Monday, July 30, 2007

Report: Westchester Wants Out of Sound Cleanup

Westchester County wants to be let out of its obligation to help clean up Long Island Sound. The Journal News reported yesterday that the county is asking to be absolved of having to upgrade sewage treatment plants to meet the Sound cleanup’s 58.5 percent nitrogen reduction goal set for 2014 – a goal that all of the treatment plants emptying into the Sound have to meet:

Westchester County officials are asking to be released from the requirements, arguing that the upgrades would be expensive and would bring little or no improvement in water quality….

Westchester has filed plans with the state to improve its plants on Long Island Sound, but County Executive Andrew Spano's administration is grousing publicly about the cost of correcting what they portray as a minute portion of the problem.

While many environmentalists are eager to see the county do the work, Spano and Deputy County Executive Larry Schwartz have sought to downplay the importance of the 4,200 pounds of nitrogen coming daily from four county treatment plants. Schwartz said the plants - primarily the ones in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle - add less than 1 percent of the nitrogen that gets to the Sound from all sources, including the atmosphere.

Officials won't say how much the Westchester upgrades would cost, but Schwartz called it the "mother of all mandates."

"And then the question is, what happens if it doesn't work?" he said.

Unfortunately there aren't any other details about what form the county's request has taken.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Broadwater's Connection At FERC

Denise Civiletti, the editor-reporter on the East End of Long Island who has beeen breaking good Broadwater stories, points out something on her blog that is interesting but not at all surprising, considering that the Bush Administration is still running Washington – namely a strong, direct link between FERC and Broadwater (hint: it's a law firm). Here's her post:

How confident can we be that the public and the environment are going to be protected by federal regulators — versus the interests of the rich and powerful multinational corporations proposing Broadwater?

Joseph Kelliher, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that decides if Broadwater gets approved, was previously a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm representing Broadwater before FERC: LeBeouf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. According to the firm's Web site, it's been "intimately involved" in representing clients before FERC for 30 years.


Boats Can No Longer Dumped Sewage Into the Sound (But of Course Virtually Everybody Else Still Can)

Boats can no longer dump sewage in Connecticut’s portion of Long Island Sound, thanks to a no-discharge designation (here and here). But of course cities and towns and villages still can, through their sewage treatment plants, and people in places like Old Saybrook can too, through their antiquated septic systems, here.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Twenty Years Ago Today, the Sound Was Dying

I pulled an old memo out of my file this morning with the heading, "New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Fact Sheet. Long Island Sound Fish Kills/Anoxia. July 18 - August 7, 1987." It's a good reminder of what went on exactly 20 years ago.

Here's some of what it says under the headings "Fish Kills" and "Lobster Pot Mortality."

7/18 and 19. Little Neck Bay and Alley Creek. Menhaden.
7/20 Eastchester Bay, Western Sound. Menhaden.
7/22. Hempstead Harbor. Menhaden.
7/23. Sound, off Westchester County. Winter and Summer Flounder, Lobster, Menhaden, Snapper, Bluefish.
7/23. City Island -- Westchester waters 50 to 60 feet deep. 400 to 500 dead lobsters captured; only 20 living keepers, tautog and eels also dead.
7/27. Hempstead Harbor. Summer, Winter and Windowpane Flounder, Lobster, Crabs, Eels, Killifish.
7/28. Western Sound. Menhaden.
7/29. Manhasset Bay. Winter Flounder, Rock Crabs, Windowpane Flounder.
7/29. Long Island Sound off Sands Point. Over 500 lb. dead; also many fish dead.
7/29. New Rochelle. 63 of 65 lobsters dead.
7/30. Sound near Eaton's Neck. Menhaden.
7/30. Manhasset and Little Neck Bays. Menhaden.
7/31. Sound, near City Island. Menhaden, Rock Crabs, Winter Flounder.
7/31. Near LILCO platform off Northport in waters 70 feet deep. Some lobsters, many crabs dead in pots.

That's only July (the fish kills went on into early August) and, because it was compiled by the New York State DEC, it includes only New York -- the same kinds of things were happening in Connecticut harbors as well. Twenty years ago today, and yesterday and tomorrow.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On the Coast: Our Problems Are Their Problems

Legal Lobster Size to Increase

Big lobsters -- including those caught in Long Island Sound, assuming there are any big lobsters in Long Island Sound -- will be staying in the sea rather than heading for the lobster pot. New rules will increase the minimum size of a keeper. A Five-pound female produces 100,000 eggs at a time. But, as this story asserts, were pesticides the cause of the Sound's lobster die-off in 1999? We know better.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Improvements to Harbor Island

Westchester County has laid out a half-a-million dollars to restore six-tenths of an acre of salt marsh and an acre and a half of adjacent upland at Harbor Island Park, which is on the Sound in Mamaroneck:

The Harbor’s west basin, which is used for boat mooring, is located along Rushmore Avenue and the West Boston Post Road. Prior to restoration, fill had created a steep embankment to the water’s edge. The embankment and part of the area above were covered with invasive plants, which provided little ecological benefit and blocked views of the water from the park. A thin band of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), an important inter-tidal wetland plant, was clinging to the toe of the embankment.

To restore the tidal marsh, the embankment was cut back to increase the inter-tidal zone's width and create a gentler slope. The newly created low marsh, embankment and flatter areas above the embankment were planted with appropriate beneficial wetland and upland vegetation, such as smooth cord grass in the inter tidal zone, salt marsh hay and marsh elder in the high marsh area and coastal grasses, shrubs and trees on the embankment. Once these plants become established, the restored tidal salt marsh will help improve water quality in Mamaroneck Harbor.

Also, a non impervious public walkway and a tree-shaded observation point were added to allow park users to observe the salt marsh and harbor. A natural stone access way for kayakers was included at the request of neighbors. Three signs will be installed along the walkway describing the coastal ecosystem.

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Long Island Beaches Are Closed

The usual: When it rains, it's unsafe for swimming.


Cruising to the Sound's Lighthouses

There are lots of ways to get out for a look at Long Island Sound's lighthouses, for a fee of course. Here's some info about boat trips to lighthouses from Norwalk, Bridgeport and Groton. Which lighthouses can you get to?

Green's Ledge Light, Stamford Harbor Light, Great Captain's Light, Eaton's Neck Light, Peck Ledge Light, Sheffield Island Light, Huntington Harbor Light, Black Rock Harbor Light, Penfield Reef Light, Stratford Shoal Light, Stratford Point Light, Tongue Point Light and New London Ledge Light.

Of course, everyone knows that at least some of these lighthouses are haunted. Penfield Reef, for example.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Broadwater Says It Has Set Up a Fishermen's Committee to Help Fishermen, But the Fishermen Say they've Never Heard of Such a Thing

Here’s a great find by a reporter for a weekly on Long Island: A couple of weeks ago, FERC asked Broadwater to provide more information about how its LNG terminal would affect commercial fishing in Long Island Sound. No problem, Broadwater said – we’ve already set up a committee with commercial fishermen to study exactly that! And that’s not all. Broadwater said the committee…

is currently negotiating a compensation package for the fishermen, who will lose access to fishing grounds and equipment as a result of the Broadwater facility, if approved.

The problem is, Broadwater said it but it appears not to be true. Here’s more, from reporter Denise Civiletti (who now has gotten good Broadwater scoops twice lately):

That assertion took local lobstermen and fishermen by surprise — and has them wondering who's on such a committee, if it exists.

"I don't know the first thing about it," said Jimmy King, a lobsterman who works off the Mattituck dock.

"Nobody out here has heard anything about this committee," said Mary Bess Phillips, Mark's wife and partner in Alice's Fish Market in Greenport. She said she and her husband first heard about the advisory committee when they read about it in last week's Suffolk Times. Chris Smith, Cooperative Extension marine program director, also said he is unaware of such a committee.

On June 20, FERC asked Broadwater to specify the types and geographic extent of "demonstrable loss" by local commercial fishermen as a result of the siting of its proposed 1,200-foot-long LNG plant nine miles north of Wading River.

Broadwater responded that it "has established a Fisheries Advisory Committee open to individuals involved in local commercial fishing activities" and that it is "coordinating closely with local fishery organizations" to ensure that fishermen impacted by the Broadwater plan participate in the committee.

"As the discussions between Broadwater and the commercial fishing interests in the Project Area are currently ongoing, the exact specifics of the process and compensation package are being negotiated," Broadwater's response to FERC stated.

But Broadwater isn't able to provide specifics on the people it says it's engaged in ongoing discussions and negotiations. In reply to an e-mail requesting the names and contact information of members of the fisheries advisory committee, Broadwater's Amy Kelley wrote:

"The fisheries advisory committee is a joint committee between Broadwater and commercial fishermen. The initial meeting was to agree on the formation of a committee. We are now in the process of developing the infrastructure and governance rules. Until the committee is formalized and members are finalized, Broadwater is the contact for this committee."

That has local fishermen shaking their heads this week.

If such a committee exists, Mr. King said, he would surely know about it. The commercial fishermen on the North Fork are a small, tight-knit group, noted Mr. King, who serves as president of the Southold Town Trustees when he's not hauling his catch from several hundred lobster traps on the Sound bottom, from Herod's Point, due south of the proposed Broadwater site, east to Roanoke.

There’s more. Read the whole thing here.

And Denise Civiletti, it turns out, is the co-publisher and executive editor of the Suffolk Times, and co-publisher of a handful of other weeklies on the east end. Here's her blog.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Broadwater is Failing to Give Us All the Info We Need

Here's Save the Sound/Connecticut Fund for the Environment's take on the New York State Department of State letter to FERC about Broadwater:

New York Department of State disputes Broadwater assessment.
Broadwater Fails ‘Information 101’ Again.
In a letter addressed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) made public this week, the New York Department of State (DOS) points out numerous flaws in Broadwater Energy’s application process and illustrates how Broadwater’s assumptions have failed to provide full information on alternatives and due consideration for the project’s impact on the interests of the region’s citizens.
The letter points chiefly to three things. 1) Broadwater has so far glossed over potential Atlantic Ocean alternative siting options for its proposed liquefied natural gas storage facility; 2) When reviewing siting alternatives, Broadwater and FERC have not sufficiently considered the impact of the safety exclusion zones, which prohibit public use of public land and water around the LNG delivery tankers (4-6 a week) and the facility itself; and 3) FERC should not “rely exclusively on information provided by Broadwater in its filing to assess environmental impacts associated with shore crossings.”
Save the Sound’s comments can be found below.
“The DOS letter points to issues Save the Sound has raised from the beginning” said Leah Schmalz, “a public light is being shown on Broadwater’s ill advised scheme which side-steps alternative options for siting their LNG complex in the Atlantic Ocean with less destructive technology.”
“The DOS rightly demands that FERC consider the types, sizes, and impacts of the facility’s exclusion zones, like those surrounding the platform and the LNG supply tankers, on the public’s use as part of the ‘foot-print’ of the facility,” Schmalz said, “Broadwater has no problem seizing the public’s water and land for their exclusive use, they shouldn’t be allowed to ignore or whitewash the consequences.”
“The New York Department of State accurately points out to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission what citizens have been demanding for nearly two years – that FERC do its own careful analysis, and not merely reiterate Broadwater Energy’s party line,” Schmalz said.

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Swimming Banned, Sludge Facility on Hold

No swimming in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle, because of all the pollutants in stormwater, here.

And no money yet for a facility that will turn sewage sludge into energy in Stamford, here (although there's still hope).

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New York State Wants FERC and Broadwater to Take a Harder Look at the Atlantic Ocean as an LNG Site

The New York State Department of State isn’t at all convinced that Broadwater can’t build its LNG terminal in the Atlantic Ocean instead of in Long Island Sound, and its wants FERC to look into it more.

The Suffolk Times, which is a weekly on Long Island, has a story about it, here. And the Department of State letter to FERC is here (type Broadwater in the "search text" box, click, and then scroll down to July 3).

Here’s what the letter says, in part:

In light of the information submitted by Broadwater, DOS recommends that the FERC and other relevant federal and State agencies review the above and consider the appropriateness of:

b. Feasibility of use and operation of a FSRU, a mooring tower and yoke mooring system suitable to withstand 100-year wave conditions in the Atlantic Ocean west of Cholera Bank.
c. Siting a FSRU or SRVISTL system in the Atlantic between existing navigation lanes based on environmental impacts. …
e. Use conflicts to be expected from siting a FSRU or SRV/STL system in the Atlantic between existing navigation lanes.
f. Siting a FSRU in the area between navigation lanes in the Atlantic relative to potential navigation conflicts in Long Island Sound. …

The DOS will have a huge say in the Broadwater decision, and if it thinks the Atlantic Ocean is a better spot than Long Island Sound, Broadwater is in trouble.

Two other things: There’s a place in the Atlantic called Cholera Bank? That’s a great name. And kudos to Denise Civiletti of the Suffolk Times for getting a good story by doing what reporter’s should do: legwork, reading the documents.


Water Quality Report

How are conditions in Long Island Sound? So far, not as bad as last year, using dissolved oxygen as a measure. Here’s what the Connecticut DEP sent out today, based on its regular water quality cruise:

The 2007 July Water Quality Survey was conducted 9-11 July. Thirty-eight stations were sampled. Bottom water dissolved oxygen concentrations fell below 4.8 mg/L at 13 stations. The lowest concentration was observed at Station 15 (3.5 mg/L). Last year nine stations had concentrations less than 4.8 mg/L, one station was between 3 and 3.5 mg/L and three stations had concentrations less than 2.99 mg/L. Hypoxia seems to be setting up slightly later than the average date of 11 July. The next survey (HYJUL07) is scheduled for 19, 20, and 23 July. Additional stations will likely have concentrations declining to 3.5 mg/L and stations currently at or very near 3.5 mg/L (Stations 15 and A4) will become hypoxic, especially as the current weather pattern of warm days, calm winds, and occasional thunderstorms is predicted to continue.
It emphasizes 3.5 mg/L because that’s the goal – to improve the Sound to the point where DO does not fall below 3.5. Station 15, by the way, is in Smithtown Bay; A4 is off Sands Point.

The DEP used to send out jpegs of the water quality map (these, which they don't seem to be in too much of a rush to keep up-to-date; maybe somebody at DEP can get this summer's maps online) but now it inserts them right into the e-mail and I can’t figure out how to post them here, which is too bad because they're worth seeing.

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Public Access

It's not that easy for those of us who don't live near the shore to get to the Sound. But this Connecticut Coastal Access Guide is a big help. Last evening, just to get out of the woods and give our eyes a horizon to look at and to feel the soft air, we went to this tiny, tiny park in Westport -- the Canal Road Water Access Area. True, it's not the most poetic name but it had what we needed -- a view of the Norwalk Islands, a shoreline to walk along, a place to park, almost no people, and no personal watercraft ripping across the water to give us a headache.

Here's a view west, down the beach.
Canal Road beach, Westport

And here's the eponymous canal of Canal Road.

The canal near Canal Road beach, Westport

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Monday, July 16, 2007

A Look at the Sound Cleanup, 20 Years Later

It was 20 years ago this month that Long Island Sound went through its worst period of hypoxia, with fish dying and a huge part of the western half of the Sound turned into a dead zone. The Stamford Advocate uses the anniversary to assess progress in the Sound cleanup, here.

The reporter, Tim Stelloh, does a good job summarizing the progress, or lack of it. He points out, for example, that $617 million has been spent and yet conditions in the far western end of the Sound are barely better than they were 20 years ago.

He quotes me as saying that it's critical to get New York City to complete its sewage treatment plant upgrades, but I think he does not pay enough attention overall to New York City's role. The city, after all, is responsible for a huge proportion of the nitrogen that causes hypoxia, and until it makes substantial improvements, dissolved oxygen concentrations aren't going to get a whole lot better. That's my opinion but it's based on what knowledgeable people involved in the cleanup have been saying for years. (And no one should infer that I think the city is not making progress.)

He also finds a number of people to say -- quite reasonably -- that fixing sewage plants and removing nitrogen will not be enough to restore the Sound. That's obviously true and it's why the Long Island Sound program has from the beginning included a habitat restoration component and the Long Island Sound stewardship component. But the story makes it seem as if the people he is quoting have a fundamental disagreement with the way the cleanup is being managed. I don't think that's true. When Robin Kriesberg of Save the Sound says there needs to be a more holistic approach, she's not implying that nitrogen removal is a flawed strategy. And the story does not point out that many of the people quoted are involved in the Long Island Sound cleanup program, which was set up partially as a way for experts to debate and challenge the cleanup strategies.

The story also gives way, way too much space and credence to Art Glowka. Art is a nice guy and has a long and illustrious history of effective environmental advocacy. But to give substantial space in the story to a non-scientist who claims that the Sound's problem is that it doesn't have enough nitrogen is really taking contrarianism to an unhelpful level. Glowka, for example, apparently thinks that New York City's role in the Sound's problems is negligible. The story describes him pointing to a map and asserting that at this point here, near Throgs Neck, the city's sewage stops and doesn't enter the Sound. It neglects to mention that 20 years of computer modeling indicate that the city's sewage has a substantial affect on the Sound. Nowhere does the story say, or quote anyone as saying, "We're glad Art is involved but the scientific consensus is that nitrogen is a problem and New York City is a significant contributor to it."

To the average reader some of that is inside baseball, though. There's lots of useful stuff in the story. Given what happened 20 years ago and all that has happened since, I hope it's just the first of many anniversary accounts.

I don't generally make a point of soliciting comments, but I'd be interested in hearing what people think about the various points of view in the story.

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What's Happening to the Salt Marshes?

No one really knows why salt marshes on Long Island Sound and its tributaries (and elsewhere) are dying -- global warming? a nematode worm? fusarium fungus? -- but everyone agrees it's bad. Here's a good roundup of the situation from the Times.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Previously Unknown Source of Nitrogen in Estuaries, But What Does It All Mean?

Two researchers at the University of Rhode Island have discovered a previously unknown source of nitrogen in Narragansett Bay – the bay’s sediments. They published their work in Nature, which is the big time for peer-reviewed papers, and so I have to believe that their findings are important. I also think their work might have implications for the cleanup of Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound. But having read a summary, and a newspaper account, and the comments of the researchers, I can’t say for sure, and I wish they had addressed that issue more directly.

I don’t have access to Nature but I’m going to quote from a press release that URI put out, since the scientists presumably approved it and therefore it presumably explains things in a way they consider adequate:

Estuaries have long been considered nitrogen “sinks” or filters, whereby bacteria in the sediments remove substantial quantities of nitrogen through a process called denitrification.

But a new study in Narragansett Bay by researchers at the University of Rhode Island and published this week in the journal Nature has revealed a surprising reversal in the nitrogen cycle. Instead of removing nitrogen, the sediments have become a source of nitrogen through a bacterial process called nitrogen fixation.

According to URI researchers Robinson Fulweiler and Scott Nixon, chlorophyll concentrations in mid-Narragansett Bay appear to have been declining since the 1970s. This has resulted in a decrease in plankton sinking to the bottom. This is an important change because the plankton are an important food source for the benthic community and are essential for the denitrification process.

We know that organic matter affects the rate of denitrification, but no one else has observed a switch from denitrification to nitrogen fixation (production), and no one predicted that the absence of organic matter would lead to nitrogen fixation,” Fulweiler said.

Added Nixon, “Instead of removing some of the nitrogen we put into it, in the summer of 2006 the Bay sediments brought nitrogen into the system. In fact, last summer, the Bay’s sediments added 1.5 times more nitrogen than the direct discharge of sewage.”

You can read the rest yourself, here.

Now here’s my problem. We know that nitrogen from sewage plants is the trigger that starts the hypoxia process in Long Island Sound and presumably in Narragansett Bay too. Or at least that’s what the entire cleanup of Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay is based on. Here on the Sound, we have a 58.5 percent nitrogen reduction target; Rhode Island’s is 50 percent (more here).

So my question is, if nitrogen is being added through the sediments, and if New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island are spending more than a billion dollars combined to improve sewage treatment plants to remove nitrogen, is it possible we’re wasting our money?

That’s a fairly important public policy question and while it’s nice that Professor Nixon talks about global climate change in the press release, I would have liked to hear his opinion on whether his findings might be applicable to estuaries other than the Bay, and if so what are the implications for our clean-up plans.

I should add, by the way, that while Nixon is a top scientist, I’m not inclined to cut him any slack on non-science issues, solely because he wrote a tepid (to say the least) review of my book back in 2002 or 2003. My recollection is that he thought Bobby Kennedy’s name was too big on the cover and that my writing was melodramatic and that I didn’t provide some of the environmental history that he thought was important. You can read it here (and for balance you can read a review by another scientist, John Waldman, here.)

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Global Warming in the Northeast: Say Goodbye to the Sound's Lobsters

I've only skimmed it so far, but this report, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that because of global warming we can kiss Long Island Sound's lobster population goodbye by the middle of the century. (We'll also have a hard time finding a place to ski in the northeast, but that's a different kind of issue.)

Here's a long excerpt from the section about Connecticut:

Sea-level rise. Global warming affects sea levels by causing ocean water to expand as it warms, and by melting landbased ice. Under the higher-emissions scenario, global sea level is projected to rise between 10 inches and two feet by the end of the century (7 to 14 inches under the lower-emissions scenario). These projections do not account for the recent observed melting of the world’s major ice sheets—nor the potential for accelerated melting—and may therefore be conservative. However, even under these projections, Connecticut’s coast faces a substantial increase in the extent and frequency of coastal flooding, erosion, and property damage.


The coastal area of Connecticut is home to more than 2 million people—more than 60 percent of the state’s population. That number swells each summer as tourists flock to the state’s sandy beaches and shoreline communities. From critical infrastructure to waterfront homes to salt marshes, much of this coastline is exceptionally vulnerable to sea-level rise. Indeed, some major insurers have withdrawn coverage from thousands of homeowners in coastal areas across the Northeast in recent years.

Coastal flooding. Rising sea levels caused by global warming are projected to increase the frequency and severity of damaging storm surges and coastal flooding. What is now considered a once-in-a-century coastal flood in New London and Groton (on opposite banks of the Thames River) is expected, by late-century, to occur as frequently as once every 17 years on average under the higher-emissions scenario. Connecticut communities have a lengthy history of protecting themselves against the sea, but the extra stresses created by sea-level rise and more frequent and extensive flooding can be expected to greatly tax both new and aging infrastructure and threaten vulnerable communities across the state.

Shoreline change. Sea-level rise is expected to permanently inundate certain low-lying coastal areas and dramatically accelerate erosion, particularly on important barrier beaches such as Bluff Point and Long Beach. Continued sea-level rise will also threaten the state’s ecologically important salt marshes and estuaries (which serve as critical feeding ground for migrating waterfowl and other birds, and nursery habitat for important commercial fish). Connecticut policy makers will need to take steps to protect the state’s vulnerable populations and infrastructure, as well as wildlife and critical coastal wetlands. This includes public education, updating and enforcing building codes and land-use regulations, and working with the insurance industry to effectively protect property and people.


Clambakes and lobster festivals are synonymous with summer in Connecticut. Unfortunately, the Long Island Sound lobster population, which has declined nearly 70 percent in recent years due largely to warmer waters, is expected to collapse entirely by mid-century as the maximum heatstress threshold for lobster is consistently exceeded under either emissions scenario.

The New York chapter provides essentially the same information on coastal impacts as the Connecticut chapter. Here's what the New York chapter has to say about fish and lobsters:

Rising ocean temperatures will affect New York’s commercial and sport fisheries. For example, lobsters, which cannot tolerate warm water, already live at the southern edge of their preferred temperature range in Long Island Sound. As temperatures rise, the Long Island Sound lobster fishery (which has yet to recover from the massive temperature-driven die-off of 1999) is likely to be lost by mid-century under either emissions scenario.

Newsday has this story up already, and the Times has this, which includes this paragraph:

Professor McCarthy said the two alternative futures laid out in the study, which was peer reviewed by other scientists before being released, are neither a worst-case nor a best-case scenario. Conditions could be even worse than described if emissions increase over the coming decades, he said. And they could be eased substantially by efforts just now being put into place.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

An Oyster Boat Called a Sandbagger

Down on South Padre Island, Sam Wells saw my post about the Bonackers and, after reading the Times story, wrote an account of a type of Long Island Sound oyster boat called a Sandbagger that played an interesting role in sailboat history.

It's on his blog, here. He said in an e-mail to me: "I don’t know how convincing my history is, but I had fun writing it!"

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Penfield Light For Sale

The feds want to sell another lighthouse on Long Island Sound -- this one on Penfield Reef, off Fairfield -- and the town of Fairfield wants to buy it. Stepping Stones lighthouse went on the market a while ago, but I have no idea if it was sold (and a cursory Google check turned up litte).

Here's what the Connecticut Post says about the Penfield light, which of course is haunted.

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Is Connecticut's Clean Water Fund a Waste of Effort and Money?

A fellow named Grant Weaver, who is president of a company in New London that does wastewater treatment plant operations and c onsulting, says Connecticut's Clean Water Fund results in pork barrel spending that isn't really necessary for treatment plants to do nitrogen removal. Here is part of what he wrote, in yesterday's New London Day:

If not lobby for more money for more equipment, what are the friends of Long Island Sound to do? Short answer: Raise your expectations. Empower wastewater personnel and expect them to be more successful. The results — as I have observed in Norwich, Willimantic, Waterbury, Cranston, R.I., Newport, R.I., and elsewhere — will be dramatic. The people who operate and maintain wastewater treatment equipment convert sewage into clean water. Most are proud of their work. The machinery that Clean Water Funds provide merely processes waste.

One of The Day articles used the Mystic wastewater treatment plant as an example. For years, the facility was not adequately serving the needs of Mystic. Six years of recently concluded planning shows that a $15 million Clean Water Fund expenditure is needed for the Mystic sewage treatment plant “to improve water quality.”

While the experts were doing their planning, the treatment plant staff took it upon themselves to make the facility work better. Today, with little to no investment in new equipment, the Mystic wastewater treatment plant is doing a very good job protecting the environment. This summer's nitrogen discharge is just one-third of last year's. Using the equipment on hand, an educated, dedicated wastewater treatment plant work force made changes. How? Why? Because they stubbornly believed they could.

The Mystic story has been repeated elsewhere. Six years ago, a minor investment in the Willimantic wastewater treatment plant provided the equipment for that facility's staff to bring the nitrogen discharge under state requirements. No Clean Water Funds were used.

Michael Gerardi, Penn State University professor and author of “Nitrification and Denitrification in the Activated Sludge Process,” is working with the Farmington wastewater-treatment-plant staff to reduce the release of nitrogen at little to no capital expense. His work is not complete, but the early efforts are encouraging. Because he has been successful at dozens of treatment plants around the country, I am confident that he and the Farmington treatment plant staff will, before the end of summer, reduce the nitrogen to state guidelines.

Unfortunately these are the kinds of assertions that I'm in no position to contradict or confirm. But perhaps someone in the Connecticut DEP or at Connecticut Fund for the Environment has an opinion on it?


Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Dead Whale on Your Property? That's Your Problem

A few years ago a deer that had apparently been hit by a car staggered onto our property and died on the driveway, in front of the garage (I have some gruesome photos which I won't bother posting). We called a cop who came up to look and then told us to call the highway department, which was happy to cart the carcass away.

Compared to a homeowner near Point Judith, Rhode Island, we were lucky. The other day a dead whale washed up onto his beach. The Providence Journal summed up the situation succinctly:

The whale was wrapped with some kind of line, perhaps fishing line, and that was cut off and sent for examination to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Removal of the whale is the responsibility of the property owner...

Bummer, for the whale and for the property.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

New York Will Announce its Broadwater Decision in Mid-August

August 16 is the date on which New York State will announce if it will allow Broadwater's LNG terminal to be built in Long Island Sound. Here's what Newsday says:

State officials have pushed back by another six weeks a decision on whether Broadwater Energy should be allowed to site its proposed liquid natural gas terminal in New York waters of Long Island Sound.

A decision now is due Aug. 16.

An agreement between the New York State Department of State and Broadwater was posted Friday on the publically-accessible website of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC....

Gov. Eliot Spitzer ... is awaiting the state Department of State's findings before he takes a position on Broadwater...

The state Energy Research Development Authority, meanwhile, has contracted on behalf of the Department of State with the Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, for a study of alternative sites for the 1,200 long regassification terminal that would be moored about midway between the Suffolk County and Connecticut shorelines.

Here' s the link to Newsday's story. When you read it you might wonder why a newspaper would report that a document is available on FERC's website but then not provide a link to that website. Lame-o. You can go here, type "Broadwater" into the text search box, and see everything you'd ever want to read that involves FERC.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Men's Lives: A Look at Traditional Fishermen on Long Island's East End

This is an old story but compelling nonetheless: traditional fishermen say they can’t make a living because of government restrictions, while government officials say that if they don’t restrict the amount of fish that are caught, there will be no fish left. Not only that but rich people want to monopolize the shoreline and the coves to amuse themselves.

This time it’s the eastern Long Island fishermen that Peter Matthiessen wrote about in Men’s Lives. A newTimes story out this afternoon on its website (here) talks about a pound net fisherman named Brad Loewen, but also manages to work in some terrific East End color and lore:

Many Bonackers say they have an inherited right to fish these waters, since their families were doing so well before the formation of the state or federal governments. Stuart Vorpahl Jr., for example, said he never got a fishing license because the government has no right to issue them, citing early colonial era edicts kept in the town library that give stewardship of the waterways to the East Hampton board of trustees.

Mr. Vorpahl was repeatedly fined and arrested in the 1990s for fishing without a license. Each time he was stopped, he pulled out a laminated copy of the Dongan patent, the 17th-century edict signed by the King of England’s governor-in-chief of New York. Then he took the town to court, and prosecutors dropped several rounds of charges. But after a 1998 arrest was upheld, Mr. Vorpahl — who says he can talk to crows and ends conversations with the Bonac expression “Yes, yes, bub,” — retired.

Commercial fishermen are an irresistible subject, and traditional fishermen even more so. In ’88 or ’89 I spent a morning with Dan Dzenkowski, one of Brad Loewen’s pound netting colleagues from the north fork, Greenport in particular. I cut it from my book at the last minute but liked it enough to put it on my other blog, here.


Some Really Big, Really Old Fish

More about those big, un-dangerous sturgeon in the Hudson River, from the Hudson River Almanac:

6/28 - Dutchess County, HRM 80: The NYSDEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit sturgeon tracking team netted an 8' long female Atlantic sturgeon this afternoon. Sturgeon over 4' in length tend to be females. This one may have been 35-40 years old. She appeared to be about to burst with eggs - her body was huge! The fish was fitted with a satellite tag for tracking and released after much prodding and encouragement.

- Amanda Higgs, Rebecca Johnson

[Atlantic sturgeon are the stuff of myth and legend. They are the largest fish to regularly inhabit the Hudson, reaching 10-12' in length and weighing in excess of 350 lb. Biologically they are a fish but their countenance suggests far more. They are a primitive-looking and wonderfully adapted creature belonging to an order of fishes whose evolutionary origins reaches back into the Triassic, at least 200 million years ago. Sturgeon grow very slowly - taking as long or longer than humans to reach maturity - and rival us in longevity, surviving 50 years or more in the wild. Tom Lake.]

The Hudson River Almanac is worth getting, by the way. Here’s how:

The Hudson River E-Almanac is compiled and edited by Tom Lake and emailed weekly by DEC's Hudson River Estuary Program. To sign up to receive the E-Almanac (or to unsubscribe), send an email message to and write E-Almanac in the subject line.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Clean Water, Piscatorial and Bivalvular Rights, and Sunbathing Nuns

My earliest memories include a clear recollection of the waters off Staten Island’s south shore being clean enough for swimming – Midland Beach, Great Kills, Wolf’s Pond Park, Arbutus Beach, which was my favorite because of the odd name (I had no idea that trailing arbutus was a local wildflower) and because next to it, screened by a wooden fence, was a private beach that my mother told us was for nuns. Nuns went to the beach!? Did they sit on beach chairs in their black habits? Did they wear outlandishly old-fashioned bathing suits out of modesty? I remember the beach and I remember the fence but I never got a look over or under it, and so whatever was happening remained a mystery.

One of my other early memories is of the water on the south shore suddenly becoming polluted, swimming being banned, and the beaches – many of them, anyway – shutting down. Thus did they resemble the waters of the Kill Van Kull on the north shore, which when I was a kid were dark and oily, sloshing in and around crumbling docks and piers and bulkheads.

Almost nothing changed over the years, particularly not my perception of the quality of Staten Island’s waters, which is why I was surprised many years later to be invited to visit the brand new Great Kills Shellfish Corporation. And so on a warm early-April day in 1981, I drove to Great Kills to meet the proprietors, Eddie Curry and Bill Ryan, both in late middle-age but otherwise as different in temperament as they could be. Ryan was loud, loquacious, almost loutish, florid of face, and apparently bibulous. Curry, also florid, was small and polite to the point of diffidence, a retired politician – New York City Councilman, State Assemblyman, State Senator – an Irish Democrat back when conservative Democrats still dominated politics on Staten Island. I happened to be working for one of them, Assemblywoman Betty Connelly, who sat on the Environmental Conservation Committee, and I guess they invited me to see their operation and have lunch with them because they needed Betty’s support for something, probably legislation that would ease whatever regulatory burden was keeping them from becoming millionaires, although I don’t remember specifically what.

The Great Kills Shellfish Corporation was in fact a depuration plant – a word I had never heard before – on the shore of Great Kills Harbor, A depuration plant is basically an indoor purification system for clams that have been harvested from waters that are too polluted to be safe to eat, a description that still applied all-too-well to the waters of Staten Island’s south shore. The Great Kills Shellfish Company would take clams from Raritan Bay and store them in a tank through which clean salt water rich in dissolved oxygen would flow. After 48 hours the clams would be clean, depurated, free of harmful bacteria and viruses.

Curry and Ryan told me that clamming had been banned from Staten Island’s waters for 18 years – or since 1963, which is roughly when I remembered the beaches being closed – allowing the clam beds to revive and the clams in them to fatten. They told me that to sell clams you separate them into four sizes, measured at their thickest part, from top to bottom, which I took to mean from hinge to lip: Little Necks, 1 7/16-inches wide; cherrystones, 1 ½ to 1 ¾ inches; top necks, an inch and a half, and chowders (which in New England are called quahogs) bigger than an inch and three-quarters (writing this now from notes taken then, I can see that the size categories don’t necessarily make sense, because of the overlap, so who knows if it’s right).

Almost nobody else was trying to sell clams from Raritan Bay in those days, and to Curry and Ryan, each clam – each specimen of Mercenaria mercenaria – was like a fattened dollar, sitting and bubbling in the water, waiting for some enterprising person to harvest it and depurate it.

For lunch we went next door to a place called the Café Marina. We sat for an hour. I had six clams (an absurdly restrained number, it seems in retrospect), a chef’s salad and two Heinekens. I’m not sure what Curry or Ryan ate, but Curry had a modest glass of wine with his lunch. It was Ryan’s performance though that knocked me out. Before lunch, he drank a Manhattan. I love Manhattans and I can attest that they are powerful. If I were to have one before lunch, I’d need a nap after lunch. Before the meal arrived, Ryan ordered a second Manhattan. When the meal arrived, he ordered a third Manhattan. I suppose the three-Manhattan lunch is no different than the three-Martini lunch, but until then I had assumed it was merely mythical. It wasn’t. When Ryan finished eating and drinking, he suggested coffee and a Sambuca. I think Eddie Curry must have been embarrassed, or worried, because he gently persuaded Ryan that three Manhattans was probably sufficient.

I never heard of the Great Kills Shellfish Company again and I don’t know if Betty Connelly was able to come through with whatever they needed from Albany, although I know Betty liked and respected Eddie Curry. I Googled the Great Kills Shellfish Company this morning and came up empty, so I assume it went out of business, if it ever really got started.

But apparently clammers working off Great Kills now are coming up anything but empty, which is good news. The Times reports this morning that the clamming is good enough to be causing conflicts between the boys from Jersey and the boys from Staten Island. One of those boys is Tim Ryan, whose back is adorned with a tattoo that says “Hell or High Water” and whom the Times describes as the head of the Staten Island Baymen’s Association.

Ryan is only 25 and I have no idea if he’s related to Bill Ryan – it’s not an uncommon name, and I myself have Staten Island cousins named Tim Ryan and Bill Ryan. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s Bill Ryan’s grandson, which for Staten Island would probably qualify as a traditional fishing family.

The Times, by the way, reports that conflicts among shellfishermen in Raritan Bay aren’t new. As long ago as 1862…

… four New Jersey men were accused of piracy after they seized a New York clamming vessel on the Raritan Bay. Their defense, The New-York Times reported, was that “the sloop was engaged in an unlawful infraction of the piscatorial and bivalvular rights of New-Jersey.”

So the waters off Great Kills and the south shore of Staten Island are cleaner, the clamming and the conflicts are back. But I wonder where the nuns swim?

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Way Down Upon the Suwanee the Sturgeon Are Jumping Dangerously

No sooner did the Albany Times-Union mention that leaping sturgeon can be dangerous and that a woman in Florida was recently injured by one then the Times shows up with a story about leaping sturgeon injuring people in Florida, on the Suwanee River in particular, here.

Why do sturgeon leap out of the water?

“We say, ‘Pretty much because they can,’ ” said Karen Parker, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She said the jumping seemed more frequent this year and last, maybe because sturgeon favor deeper water and are feeling cramped with the river unusually low.

Ken Sulak, a biologist with the United States Geological Survey, has ruled out several theories. Since sturgeon do not jump in spawning season, Dr. Sulak said, the jumping must not be for reproductive reasons. And since they have no freshwater predators but occasional alligators, it is probably not an escape response.

Might they jump for joy?

Doubtful, Dr. Sulak said.

His guess is that sturgeon jump to let other sturgeon know they have found a good spot to hang out. They seem to gather mainly within six short, narrow stretches of the Suwannee where there are deep holes, so they do not have to waste energy fighting the current. They fast and relax all summer, basically “just going to the spa for several months,” Dr. Sulak said.

They can use the rest. The federal government has listed gulf sturgeon as threatened since 1991, and for nearly a quarter-century Florida has outlawed catching them. Ms. Parker said there were now 3,000 to 5,000 of them in the Suwannee; Dr. Sulak puts the number closer to 7,000.

Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) are a subspecies of the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus). The other sturgeon we get around here are the short-nosed sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum). The shortnose and Gulf are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

And as National Geographic reported, people have been getting hurt by leaping sturgeon in the south for years.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Look How the Fish Live

I've said this before, I think, but it's worth saying again: if you're interested in the natural history of Long Island Sound and its tributaries, you have to be interested in their fish. Yet if you don't fish, how do you keep track of what's happening out there?

Here's how: The Connecticut Fishing Reports blog and the Connecticut Fishing Tips and News blog. Read them. Sandy, up in New Britain, is responsible for both, and she doesn't miss much.


Sturgeon General

Once when I was still a reporter, I got a call one June day from Frances Dunwell, of the New York State DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program. Researchers were going out on a boat the next day to catch and tag sturgeon in the Hudson, she told me, and I was invited to accompany them. That’s great, I said, tell me where and when. Sturgeon were mysterious. The Hudson in June was beautiful. And a chance to observe part of what goes on under the water was too good to pass up.

Then an editor called me to his desk. A county employee had recently been charged with a crime in connection with a sewage spill in Yonkers, a story I had been covering. The employee was going to be arraigned at Yonkers city court. When? Tomorrow. But I was just invited to observe a sturgeon-tagging operation – it will make a great story.

Tough, he said. It's your story. You’re going to Yonkers city court.

I did as I was assigned, accompanied by plenty of complaining, but I always regretted the missed sturgeon opportunity.

It turns out though that Fran and the HREP are still involved in sturgeon research, along with other backers. Not long ago a fellow from the Albany Times Union did what I had hoped to do and wrote a pretty good account, here.

Here are some excerpts that interested me particularly:

Two centuries ago, novelist Washington Irving saw a sturgeon leap from the river.

"How solemn and thrilling the scene as we anchored at night at the foot of these mountains," he wrote, "... and was startled now and then by the sudden leap and heavy splash of the sturgeon."

However, there is some danger if a boater happens to get too close. Last month, a 32-year-old woman in Florida was knocked unconscious by a leaping sturgeon….

And if you like WPA murals, which I do, although I’m no expert and not even a student of them, here’s a reason to stop in and mail a letter the next time you’re passing through Hyde Park:

Murals that decorate the walls of the Hyde Park post office, which was used by the town's most famous resident, Franklin Roosevelt, include a depiction of two men in a flat-bottom river boat taking in a netted sturgeon while other workers on shore slaughter the fish for their flesh and caviar.

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The New London Day Advocates Like No Other Paper for Long Island Sound

Of all the newspapers in all the communities on the coast of Long Island Sound, the furthest away from the western end, where seriously low levels of dissolved oxygen have caused an ecological crisis for well over two decades, is the New London Day. New Lodnon is almost 100 miles from the heart of the dead zone. And yet The Day is covering the Sound’s most important issue, and advocating for a comprehensive cleanup – to include the federal government, the state governments, local governments, and residents of New York and Connecticut – like no other paper.

The Day asked Greg Stone, who retired as deputy editorial page editor a couple of months ago, to organized a public forum about the Sound’s hypoxia problem (it was on June 19 and was The Day’s third forum on Sound issues this year; I participated in one in early April, on Broadwater, but I would have happily given up that one for the June 19 forum, alas). Greg wrote a good account of it yesterday, here.

Then read the case that Leah Schmalz, of Connecticut Fund for the Environment, makes in favor of the Connecticut General Assembly and Governor Rell putting enough money in the Clean Water Fund, which thus far this year they have neglected to do yet again, here.

And finally an editorial. Some excerpts follow, but you should read the whole thing, here:

Connecticut needs to build and maintain a healthy Clean Water Fund, which helps finance improvements to the sewer works in the Sound's watershed. The state Department of Environmental Protection has calculated it would require about $160 million a year merely to keep up with approved projects, not to mention the totality of the $5 billion in needed improvements.

Congress needs to step up to the plate again. The federal government, which invested heavily in the original public sewage systems, has left the expense of maintaining and improving those facilities to state and local governments, as it has with other important public investments. The health of Long Island Sound is a responsibility the federal government shares. Washington needs to become a significant investor again. The state legislatures in New York and Connecticut must urge that it do so….

With investment funds in the pipeline, government should turn its attention to land-use planning that will protect the Sound from damage from pollution. Connecticut needs to revisit its coastal management law and develop a more comprehensive plan to protect the Long Island Sound watershed….

The mere fact that the federal and state governments refer to a “dead zone” the size of southeastern Connecticut in Long Island Sound ought to drive public policy and public opinion in such directions.

The reality that there is such an expanse of water that has lost its capacity to support life and that the cause is likely manmade is another way of saying man is killing the Sound through carelessness and bad choices. But there is an alternative. It is not too late. People can take steps to restore this natural treasure to health and keep it healthy through enthusiastic stewardship.

They should.

The should, indeed. And other newspapers should take a lesson from the New London Day.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

More Thoughts About What All the Estuary Reports and Studies Mean

The report from the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality the other day is the third of three recent alarms about Long Island Sound's problems, the Hartford Courant points out, here. The others are the National Estuary Program report, which said the Sound was in poor conditions (here) and the Long Island Sound Study biennial report, which said we still need to spend a lot of money to restore the Sound (here).

Speaking of the National Estuary Program report, activists and scientists in New Jersey are annoyed because they think EPA rated Barnegat Bay too highly -- fair, when it should be rated poor, they say. There's a good overview of what they think, here, in the Asbury Park Press.

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