and Suffolk Counties ... over the Waters of Long Island Sound."

What’s not clear to me is why, if there’s an 1881 law giving Suffolk County jurisdiction over the Sound, is there a need for a county law?

In the meantime, two state Assembly members are scrambling at the last minute to pass a state law that would prevent the United States Secretary of Commerce from overruling the New York State Secretary of State, who the Assembly members (and others) believe would deny a permit for Broadwater’s LNG terminal.

But as I understand it, the federal energy law gives the Secretary of Commerce the final say, so how can a state law trump that? My guess is that we can file these two attempts under the heading of “Don’t just stand there, do something.”

Broadwater’s v.p. John Hritcko as usual is quoted saying something laughable:

"our initial reaction is that this is a gimmick, a press release, rather than engaging in a debate on the merits of the project"

As if Broadwater has ever actually debated the merits of the project.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Donate Money So the Soundkeeper Can Buy New Pump-Out Boats

Terry Backer is trying to raise money to replace the Soundkeeper’s fleet of three pump-out boats, at about $78,000 each. That's a lot, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is willing to put in $3 for every $1 Soundkeeper raises. So Soundkeeper’s goal is to bring in $18,550 per boat.

So if you know someone with a boat in western Long Island Sound (or someone who likes to swim or catch shellfish), pass this on. It’s a truly good thing: the Soundkeeper’s pump-out boats cruise from Westport to New Rochelle and cart away sewage from recreational vessels whose owners might otherwise be tempted to empty the heads into the Sound. And it's free. Terry says they sent out 57,000 gallons of sewage for treatment last year, which means 57,000 gallons weren't dumped in swimming areas and shellfish beds. The new boat will have bigger tanks -- 450 gallons, as opposed to 300 -- so they will be more efficient.

There’s information about the program here; and if you click on the “membership” link, you can make a donation.

Sea Turtles Are About to Go Home

A bunch of Kemp’s ridleys, the world’s rarest sea turtle, are being prepared for release off Cape Cod later this summer. The turtles were stranded on the beach – cold-stunned, is the phrase – last fall when water temperatures drop. It's not an uncommon occurrence and some don't survive, and unfortunately it's been going on for a long time (there's some background here). But those that do are often found and nursed back to health. The other good news is that the turtles are all young, which means they’re reproducing with some success.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Connecticut Legislature to Long Island Sound: Drop Dead

The Connecticut State Legislature managed to finish its session without bothering to approve $50 million in bonding for the Long Island Sound cleanup and other clean water projects. I don’t live in Connecticut any longer, but it pisses me off anyway; and if I did live in Connecticut, I’d also be embarrassed.

In this piece, published in the Hartford Courtant, Leah Schmalz of Save the Sound and Lori Brown of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, explain why the bonding is important and also call for a special session of the Legislature to rectify the neglect.

Whether they do or don’t, it’s clear the Long Island Sound and clean water in general have become a low priority in Connecticut.

It also seems as if the environmental groups – Connecticut Fund for the Environment, League of Conservation Voters, Audubon Connecticut, and even Soundkeeper (I use the word “even” because Terry Backer, the Soundkeeper, represents Stratford in the State House) – are viewed as little more than special interests, with no broad grassroots support. Politicians can therefore ignore them with impunity.

And to say that the press coverage of the issue has been sporadic would be to wildly exaggerate its consistency.

But I don’t mean to blame the environmental groups or the press. The fault lies with Connecticut’s irresponsible politicians. They are the ones who in recent years took money out of the Clean Water Fund and used it for other purposes. (There’s lots of information about this in the archives for Novemer, December, and January.)

Keep in mind that House Speaker James Amann of Milford made no apologies about not funding the Sound cleanup. His reasoning? Sewage treatment plants are not sexy.

And Greenwich’s legislators, to single out one contingent, were not even aware that they themselves had cut funding for clean water projects.

The whole thing reminds me of the 1970s, when Abe Beame was looking for the federal government to bail out New York City. When President Ford said no, the Daily News headline was: Ford to City: Drop Dead.

The headline now should be:

Connecticut Legislature to Long Island Sound: Drop Dead.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Electricity from the Tides

In ecology, as Barry Commoner said, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But that doesn’t mean some lunches aren’t cheaper than others.

Take energy generation, for example. The wind blows freely, but wind power projects are controversial because, critics contend, they’re ugly, they can be dangerous to birds, and they produce energy only when the wind is blowing. The tides, on the other hand, also flow freely, but you don’t see tidal energy installations because they are under water, they don’t pose much of a threat to fish because the propeller blades turn relatively slowly, and they produce energy all the time because the tide never stops.

Those are among the arguments being made by tidal power entrepreneurs. One company, Verdant Power, is getting ready to try a set of tidal turbines in the East River, near Roosevelt Island. Another wants to try a project off Martha’s Vineyard, where the Cape Wind proposal has caused much sturm und drang.

The technology is being labeled experimental. But maybe it can help avert the energy crisis in the Northeast that the Energy Outlook blog thinks is inevitable.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Organic and Sustainable Organic: Eat Locally

I somehow missed Michael Pollan’s explanation, in Sunday’s Times Magazine, of why Wal-Mart’s decision to sell cheap organic food is generally a bad thing, but two other blogs – Bootstrap Analysis and Gristmill – didn’t. Here’s the crux of his argument:

Assuming that it's possible at all, how exactly would Wal-Mart get the price of organic food down to a level just 10 percent higher than that of its everyday food? To do so would virtually guarantee that Wal-Mart's version of cheap organic food is not sustainable, at least not in any meaningful sense of that word. To index the price of organic to the price of conventional is to give up, right from the start, on the idea, once enshrined in the organic movement, that food should be priced not high or low but responsibly. As the organic movement has long maintained, cheap industrial food is cheap only because the real costs of producing it are not reflected in the price at the checkout. Rather, those costs are charged to the environment, in the form of soil depletion and pollution (industrial agriculture is now our biggest polluter); to the public purse, in the form of subsidies to conventional commodity farmers; to the public health, in the form of an epidemic of diabetes and obesity that is expected to cost the economy more than $100 billion per year; and to the welfare of the farm- and food-factory workers, not to mention the well-being of the animals we eat.

Generally bad, but not universally bad. He also discusses how the industrialization of organic farming is likely to lead to reductions of a pervasive pesticide called Atrazine and, for people concerned with the health of coastal waters, particularly the Gulf of Mexico, reductions of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers (nitrogen, of course, is the cause of the vast areas made lifeless in summer by hypoxia).

But back to the “generally bad” category: Pollan also makes the point that buying organic produce grown in Mexico or New Zealand or elsewhere is hardly sustainable environmentally because of the transportation involved. You might be getting strawberries without pesticides, and there might be no pesticide residues left in the local soil, but how much fuel did it take to get that strawberry up here?

His piece reminded me that one of the best thing we can do for the environment and definitely the best thing we can do for sustainable agriculture is to eat locally, and if you eat locally it’s easy to eat organic.

Farmers markets are opening soon throughout Connecticut, Westchester, Long Island and New York City (if they haven’t done so already). We’re big fans of the New Canaan Farmers Market, which opens on Saturday. At least three organic farmers sell their stuff there: Riverbank Farm, Shortt’s Farm, and Stones Throw Farm.

So forget industrial agriculture. Eat locally.

Two Forums: Broadwater and the Health of the Sound

There are a couple of meetings/discussions coming up in Stamford that might be interesting. Tomorrow evening (7 p.m., June 8), Joel Rinebold, a Broadwater consultant, will join Ezra Hausman of Synapse Energy Economics, the company that, on Connecticut Fund for the Environment’s dime, said Broadwater in unnecessary, will discuss the LNG proposal in Stamford.

The talk is called “Long Island Sound, Energy and the Environment How can we best meet the energy needs of the region? What are our choices?” It’s at UConn’s Stamford campus. Admission is free to the general public. Contact H. Starks at SoundWaters if you plan to attend. Telephone 203-406-3314 or email

On June 14, Mark Tedesco, the head of EPA’s Long Island Sound office, will talk about the health of the Sound, at a noon lunchtime talk at Soundwaters. Here’s how the announcement summarizes the presentation: “Thirty-four years after the Clean Water Act and twenty years of the Long Island Sound Study: What do we know about the status and trends in the health of Long Island Sound and its watershed?”

The $10 cost includes lunch. Reservations requested: 203-406-3319 or

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Lobstermen Who Has Leased Shellfish Beds in the Islander East Path has Raised the Question: Can You Go Shellfishing From Jail? Or is it Speculation?

The Islander East proposal to run a natural gas pipeline from Connecticut, under Long Island Sound, and to Long Island seems to have caused near chaos in Branford, where the pipeline would cut through shellfish beds.

Islander East (a Duke Energy-KeySpan project) has already paid fisherman Nick Crismale nearly $2 million and has paid two other fishermen lesser amounts.

Now a lobsterman who is in jail on a drunken driving charge has managed to secure leases on town-owned shellfish grounds that lie along the pipeline route. The town apparently didn’t realize where the beds were when it granted the leases. The speculation in Branford is that the lobsterman, Michael Torrelli, acquired the leases for speculation – that is, in hopes that Islander East would come calling and offer him a windfall.

The Hartford Courant, which is indispensable when it wants to back, has a terrific story on the situation by reporter Kim Martineau.

Smart Sponge: So Far, So Good

The so-called Smart Sponge stormwater filters, which were installed in Norwalk last year on a trial basis, appear to be working. Soundkeeper Terry Backer held a press conference yesterday with Senator Joe Liebermann, to say that early results have been good. The filters easily trap the big stuff – bottles, fast-food wrappers – and also remove smaller pollutants. The Stamford Advocate reported:

Since their installation in November, the filters, which are cleaned every few months, have removed an estimated 14,000 pounds of debris from stormwater, officials said yesterday. … water emerging from the filtered drains was 75 percent cleaner than water that entered the harbor from unfiltered drains.

Because stormwater is so contaminated, health officials automatically ban oyster harvesting after a rainstorm. The Norwalk Islands are rich in oysters, so if the filters work, maybe the beds will be able to stay open more often.

FERC Meets Behind Closed Doors to Discuss Broadwater

The feds are holding a meeting in Port Jefferson to discuss Broadwater today and tomorrow but the public can’t attend. Here’s what the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s notice says:

In view of the nature of critical energy infrastructure information and security issues to be explored, the cryogenic conference will not be open to the public.

You can attend only if you are a formal party to the proceeding or a representative of federal, state or local agency. Connecticut Fund for the Environment points out that FERC routinely says the LNG terminal that Broadwater (a joint venture of Shell and TransCanada) wants to put in the middle of Long Island Sound is not a target for terrorists; on the other hand, the technical information is too sensitive to let the public in on it. Here’s a statement the CFE/Save the Sound issued on behalf of Leah Schmalz, the organization’s director of legisltive and legal affairs:

"It seems that Broadwater is trying to have it both ways: either this project is a terrorist target and the public is better served by the information remaining guarded or it is not a target, in which case the public should be allowed to attend discussions and see the breadth of the record. It does the citizens of New York and Connecticut a disservice to allow Shell to continually have the way that suits them best at the time."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tangier Island, Chesapeake Bay

If you’ve read William Warner’s book about the Chesapeake, "Beautiful Swimmers" (and if you haven’t, you should), you’ll remember Tangier Island. I think Tangier was also featured in Robert McNeil’s book and PBS show "The Story of English," because the island’s isolated inhabitants still speak something close to Elizabethan English.

Here’s a story from the Daily Press, in Hampton Road, Va., that beautifully describes the island now, 30-plus years after Warner’s book came out.

Although reporters are suckers for sentimentalizing life in isolated communities, it sounds as if not much has changed on Tangier. The only way to get there is by one of three small ferries (not as romantic as it sounds -- when I went to visit Tom Horton, who has written a couple of Chesapeake books, on a different island in the bay, he said of the ferry, “It’s like taking a 20-minute elevator ride twice a day”). People drive around the island in golf carts or on motor scooters but not cars. When someone moves off island, they said they’re going to “the land,” which is pronounced like “liond,”

And watermen still raise soft shelled crabs and, for part of the year, they catch eels for the New York market, which prompted the reporter to write, “Apparently, there are folks in New York who like eels at Christmastime.”

Water Pollution Is Bad, Shellfish Are Plentiful, and There Might Be Reasons To Be Optimistic About Acid Rain

Newsday’s editorial writers argue that it’s bad to pollute coastal waters such as Long Island Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. That's nice, of course, but the editorial might have had more punch if it had referred to Long Island communities and what they are -- or are not -- doing to upgrade their sewage plants.

Meanwhile, you can be sure that all the rain we've had lately has sent pollutants pouring into the Sound and its tributaries and made the clams and oysters in thousands of acres of shellfish beds unsafe to eat.

But safe or unsafe, there are plenty of them, in some places at least. Clams, especially soft-shelled clams (or steamers), appear to be unusually abundant in the salt ponds of Rhode Island, maybe because diving is better for the clams’ habitat than raking or dredging.

Further afield, Clean Air Act controls on emissions seem to be doing some good for lakes killed by acid rain in the Adirondacks.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Wasteful Fishing, Heathful Fish

For every pound of shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico, more than four pounds of shrimp and other fish are thrown back (usually dead) by shrimp trawlers. For every pound of cod, haddock and other “groundfish” caught off New England, 1.8 pounds of other fish are thrown back, also usually dead. When it comes to conservation, the trawlers that catch shrimp in the Gulf and groundfish off New England are among the most wasteful in the U.S.

That conclusion, and many other statistics and observations, comes from a new report by the Marine Fish Conservation Network. Here’s what the report, called “Turning a Blind Eye: The ‘See No Evil’ Approach to Wasteful Fishing,” says about the so-called bycatch issue:

Fishermen often throw these organism overboard because they are either too small or have little or no economic value. In the majority if fisheries, however, most discards are mandatory; federal regulations require that bycatch be returned to the ocean, as unharmed as possible. This action is intended to prevent the wanton overexploitation and potential decimation of populations of fish and other marine life, including not only finfish, shellfish and crustaceans, but also birds, turtles and marine mammals. Unfortunately, bycatch restrictions are often not implemented or enforced, and even if they are, a high percentage of the fish and other species that are caught and returned to the ocean do not survive.

The report is here. The Narragansett Baykeeper blog says it points up the importance of reauthorizing the Magnusson/Stevens Act, which regulates bycatch.

And in case you didn’t see it, here’s what the New York Times (with an assist to Environmental Defense) says about fish that are safe to eat because of low levels of contaminants.

Why Global Warming Needs to be Controlled

I think this proves that it's finally time to stop fooling around and solve this global warming problem.

Oystercatchers, Oysters and the Brother Islands

"If there are oystercatchers, there's probably oysters, and if there are oysters, water quality is improving," he said.

“He,” in this case, is a bird-tour leader named Gabriel Willow. The Times went along on a boat tour past the Brother Islands – North and South – yesterday, and noted that not just American oystercatchers but egrets, black-crowned night herons and cormorants also nest there (the egrets and cormorants have been there for a couple of decades; the oystercatchers are more recent arrivals).

The Brothers are near Rikers Island, and lie between Queens and the Bronx. The Times thinks they islands are in the East River. They’re not. They’re in Long Island Sound. Of course 150 years ago oysters harvested off Norwalk were considered part of the East River trade, so I guess geographical perceptions change.

But I’ve long thought that New York City would be more diligent about cleaning up the Sound if it acknowledged that the water between Queens and the Bronx was, in fact, the Sound.

Regardless. If oystercatchers are around, as the man said, it’s good news.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fishers Island Ferry: Mark Easter Gets Out of Jail and Keeps His Job, Ferry Directors Testify to Grand Jury, Worker Thinks Feds Exaggerated The Case

The Fishers Island Ferry District apparently has a rather tolerant employment policy. And its employees seem to think that dumping raw sewage into Long Island Sound and the Thames River is not quite as bad an offense as the Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney do.

Those are the conclusions I draw from today’s New London Day story about the case against Mark Easter, the ferry district’s operations manager who has just finished serving time in federal prison for dumping untreated sewage into the Sound and the Thames.

When he got out of the pen, Easter gave up his Coast Guard license to captain commercial vessels.

But a felony conviction and the loss of his license aren’t enough to make him lose his job. He’s still the ferry district’s operations manager.

The ferry district provides the only public transportation to and from Fishers Island, which is near Groton and New London but is in New York State. It is part of the government of the Town of Southold, on Long Island, and is run by a five-member board of Fishers Island residents.

Here’s the gist of the case against Easter:

Easter was found guilty of violating the federal Clean Water Act, which prohibits the dumping of untreated sewage. After an investigation prompted by a call to the Coast Guard from a recreational boater, the Coast Guard concluded that the valves on the holding tanks of the toilets on the ferry's two vessels were routinely left in an open position, causing an estimated 472,000 gallons of raw sewage to be released while the ferries were making the 5-mile crossing several times daily between docks in downtown New London and Fishers Island.

Perhaps the board of the ferry district is letting let Easter keep his job because its members are distracted by other issues. Judy Benson of the New London Day reported:

… the Coast Guard's investigation of Easter is closed, but its investigation of the ferry district is continuing.

As part of the investigation, the five island residents who make up the ferry district's Board of Commissioners have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in New Haven, according to minutes from the February meeting of the Island Community Board. The board is a municipal government panel in which various groups on the island report about their activities and answer residents' questions.

Which brings us to the issue of how seriously the ferry district thinks the crime is. The employee who gave that report, for one, apparently thinks the concern about untreated sewage going into the Sound and the river isn’t quite the big deal that the feds say it is.

First, he says, the Coast Guard overestimated the amount of sewage that was dumped. Second, he thinks it’s “ironic” that the ferries now send their sewage to the New London treatment plant, which he says discharges into the Thames after a heavy rain. He said these things, mind you, in his report to the people of Fishers Island, where concern with the environment runs rather deep, or at least so I’ve been told.

Dawn Kallen, the Coast Guard investigator who discovered and then pursued the sewage dumping, sounded slightly annoyed at Doherty’s comments. Here’s how the New London Day quoted her:

“We ended up getting almost a year's worth of receipts from the tanker trucks of all the amount pumped out for that time,” she said. “The numbers I came up with were nearly identical to the original estimate. I don't care how big or how small their bladders are. Mr. Doherty can go back and look at his own receipts.”

She also took umbrage at his statements pointing out that the New London plant could legally discharge during an emergency.

“One has nothing to do with the other,” she said. “Those boats were operating illegally. It's a shameful practice. For folks to downplay the effects on the environment and on the communities ... . It's definitely frustrating that they're still trying to minimize the effects they've had.”

Osprey, Ahoy!

Ospreys, being fish eaters, need to be near water. When they started to rebound from the affects of DDT, they chose to nest on man-made platforms in salt marshes and elsewhere. When there were no more vacancies on nest platforms, they moved on to channel markers and light poles.

But if you need to be near the water, there’s no place like a boat.

John Waldman, who is a professor at Queens College (and the author of Heartbeats in the Muck) sent me this picture, taken in late April (I realize it looks dark for an osprey, but John knows what he’s doing and I trust his identification). Here’s what he wrote:

[It’s] an osprey nest on the bow of a sailboat in the south portion of Hempstead Harbor. The boat is moored alone off a private home. This is at least the second year that ospreys have used this boat for nesting.

Ospreys are nowhere near as abundant as they used to be, but they’re no longer rare. A sure sign that a bird is doing well in its range is when it has used up the best nesting sites and moved on to less-optimum places. An osprey on the bow might be a pain for the boat owner, but it’s good news for ospreys.
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