Thursday, November 30, 2006

Work Starts to Revive the Long Island Sound Cleanup

Work will begin in earnest next week to try to persuade the state of Connecticut to fulfill its responsibility to clean up Long Island Sound, the details of which you can read here and here.

Save the Sound, the Connecticut
 Conference of Municipalities, and the American Council of Engineering
 Companies will hold a Clean Water Summit on Thursday, December 7, in Hartford. From Save the Sound’s advisory:

Experts and elected officials will discuss why the Clean Water Fund is important, what challenges have led us to today's inadequate funding levels, and the options available to ensure that appropriate funding is allocated in the future. Those involved will include DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy, state Sens. John McKinney, Bill Finch and Eileen Daily, state Reps. Richard Roy, Cameron Staples, Robert Keeley and Clark Chapin, along with and MDC Chief Operating Officer Bob Moore, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director Dominick DiGangi, Weston First
Selectman Woody Bliss, and others.

The state has put virtually nothing into the Clean Water Fund in recently after averaging almost $50 million annually for years. The result is that Connecticut’s part of the Sound cleanup has stalled. Finch and Legislator-Soundkeeper Terry Backer have proposed putting $70 million in the fund in 2007. To do so, they’ll have to persuade Speaker James Amann. Good luck with that.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Alive and Well After Two Years and a Long Weekend

It was a long weekend and at the end of it I caught a wicked bug that my son brought home from somewhere and that knocked me flat. All day Monday and all day Tuesday. The one time I took my temperature, the thermometer read 88.6, which meant it was either broken or I was dead. On the other hand I had my annual physical right before I collapsed, and all indications – blood pressure, EKG, etc. – are that in general I’m not deteriorating, which is all I can ask for.

There was a fair amount of news in the interim, very little of which I have the strength to comment on. Also, today is this blog's second anniversary. As of now we've had between 76,000 and 85,000 page views, and 50,000 "unique" visitors. A year ago the comparable numbers were 25,000 page views and 14,000 unique visitors. In other words, we had 50,000 or more page views over the past year (more than double the first year) and 36,000 unique visitors (or about 2.5 times as many as the first year). But enough about me...

Here's what's been happening:

The Nature Conservancy’s deer-hunting program at the Devil’s Den Preserve, in Weston, appears to be working, judging from the re-emergence of certain wildflowers that browsing deer had wiped out. On the other hand, a deer-culling program in Lloyd Harbor has been the target of animal rights protestors.

The Connecticut Post outlines New York State’s role in the Broadwater review and says, correctly, that the real attention from now on will be focused not on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which everyone believes is a rubber stamp, but on New York and the courts.

Harbors in Connecticut need to be dredged to make sure there’s enough water for boats to get in and out. To make it easier (that is, cheaper) to dredge, lots of towns in Connecticut want to be able to dump their dredge spoils in Long Island Sound, and they want to repeal the federal law that regulates dumping. Here’s a vastly imbalanced news account of the issue, in which the reporter asserts without a shred of evidence that the regulations have been “catastrophic” for businesses. Which businesses specifically have suffered catastrophic losses? I have no idea, nor apparently does the author. My opinion is that if environmental laws are reasonable and businesses suffer because of them, then the businesses are unsustainable. But I can't even say that in this case, because there's no evidence that any businesses have suffered. So take it all with a grain of salt.

The town of Oxford and the Connecticut DEP are stenciling storm drains to let people know that whatever they dump in the drains ends up in Long Island Sound and other waterways.

Robert Miller, of the Danbury New Times, writes about Joop Varekamp and his ideas about the early Dutch, fur trading, global warming and hat making.

If you haven’t been to New Haven lately, the local museums have three shows worth checking out. There’s also the general scene in and around Yale, and particularly on Chapel Street, which though on a small scale in many ways is what a city street should be: it’s lively, it’s pleasant to walk along, and there are interesting things to see outside (Yale’s Gothic buildings, for example) and inside.

This show, “To Know The Dark,” is small and beautiful, with gems by Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and others. This Canaletto show is bigger; it was interesting to me for its depictions of what London was like in the 1700s. We also went to this architecture show, which was a bit disappointing because of a preponderance of glowing architectural photos (you know the kind – taken from outside at twilight with snow on the ground and the incandescent lights on indoors) culled from Dwell and other magazines.

In all, a very pleasant way to spend two hours, and we emerged at twilight to a sky that was a beautiful dark blue and a new moon that glittered over the vast parking lots and strip developments along I 95 as we drove home.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Collecting Modern Houses: The Supply Dwindles as the Demand Rises

Are Modern houses likely to become objects for collectors the way paintings and other artworks are? I came upon this notion somewhere before, although I can't remember where -- that Modern houses are being looked at by some people as works of art, which perhaps will appreciate in value like works of art. I thought of it again the other day when I heard that Phillip Johnson’s Hodgson House, which is across the road from his landmark Glass House in New Canaan, recently sold to two men who also own a 1956 Modern designed by Willis N. Mills on the same road. The Hodgson House went on the market (for $4.3 million) earlier this year, complete with a historic preservation easement that guaranteed that it would neither be knocked down and replaced with a McMansion (which New Canaan is justifiably notorious for allowing) nor altered beyond recognition. The Mills house was on the market when I visited it, in October 2004, during the New Canaan Historical Society’s most recent Modern House Day, but it hasn’t sold.

The Hodgson House

The Glass House

Which leads me to conclude that perhaps these fellows are becoming collectors. Thanks to the tear-down phenomenon (which a writer named Timothy Dumas describes here, in a magazine imaginatively titled “New Canaan Darien & Rowayton”), the supply of mid-century Modern houses is obviously dwindling. And yet thanks mainly to people in New Canaan who are appalled that exquisite houses are being destroyed, Moderns have gotten a fair amount of attention in recent years.

In at least one case, the attention has done some good. The word among Modern house aficionados in New Canaan was that during the 2004 Modern House day, a tour bus drove past a Marcel Breuer house, on West Road, and someone mentioned that it was empty and likely to be razed. One of the people on the bus subsequently checked it out, found the house to his liking, and bought it. Dumas confirms this:

… Scarcely a week goes by when a writer or historian does not visit the New Canaan Historical Society to peruse the voluminous modern house files, Janet Lindstrom reported. And modern house tours are packed with appreciative fans. In 2004 a tour run by the historical society actually saved a well-known Breuer from destruction. A builder had bought the house on West Road intending to tear it down. Once made aware of its pedigree, however, he agreed to sell to a local couple who’d fallen for the 1951 classic as Richard Bergmann guided them through its rooms of glass and stone.

breuer west lane front facade 1
House designed by Marcel Breuer

Drive past the house now and you can see that it is being renovated extensively. Same for the so-called Celanese house, on Oeonoke Ridge Road, which Edward Durrell Stone designed (it’s also known as the pyramid house because of eight or so small pyramids adorn the roof). A local couple bought it and are renovating it, although I don’t think they’re “collectors.”

Celanese House

So the attention probably has increased demand. And when the supply drops and the demand increases, there’s only one way for prices to go. If you have a few million looking to be invested, you could probably do worse than putting it into a Modern house, especially in New Canaan.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Can We Count On Chuck and Hillary to Stop Broadwater? If We Take Them At Their Word, Yes

Residents of the Long Island Sound area who are concerned that FERC's environmental impact statement might lead to the approval of Broadwater's liquefied natural gas facility, I remind you of what Senator Charles Schumer said in May of 2005:

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

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

And I don't think Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton disagrees with her colleague.

It's a political world. If the politician's are true to their word, and if they are as powerful as they want us to think they are, they should be able to stop the giant industrialists Shell and TransCanada from putting a major industrial facility in the middle of Long Island Sound.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Broadwater Coverage From Around the Region

Here are today's news stories, and one editorial, about the Broadwater environmental impact statement. One thing for opponents to keep in mind is that this is a nine inning game, and we're only in the fifth inning. And late in the game is when interesting and crazy things can happen.

LNG report called ‘whitewash’
New Haven Register

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and a New Haven-based environmental group are calling on New York state officials to deny the developer of the Broadwater liquefied natural gas plant permission to moor it.

Agency Backs LNG Terminal
Hartford Courant

The proposed Broadwater natural gas terminal could operate safely and would not have a significant environmental impact on Long Island Sound, the federal ...

TransCanada, Shell a step closer to LNG go-ahead
Globe and Mail - Canada

... some analysts are questioning the planned boom in North American LNG projects, saying there simply isn't the global supply to underpin all the construction plans worldwide.

Broadwater Proposal Gets Preliminary Nod From FERC
TheDay - New London

While highly favorable of the proposal, the 828-page report also identifies 79 steps Broadwater should take to reduce its impact on the environment. These range from coordinating with the New York environmental officials about how to avoid impacts on wildlife to consulting with federal wildlife and marine fisheries agencies to following specific guidelines for construction and design.

The Energy Conundrum
The Day - New London

The opposition to the Broadwater project is as vocal as the anger that is gathering in the state over past and future increases in electric rates. Unfortunately, Connecticut's policy makers prefer not to connect the two, the high cost of energy in the state and the need for new sources of energy. Connecticut, for all intents and purposes, has no workable energy policy, and to add to the problem, neither does the federal government.

The Broadwater project is but another emblem of this conundrum, a monstrosity that would add to the manmade clutter in Long Island Sound. Broadwater ... makes a reasonable case that with its LNG terminal 10 miles offshore from Connecticut, it can supply cleaner-burning fuel than coal and oil at a lower cost to energy consumers and to the environment than the market status quo. The project would ameliorate the threat to air quality posed by the state's “Sooty Six” generating plants and pave the way for cleaner, less expensive energy generation in the state. ...

All of what the company says is true, just as it is true that the LNG project would further despoil Long Island Sound....

Regulators: Gas terminal would have minimal effect on environment
Stamford Advocate

The draft report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sparked immediate criticism from opponents of the project, including Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

Opponents said they would submit written comments and appear at public meetings scheduled for January to challenge the report on Broadwater Energy's proposal. Blumenthal said he was prepared to take the issue to court if necessary.

"The FERC report is a whitewash," Blumenthal said. "Broadwater would be an unnecessary monstrosity permanently defacing and degrading Long Island Sound, another abhorrent step toward industrialization of this priceless natural resource and national treasure." ...

Officials from Broadwater Energy, a consortium of Shell Oil and TransCanada Corp., said they were pleased with the draft report, calling it a significant breakthrough for the project.

"It's a key milestone," said company senior vice president John Hritcko. "It confirms what we've been saying all along."

Officials: Proposed broadwater terminal safe

The report is a victory for Houston-based Broadwater Energy Inc., but its project still faces additional federal and state and possible Suffolk County scrutiny, as well as intense political opposition on both sides of the Sound. "We should recognize that they still have a long way to go," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), an opponent.

Monday, November 20, 2006

FERC Releases Broadwater EIS and Says It's Fine To Use Long Island Sound As An Industrial Site

The draft environmental impact statement for Broadwater’s proposed liquefied natural gas factory came out on Friday, and it should surprise no one that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission thinks that a huge, floating LNG facility in waters owned by the people of New York State is a great idea for Long Island Sound.

FERC of course exists to regulate energy facilities, not to reject them. And in this case the commission asserts that with a little work, the environmental effects would be minor, at most. (The EIS is here, on the FERC website; the executive summary is a good source of basic information about the project, written simply and clearly.)

To me, the supposed lack of environmental impacts that Shell and TransCanada would cause in the Sound is almost beside the point, and FERC’s opinion of them should be too.

I don’t mean to say that the professional environmentalists and the shorefront towns and counties should drop their plans to attack the EIS and highlight its shortcomings in public hearings. That’s an important part of the fight. Just because FERC doesn’t think there are environmental impacts doesn’t make it true.

But the more important issue is whether Long Island Island Sound and its seafloor, which are owned by those of us who live in New York State and are held in public trust for us, should be used to subsidize a private industry. And if the answer to that is yes, what is to stop other giant corporations from proposing to use other parts of the Sound as well?

I know some people will point out that there are a couple of floating oil terminals on the Sound already and that they pose a true environmental risk. But that demonstrates that the precedent argument is true. “We can’t say no to Broadwater because we’re already allowed other energy facilities to be built on the Sound,” will lead to, “We can’t say no to this new proposal for an even bigger LNG factory because we’ve already allowed Shell and TransCanada to build the Broadwater plant.”

No one knows yet whether New York State has the power to stop this proposal. Broadwater needs approval from the New York State Department of State based on consistency with policies that guide the use of coastal areas. Twice to my knowledge the Department of State has come down hard on bad proposals – once, in the late 1980s, saying a plan to build a housing development on Davids Island, in New Rochelle, made no sense, and then a couple of years ago, stopping a natural gas pipeline from crossing the Hudson because of its potential environmental impact.

One of those decisions was issued by a Secretary of State appointed by a Democrat, the other by one appointed by a Republican. So it would surprise me if New York State broke precedent and decided that Broadwater was a good idea.

What’s not really clear though is whether the new federal energy act gives the federal government the ultimate power to say yes or no.

My guess is that the courts will decide. My hope is that over the next few days and weeks, we’ll hear a lot more about the issue.

(Connecticut Fund for the Environmental and Citizens Campaign for the Environment both released press statements on Friday that were critical of the EIS; I looked for them online but couldn’t find them and so I can’t provide a link. [12:45 p.m. update ... here's the CCE release.] [1:15 p.m. update ... and CFE's]. The Wading River Civic Association has a brief mention, but I didn’t see anything on the Anti-Broadwater Coalition website. You can find Broadwater’s press release here. I’ve written a lot in the past on whether the Sound is an appropriate place for a new industrial facility; you can find all the links on the lower right of this page.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Watching the Watchdogs and Reviving the Oysters

From Greenwich: Dan Lufkin, who received Audubon’s Environmental Leadership Award over the weekend in Greenwich, knows that the big problem facing the cleanup of Long Island Sound is not only the Connecticut General Assembly but the citizen activists who should be watching the General Assembly:

As helpful as federal spending might be, Mr. Lufkin also has his sights set on local laws. In 2005, he said, the state of Connecticut withdrew its funding for water cleanup, slashing the $50 million it spent each year between 1987 and 2003.

“We as citizens are at fault because we let them get away with it,” Mr. Lufkin said.

And from Clinton: Diseases (presumably Dermo and MSX) wiped out the oyster population of Clinton, Connecticut, in the 1990s. But after a few survivors were found, the town is trying to revive the oyster population:

Working over this past summer, and with the help of the state Bureau of Aquaculture, the commission has discovered healthy oysters in Clinton’s rivers, and believes those oysters may be a disease-resistant species that, with suitable water quality and proper management, can thrive.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Madison Landing, Sewage Treatment Data, and the Larger Issue

Residents of Madison and Guilford, along with some prominent environmentalists, are arguing that the Connecticut DEP shouldn’t approve the sewage treatment systems being proposed for two new developments, including Madison Landing. The data show that the sewage systems don’t work, they say.

Getting the right sewage treatment system is of course important. But there's a bigger issue too, particularly because sewage system problems can be solved by technology and money -- given enough money, a developer can find the right treatment system. So the bigger question is: Do we want innovative, attractive development, or do we want the Long Island Sound region to continue its trend of ugly, characterless sprawl?

First, the issue of whether the data are correct. Today’s Hartford Courant says the data were compiled by a summer intern who might not have been as careful as he or she should have been.

The sewage treatment system in question goes by the brand name Zenon. It’s in use at a number of places in the state. The opponents of Madison Landing, as well as other people, argue that it doesn’t work as well as developers claim, and so new projects shouldn’t be allowed to use it and therefore shouldn’t be built.

But David Funkhouser, advancing yesterday’s New Haven Register story, says in today’s Courant:

A state Department of Environmental Protection engineer said Tuesday that the data had been compiled by a summer intern at the DEP and "had some errors." Warren Herzig said the DEP is reviewing the numbers "to make sure that the data was accurate and that it paints an accurate picture of the performance of these facilities."

Herzig added: "We have had experience with the Zenon system in the past. There are many of them that function, and there are some that don't." He said the review should be complete within the next 10 days, and the DEP would then consider whether it needs to take enforcement action.

It’s obviously essential that new developments connect either to a well-run municipal sewage plant or to a private facility that everyone can feel confident about over the long haul. But there’s no question that LeylandAlliance, for example, can build a sewage system for Madison Landing that meets the state requirements; whether they can afford to do so is their problem.

The more important issue is one of land use planning, and it’s here that local opponents and even state environmentalists have missed the boat.

I’m not overly familiar with Guilford Commons, for example, but as someone who lived in Connecticut for 13 years and has visited much of the state, my feeling is that Connecticut needs another ordinary shopping center about as much as it needs more cars on the Merritt Parkway in the evening. To me it doesn’t matter what sewage treatment system they use. What matters is whether land use planning and the development that follows it meets the larger needs of the community and of the environment.

Those things are harder to judge than whether wastewater discharge meets state standards, and an environmentalist from New Haven or Greenwich may be reluctant to stick his or her nose into the long-term planning process in Madison or Guilford that led to a particular zoning designation and eventually to a particular proposal.

But to try to stop a particular development by arguing that its sewage treatment plan is inadequate is a short-term tactic, and it’s probably destined to fail. And if that’s your main argument against a project, you need to be willing to agree to let it go forward once the sewage treatment issue is solved.

Madison Landing isn’t perfect. For one thing, its 55-and-older rule means that children will not live there, which means it will never be a real community. That’s a serious flaw (but it’s one that local officials, wary of new school children, impose). But as a region we need to move beyond typical subdivisions, shopping centers and strip malls. Madison Landing would do that.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sphere at the Olympics: The Reason We Have So Many Readers

Lots of people read my blog regularly but even more read it because they Google a term and it leads them here. A couple of months ago, for example, my readership went up for a day or two because a clue in the Times crossword puzzle was “cousin of an alewife.” Since I’ve written about alewives and since the word cousin probably occurs somewhere here, Google directed them to Sphere. (The correct answer, by the way, was “shad.”)

Today “sphere at the Olympics” is a clue, and I’m getting dozens of hits from people who have Googled it, or something like it.

Ten letters? Sphere at the Olympics? Obviously it’s not "shot," as in shot put. Basketball? Volleyball?

Do We Want Madison Landing or Do We Want Typical Suburban Development?

I drove up to Orange County, New York, last March to take a look at Warwick Grove, the so-called smart growth, TND ( for traditional neighborhood development) subdivision being built in Warwick by LeylandAlliance. It’s not utopia but, after having driven past mile after mile of shopping centers and tract houses built in what used to be farms, I thought it was a lot better than what we usually allow to disfigure the landscape.

LeylandAlliance wants to build a similar project, called Madison Landing, on the site of the old Clinton airport, next to Hammonasset State Park, in Madison, Connecticut. Naturally there’s a group of neighbors who oppose it.

In Warwick, Leyland had a legitimate environmental issue to solve – namely, the presence of bog turtles, a federally threatened species, in nearby wetlands – and apparently the company is in the process of doing so, to the satisfaction of everyone involved.

In Madison, the issue is sewage. Leyland wants to use a sewage treatment technology that it says is fine but that opponents say isn’t (this New Haven Register story is a classic example of the he said-she said kind of reporting that, rather than shining light on the issue, leaves the reader wondering what’s really going on).

Leyland needs a permit from the state to build its sewage treatment plant, and the opponents have written a letter to DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy asking her to deny Leyland’s application. Leah Schmalz, of Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, and Tom Baptist, executive director of Audubon Connecticut, were among those who signed the letter.

One of the issues is whether the Xenon system that Leyland wants to use removes a sufficient amount of nitrogen, which is the nutrient that causes Long Island Sound’s dissolved oxygen problems.

The problem for Connecticut officials and for Long Island Sound advocates is that the state is committed to reducing nitrogen levels by 58.5 percent everywhere, at all sewage treatment plants.

But of course nobody truly believes that the relatively small amount of nitrogen that one 127-house development will put into the Sound in Madison will have any affect whatsoever on the Sound’s dissolved oxygen problem, which is and always has been limited to the western half of the Sound. Click through these DEP hypoxia maps, and you’ll see that that’s true.

But for political reasons (which I agree with), the 58.5 percent reduction was applied across the board, and so now the state and Leyland Alliance is stuck with it.

The other issue is that if the state and the environmentalists and the neighbors can’t see a way to approve projects like Leyland’s, we’ll be stuck with the kind of typical suburban development that is just as bad in terms of sewage and stormwater runoff, and is uglier by far, but which is easier to approve because it’s what we’re used to.

Monday, November 13, 2006

If Only the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium Could Find a Suitable Recipe...

Asian shore crabs haven’t just invaded Long Island Sound, they’ve taken over. From the Times:

Long Island Sound and the New Jersey shoreline have become the epicenter of an invasion that began 18 years ago when Asian shore crabs first arrived here from the Western Pacific, most likely, scientists have said, in the ballast of a cargo ship. Since that first sighting at Cape May, N.J., in 1988, this aggressive crab — formally known as Hemigrapsus sanguineus — has spread from Maine to North Carolina. Along many coastal areas, including the Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey shores, it has virtually eliminated other species of crab.

And this:

… in 1993, James Carlton, a Williams College professor, offered a hot fudge sundae to any of his undergraduate students at Mystic Seaport who could find one along the southeastern Connecticut coastline.

Ten years later, Mr. Carlton, director of the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, was offering sundaes to anyone who could find a crab other than the Asian shore variety.

At the other end of the Sound, in Rye, N.Y., George Kramer, chairman of the environmental studies program at SUNY College at Purchase, said that if he went out now and collected 1,000 crabs at his study site at the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, “between 998 and 999” would be Asian shore crabs.

Audubon and Greenwich Want to Make Sure the Great Captains Island Heronry Escapes the Fate of the Chimon Island Heronry

Audubon Connecticut and the town of Greenwich are collaborating on a study to figure out how best to protect the herons and egrets that nest on Great Captains Island. Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, in Massachusetts, will do the work. The thought is that the heronry is the descendant of the one that used to be on Chimon Island, in Norwalk, 20 years ago. Raccoons helped wipe that one out.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Peconic Baykeeper

It’s unlikely that anyone who reads this blog doesn’t know, at least by inference, of the Waterkeeper Alliance, the empire of environmental watchdogs that Bobby Kennedy Jr. started. Terry Backer, the Soundkeeper, is part of it (I think he might have been the second, after the Hudson Riverkeeper). Here’s a story from the Times about Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, whose duties have expanded south and west around Montauk Point to encompass the Great South Bay.

I liked this quote from McAllister, about collapsing fish populations:

“The data speaks for itself. But if I don’t think there’s reason for hope, I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m not going to just sit here and be a cheerleader for bay health, not when I know what’s killing the fish.”

It reminded me of a quote from Aldo Leopold that I found in the Times Book Review Last Week:

“That the situation is hopeless should not prevent us from doing our best.”

Which in turn reminds me of the Woody Allen quote at the top of this blog (which I think is both funny and, in regards to some environmental problems, like global warming, true):

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

The Good News From Upstate New York is that the Election Might Be Bad News for General Electric, the Polluter of the Hudson

When Gerald Solomon represented part of the upper Hudson valley in Congress, he was so ardent in his opposition to EPA’s plan to force General Electric to dredge the million pounds of PCBs it dumped into the river that environmentalists referred to him as Congressman Gerald Solomon, R-GE. When Solomon retired, a Republican clone named John Sweeney replaced him, and the R-GE joke was just as appropriate.

But Sweeney got thrashed last week by Kristen Gillibrand, and the change might mean that for cleaning up the Hudson, the years of obstruction are over. The Albany Times-Union explains.

GE, by the way, is mounting an aggressive campaign to reposition itself as environmentally responsible. I don’t buy it. The company’s attitude toward the Hudson and PCBs has been irresponsible, in my opinion, since the beginning, and until it changes, a public relations campaign is a whitewash and people who think GE has changed are dupes.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is A Milford Legislator Proud of Allowing Long Island Sound To Get Polluted Or Does He Not Know What He's Talking About?

Richard Roy, a Democrat who represents part of Milford in the Connecticut state house, is taking responsibility for Long Island Sound being in bad shape. At least that’s what I infer from his remarks on election night, as quoted in the Milford Mirror:

Richard Roy, now heading into an eighth term as Democratic representative for the 119th district, saw an even larger margin in his win over challenger Kevin Liddy according to early results Tuesday.

"I am delighted by the results," Roy said. "This validates what I accomplished as chairman of the House environmental committee, especially as this pertains to Long Island Sound …."

Consider that Long Island Sound is in pretty bad shape. While some improvements in water quality have been made, the pace of improvement has slowed, and part of the reason is that the State of Connecticut has all but abandoned the cleanup. Richard Roy should know that this is not merely my assertion. A recent report by the Connecticut State Legislature’s Office of Legislative research concurs.

So I guess that’s what Richard Roy is proud of.

Either that or he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Environment, the Elections, and Good Riddance to Some Right-Wingers

If the environment is an important issue for you, it's hard to complain about Chris Shays’s victory. I wanted him to lose because of his support for the war and because I thought it was important that as many Republicans as possible lose so the right-wingers would no longer control Congress (and, among other things, continue their anti-environment agenda). But it turned out that sacrificing Shays wasn’t necessary to that. So be it. He has always supported funding for the Sound and will obviously continue to do so, and so on that front it’s just as well that he won (the fact that he contributed a nice blurb for my book, but submitted it way too late for the publisher to use it, has nothing to do with my opinion on this).

We can probably expect Rosa DeLauro, Nita Lowey and Steve Israel to take the lead in the Congressional Long Island Sound caucus, although it’s always been my perception that they worked well with Shays and presumably will continue to.

In New York, another Republican, Sue Kelly, who represents my district and who I have long detested, lost after being elected six times. Kelly is a charlatan who voted the strict Gingrich anti-environment line in the mid-1990s but then voted pro-environment much of the time afterwards because the House leadership realized she needed the votes and therefore told her it was OK. Her district is on the Hudson, not the Sound, but good riddance anyway.

And out west, Richard Pombo, the right-winger who wanted to undo the endangered species act and allow all kinds of offshore drilling for oil, lost as well. Good riddance to him too.

(2 p.m. update: The one comment, below, refers to Pombo as supposedly having a hand in holding up the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act. Indeed he did, as I wrote here and here.)

The Hartford area is going to get new sewers, which it needs badly. Voters

appeared to have approved the first installment of a $1.6 billion sewer upgrade project Tuesday to eliminate what regulators describe as an environmental and public health crisis.

Around the enviro blogs, the pseudonymous ornithologist known as Nuthatch seems happy that a Democrat will be the new governor of Michigan.

Gristmill notes that a proposition that would require the state to pay landowners for land use changes that protect the environment has lost.

Geoffrey Stokes, of the Energy Outlook blog, writes:

On the environmental front, we should expect the new Congress to push for aggressive enforcement of existing regulations, and no one should be surprised to see legislation for a stronger national response to climate change emerge between now and the Presidential election in 2008.

... It hardly seems necessary to add that the chances of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have moved from barely possible to extremely remote.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ocean Sunfish: Not Quite Unheard of in Long Island Sound

It seemed extremely unlikely that the ocean sunfish that had been seen in Larchmont last week was the first one ever to enter Long Island Sound, but of the people I asked, none of those who got back to me relatively quickly knew of any specific occurrences (see this and this). I didn’t hear from John Waldman though until late yesterday morning. John is a fisheries biologist at Queens College and the author of a number of books about marine life in and around New York.

Here’s what he told me about ocean sunfish:

I've never seen one in the Sound but I doubt that this is the first one ever to occur. Mola mola is a drifting cosmopolitan wanderer. Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut lists three records from the eastern Sound.

I saw one on the south shore but wish I'd seen this one too.

That sent me off to Google ‘Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut.” One of the references that popped up was for this – “Annotated list of fishes reported from the marine waters of New York,” by Phillip T. Briggs and John R. Waldman. Briggs is a lobster biologist who worked for the state and who was enormously helpful to me when I was researching my book and doing newspaper reporting on the Sound, back in the 1980s; not sure what happened to him, but I think he retired. Waldman is, well – Waldman.

I clicked through the “Annotated list” until I came to the Molas, and found that Briggs and Waldman had this to say:

Molidae (molas)

Ocean sunfish (Mola mola). Not uncommon in the summer. Nichols and Breder (1927) called it rare. NYSDEC personnel have seen it many times off the south shore of Long Island. We have observed it twice (1974 and 1985) off Port Jefferson in Long Island Sound.

So when John Waldman says he doubts that the Larchmont sunfish is the first one to occur in the Sound, he’s right, and his source is impeccable – it’s Waldman and Briggs (although John tells me that when they wrote "we have observed it ... off Port Jefferson," they really meant Briggs observed it).

(7 p.m. update: Jane O'Donnell (Manager of Scientific Collections, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Unit-3043, University of Connecticut) told me the following about ocean sunfish and "Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut":
I only have the original addition of the "Saltwater Fishes of CT" on hand; it lists two records form the sound (a third may have been added in any subsequent editions?).

I quote from page 154:

"A specimen of the ocean sunfish (Mola mola) was killed by the Coast Guard off New London in the late summer of 1966 and identified by the senior author. A second was captured off Branford in September 1970."

The book does not give any information as to where the specimens might be.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Is Broadwater's LNG Proposal a Good Idea for Long Island Sound? The Hartford Courant Says, "It's Not"

The Hartford Courant’s editorial page came out against the Broadwater LNG proposal yesterday. I was a bit surprised because newspaper publishers love economic development and are rarely willing to oppose it. But the Courant found a lot of good reasons for doing so:

Broadwater's proposal would increase the region's dependence on foreign sources of fuel….

Expanding that dependence on natural gas for heating and generating electricity will increase the region's exposure to volatile energy prices and threaten its long-term economic stability….

Broadwater's bid to maintain the energy status quo would have the added effect of undermining efforts at conservation….

If approved, it will serve as a symbol of the federal government's willingness to trample states' rights for short-sighted energy policies….

It would also set an ugly precedent for the further industrialization of a national treasure. Long Island Sound, the country's second-largest estuary, has been the focus of years of efforts (and billions of dollars) at environmental cleanup and reclamation….

…it seems that every day, the body of scientific evidence linking fossil-fuel consumption and deforestation to global warming grows….

The Coast Guard concludes the Broadwater project can be done in a way that minimizes its hazards to public safety and navigation. But such conclusions don't address the broader question of whether this should be done; whether, as a matter of national energy policy, Broadwater is in the region's best long-term economic and environmental interests.

It's not.

Don't Expect to Eat Chilean Sea Bass at the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium

With populations of some species at risk of collapsing because of over-fishing, the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk has decided it will stop serving fish on the Seafood Watch list of fish to avoid. From the Stamford Advocate:

According to the Seafood Watch "Northeast Seafood Guide 2006," the worst choices include Chilean seabass, Atlantic cod, imported king crab, Mid-Atlantic sea scallops, Atlantic sole and flounder, Atlantic halibut, monkfish, farmed and Atlantic salmon, sharks and skates, swordfish and bluefin tuna.

If the guide's "avoid" list seems to leave little left to eat, consider some of the "best" seafood choices: farmed arctic char, catfish, oysters, mussels, tilapia, rainbow trout and striped bass; wild Alaska salmon and pollock, soft-shell clams and steamers; and spiny U.S. lobsters, Pacific halibut, Atlantic herring and sardines and Canada-caught dungeness and snow crabs.

Seafood Watch also offers a number of "good alternatives," including black sea bass; Atlantic surf and hard clams; Alaska-caught king crabs and U.S.-caught snow crabs; hook-caught haddock, albacore and big-eye tuna, Maine lobster, mahi mahi and Northeastern and Canadian sea scallops.

Monk Parakeets Move Into Greenwich Point Park. But Are They Residents or Non-Residents?

Monk parakeets, which have colonized areas from West Haven to Stamford, have now moved into Greenwich Point Park, according to the Greenwich Time. My local sources tell me town officials, who have been sued for keeping out-of-towners out of Greenwich Point, are meeting this week to decide whether they birds will have to pay the non-residents fee to use the park.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ocean Sunfish: Among the Rarest of the Rarities

The ocean sunfish that was reported in Larchmont Harbor yesterday isn’t just rare, it’s almost unheard of in Long Island Sound. Four of the people I checked in with yesterday told me that, and the people Judy Silberstein interviewed for the Larchmont Gazette concurred.

Here’s what Judy found out:

A Mamaroneck resident fishing for sea bass in Larchmont Harbor early Wednesday morning encountered an immense sea creature with a shark-like dorsal fin. “I saw to my great surprise, what looked like a good-sized fin breaking the surface of the water, almost lazily slapping the water. My first thought was …shark, definitely not…wrong shape and moving too slow,” reported Bob Garry in an e-mail to the Gazette.
Was it a disoriented whale?
“It took a few more minutes before I got a good look and realized that it was a large (estimated 10-feet ) ocean sunfish,” Mr. Garry concluded.

Mr. Garry followed the creature in his fishing boat as it headed into Pirates Cove. Meanwhile, Liz Tremain sighted the fin from her kitchen window and came running with her children down their dock for a closer look.
“I spend tons and tons of time on the water and this is very unusual,” said Mr. Garry, who grew up in Larchmont and has spent much of his 48 years fishing here and elsewhere. He is familiar with the large, slow-moving fish and has seen them out by Block Island, but never this close to shore on the Long Island Sound. “They kind of cruise with the wind and the waves – I wouldn’t be surprised if in all this weather it wasn’t blown off course,” he surmised.

Among those I asked, Rod Christie (a friend who runs the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, fishes a lot, and is a good naturalist) made a similar speculation about the weather:

I’ve never heard of sunfish in the Sound. I would think it must have got lost and wandered in there in a storm or something. I don’t know if there have been other occurrences, but LIS does get some unusual things from time to time. They are normally such an open water fish that I would think it wants to escape the sound and can’t find its way out.

Sunfish are huge – in fact they are the biggest bony fish (sharks are bigger but they’re cartilaginous). Here’s what a couple of websites said about them:

The species appears in warm and temperate zones of all oceans. … Found on slopes adjacent to deep water where coming in for shelter or seeking cleaner fish. … The species often drifts at the surface while lying on its side, or it swims upright and close to the surface. The dorsal fin often projects above the water. … Recorded as the heaviest bony fish and as the one with the most eggs in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Their characteristic body shape is unique and is about the most peculiar sight you might encounter while diving.

Sphere correspondent Sam Wells, who lives now in south Texas but who spent a lot of time fishing in and around the Sound, told me he has seen sunfish near Block Island but never in the Sound. And Rick D’Amico, who is a marine biologist, said:

Back in the mid-70s, I saw an ocean sunfish off Asparagus Beach in Amagansett, in the Hamptons. This was within a few years after the movie, "Jaws," so there was a lot of hype about sharks. The lifeguards immediately chased people out of the water, as they didn't have the expertise to distinguish a shark fin from an ocean sunfish fin. It was rather humorous and reminiscent of one of the scenes in the film.

I've never seen an ocean sunfish in Long Island Sound. They're such poor swimmers that it would probably take quite a bit of help from currents to get them there, not that it couldn't happen, under the proper circumstances.

Although they’re found in oceans throughout the world, they don’t like cold water. Heather Medic, of the Mystic Aquarium, noted that the Gulf Stream brought a number of unusual species into our coastal waters this year – remember the Portuguese man-of-war? – and the sunfish were perhaps among them. She added:

It needs to leave soon or it won't make it.

No word from Larchmont though where this one was headed.

Energy Outlook Suggests Newsday Didn't Really Know What It Was Talking About When It Wrote About Danish Wind Power and LIPA's Jones Beach Proposal

I directed Geoffrey Stokes, of the Energy Outlook blog, to Newsday’s wind power stories (here and here) of earlier this week, thinking that he’d have some thoughts. And indeed, he posted them today. His bottom line is that contrary to what Newsday asserts, if LIPA’s wind energy project is built off Jones Beach, it will in fact offset greenhouse gases:

… every kW-hour the wind turbines produced would indeed reduce the region's greenhouse gas emissions.

Newsday readers and others should check out what he says, here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Phony Connecticut Politicians and Gullible Connecticut Reporters

All politicians say they work hard to protect the environment – we expect that because exaggeration is part of what they do. But the opportunities to point out the disparity between rhetoric and reality on Long Island Sound issues are rare, so I’m happy to do it now.

Today’s Greenwich Time has a story about Connecticut State Senator William Nickerson’s re-election campaign. It’s as soft as a soft feature can be, with virtually no substance about what Nickerson actually stands for. Near the bottom, the reporter lets Nickerson get away with this one:

He said if re-elected, he will work to improve transportation, protect the environment, close the education gap and reduce taxes.

The reality is that when the Connecticut legislature was cutting funding for the cleanup of Long Island Sound last year, Bill Nickerson was clueless. While it was happening he didn’t even know it was going on. He and Greenwich’s other legislators were asked about it specifically at a forum last November, and they said they weren’t aware of it. I wrote about it at the time, here and here.

Is that how Bill Nickerson works to protect the environment?

Up in Easton, State Senator John McKinney told a local paper:

One of the things he has been proudest of since coming into the senate is drafting legislation that helped clean up Long Island Sound...

Great news! Long Island Sound is cleaned up! The truth is, there’s no record of McKinney having tried to stop the gutting of the Clean Water Fund.

Newspaper reporters should be a bit more knowledgeable, and skeptical.

Ocean Sunfish: A Really Big Fish in Larchmont?

I’d never heard of ocean sunfish until I read an e-mail that arrived last evening from Judy Silberstein, the publisher of the Larchmont Gazette, an online newspaper. Here’s what she said:

I received an email from a reader this morning detailing a sighting of a sunfish that he estimated to be 11 feet long. He said he had seen sunfish before past Block Island but never this far up the Long Island Sound. The location of the sighting is Pirates Cove at the back of Larchmont Harbor, which you may be familiar with.

Query: have you seen or heard of anyone else seeing a sunfish in this area or in the interior sections of Long Island Sound?

If yes, have you reports of sunfish of this size?

Obviously my answer was no. But I looked up ocean sunfish (Mola mola) and found the following in A Field Guide to North Atlantic Wildlife (Proctor and Lynch, Yale University Press):

These pelagic giants are unmistakable – massive with a flattened circular body that looks as if it had been cut off in the rear. The mouth is small and the gill opening has been reduced to a mere hole. … Weight: To 2 tons … or more. Size: To 10 ft. long and 11 ft. high.

I’ve asked around already this morning and got a quick answer from Tom Lake, who works for New York State’s Hudson River Estuary Program:

Ocean sunfish (Mola mola) are not common, particularly inshore in our area. I have never heard of one in Long Island Sound.

That doesn't mean they've never been in the Sound, of course, only that an Hudson river expert hasn't heard of it.

If they are not common and not particularly found in the Sound, Pirate's Cove would be an even less likely location. Tucked away at the head of Larchmont Harbor, it is small, shallow and narrow, lined with seawalls, lawns and expensive houses.

Tom Lake suggested further inquiry. Anyone else know about ocean sunfish?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Talk in New Haven

I’ll be in New Haven on Monday to talk about how Connecticut’s elected officials have all-but-abandoned the cleanup of Long Island Sound for the last several years. I’ll also put the situation into historical context (not surprisingly, people have been ignoring the health of the Sound for centuries).

The event is a meeting of the Garden Club of New Haven (I’m always happily surprised by the civic-mindedness and environmental-conscience of Garden Club members). My talk is scheduled to start about 1 p.m., after the regular part of the GCNH meeting, at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Get in touch with Nancy Ahlstrom (email: nancy.ahlstrom at if you’re interested in going. And drop me a line if you're interested in having me speak to your organization.

WorldChanging Book Hype Day

Ever read the WorldChanging blog? I do occasionally. One of its editors is Emily Gertz, whose OneAtlantic blog I check out regularly. Emily is one of the contributors to WorldChanging’s new book (apparently to be involved in either, you have to have a blog with a name consisting of two words with no space in between), and she and others are trying to generate some hype for it today. See what’s up, here.
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