Wednesday, October 31, 2007

CFE/Save the Sound Says Rell Will Sign the Clean Water Fund

Here's their statement, just out:

A BIG thank you to all who worked so hard on Clean Water Funding over the past two years!

After fighting for sufficient state funding to ensure that our waterways and public health are protected, the bond package passed yesterday and Gov. M. Jodi Rell has agreed to sign it.

Clean Water Funding faired well. It will receive $90 million in general obligation bonds and $235 million in revenue bonds in 2008; and $90 million in general obligation bonds and $180 million in revenue bonds in 2009. This $90 million investment each year for the next two years is the highest level of general obligation funding the Clean Water Fund has received to date.

This bond package is Connecticut's first step in rebuilding its clean water legacy, so please take a moment to call or write your legislators and Gov. M. Jodi Rell to thank them for working to resuscitate the Clean Water Fund.

While $90 million in general obligation bonds over the next year is not enough to complete all of the state's clean water projects, it is a significant influx that should put Connecticut's goal to restore Long Island Sound's "Dead Zone" back on track. But due to the lack of state investment in recent years, we must invest even more in coming years to fully stop the annual sewage overflow releases. This means that over the next few years we will be working to increase these funding levels so that the Connecticut can live up to the promises it made its citizens.

The federal government and the state of Connecticut set two critical goals when it promised the state's citizens clean and healthy water. The agreement was to stop raw sewage overflows into rivers and Long Island Sound by 2020 and to restore the low-oxygen Dead Zone in Long Island Sound by 2014. To meet these goals our municipalities need a fully functioning Clean Water Fund – the primary mechanism for funding wastewater treatment and sewer projects in Connecticut.


Only Two Years Late, But Connecticut Legislators Approve Clean Water Fund Money Yet Again

When Connecticut legislators approved $110 million for the Clean Water Fund in September (as part of a much larger bonding package), Governor Rell vetoed it. Yesterday the General Assembly approved $90 million for the Clean Water Fund.

Leah Schmalz, in a statement from Save the Sound, says it’s a great accomplishment and a great day for the Sound (although apparently not as great a day as it was in September, when Save the Sound CFE declared it the greatest day in the history of Long Island Sound).

Here’s part of the statement that Save the Sound/CFE sent out in her name:

“Connecticut is beginning to rebuild its clean water legacy,” said Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “Our leaders are to be congratulated for working to resuscitate the state’s clean water investments. This $90 million general obligation bond allotment keeps alive a vision of clean rivers, safe waters and a healthy Long Island Sound.”

The federal government and the state of Connecticut set two critical goals when it promised the state’s citizens clean and healthy water. The agreement was to stop raw sewage overflows into rivers and Long Island Sound by 2020 and to restore the low-oxygen Dead Zone in Long Island Sound by 2014. To meet these goals our municipalities need a fully functioning Clean Water Fund – the primary mechanism for funding wastewater treatment and sewer projects in Connecticut.

“While $90 million in general obligation bonds over the next year is not enough to complete all of the state's clean water projects, it is a significant influx that should put Connecticut’s goal to restore Long Island Sound’s “Dead Zone” back on track,” said Schmalz. “Due to the lack of state investment in recent years, we must invest even more in coming years to fully stop the annual release of 2 billion gallons of sewage overflow. We look forward to working with our elected officials and individual towns to ensure that Clean Water Fund financing is adequate to meet these basic clean water and human health objectives.”

“This $90 million investment is the highest general obligation funding level to date; it is not only an investment in the water quality of Long Island Sound, it is an investment in our future,” Schmalz said.

The funding is two years’ late, and there’s no word that I know of about whether Rell will sign it, but if it survives Connecticut will finally go back to meeting its obligations.


DEP Taking a New Look at Millstone's Permit

The Connecticut DEP is changing course on a new permit for the cooling system at the Millstone nuclear power plant, in Waterford. Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled that nuclear power plants need to do a better job protecting fish, which get destroyed when they are sucked into cooling systems (some background here). The DEP had already been in the process of rewriting Millstone’s permit but decided recently that it needed to revise the revision.

Here’s what The Day reported:

This spring, before the DEP could hold a public hearing on its proposed permit, a federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators need to take into account the “best technology available” when issuing permits. Such equipment could include costly cooling towers that would re-circulate water and kill fewer fish and fish larvae.

In the federal court case, Riverkeeper II v. EPA, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals also determined that using a cost/benefit analysis to determine what constitutes the best technology available is not in keeping with the tenets of the Clean Water Act. A number of environmental groups and states, including Connecticut, were parties to the Riverkeeper case.

Schain said it's likely the revised permit will require Millstone owner Dominion to look at all available technologies in addressing the nuclear reactor operations' impact on aquatic life. The old Millstone permit is still in effect while the new process moves forward, he said.


Saturday's Modern House Day is Almost Sold Out

[Read 'Modern,' our new modern house blog, here.]

At a last-minute organizing session last night for Saturday’s Modern House Day in New Canaan, I learned that 179 tickets have been sold and only five or so slots remain. I also learned that at each of the five houses we’ll be touring, there will be an architect (for one of the houses, the architect who actually designed it, John Black Lee, will be the house architect) and a docent, and each bus will have an architect and a docent. Gina is the docent for one of the buses, and I’m the architect.

Maybe I should write it “architect” – I’m of course not an architect, although the organizers of the event don’t seem particularly concerned about that. Luckily for the people who will be on my bus, the bus architects were told not to talk too much about each house before we get to it; the house architects will handle all that.

If you’re interested in one of the last tickets, click here for information.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Revkin's Dot Earth Blog

I and a bunch of others in his address book got an e-mail from Andy Revkin last night saying he's launched a new blog for the Times, called Dot Earth. Here's what he said:

Just a general heads-up that my new blog on the elusive notion of sustainability, Dot Earth, is formally up and running as of Tuesday at after a 'soft' launch last couple days.

Some fun posts on bush, the population 'cluster' bomb, a primate painter (painter of rare primates), a contest offering cash rewards for emissions cuts, and more. And please have a look at the slideshow, which kind of explains why I'm doing this.

I hope you'll have a read, post a comment if something strikes a chord, pass me feedback, and pass the link around if you like what you see.

Andy's a good guy and obviously a first-rate reporter, and I would have linked to his blog anyway, but I'm especially happy to because he linked to Sphere. Go read it, here.

Connecticut Gets EPA Award for Innovative Program While the State Dithers on Funding for the Sound Cleanup. (Why Doesn't NY Have a Trading Program?)

The U.S. EPA gave an award to Connecticut yesterday for its program of allowing sewage treatment plant operators from around the state to buy and sell credits for reducing the amount of nitrogen they dump into Long Island Sound.

The award is a great example of rewarding the good (the trading program) and ignoring the bad (Connecticut’s complete irresponsibility in refusing the put money into its Clean Water Fund) that might work with a naughty 6-year-old but probably will prompt legislators and Governor Rell to pat themselves on the back and continue to ignore the funding issue.

On the other hand, by singling out Connecticut’s nitrogen trading for praise, EPA implicitly asks why New York doesn’t have a similar program. This news story asks the question explicitly and reports that New York State’s answer is, apparently, “We don’t allow a nitrogen trading program because we don’t allow a nitrogen trading program.”

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation responded to questions about the issue with an e-mailed statement that the state had chosen to require each plant to meet a specific limit. The e-mail, from agency spokeswoman Lori O'Connell, gave no reason for not using the trading program, except to say that "the loading limits established for (each treatment plant) will result in lower levels of nitrogen reaching the Sound."

The same story makes the excellent point, from Westchester County’s view, that a trading program might be cheaper and more efficient than the one-size-fits-all approach:

With New York state's sewage plants on the Sound facing the same requirements, Westchester officials have asked Albany in the past to allow a similar credit-trading program. Such an initiative might help the county avoid costly work that would otherwise be needed mostly at the county's sewage treatment plants in New Rochelle and Mamaroneck, said Deputy County Executive Larry Schwartz.

The state has rejected the idea.

"The state of New York is being shortsighted in trying to force counties like Westchester to take the most expensive and onerous route toward taxpayers in helping reduce nitrogen loading in Long Island Sound," Schwartz said yesterday. "They have refused and neglected to pursue and implement less costly options, including creating a New York state nitrogen-trading program."

Here’s EPA’s press release (see if you can find the one big error in it).

EPA’s announcement, by the way, received zero coverage, from what I can tell, in Connecticut newspapers, which presumably saw it as pure PR and therefore not newsworthy. Obviously a bit of awareness and imagination could have turned it into a good story – “Connecticut receives EPA award for an innovative program while the state’s elected officials continue to dither on the funding for the Sound cleanup.”

(Two papers, however, rewrote an EPA press release also issued yesterday that announced a bunch of grants for governments and non-profits working on the Sound, here and here.)

The good news though is that, coincidentally, Leah Schmalz of Save the Sound/CFE had an op-ed piece ready to go in the Hartford Courant. It implicitly highlights the irony of giving Connecticut an award while its elected officials ignore the Sound’s funding needs:

When the federal government and the state of Connecticut promised the state's citizens clean and healthy water 30 years ago, the goal was to stop the two billion gallons of raw sewage that enters our waterways each year by separating combined sewer overflows and to restore the "dead zone" in Long Island Sound by removing approximately 60 percent of the nitrogen discharges from the sewage treatment plants in the state.

Despite years of great progress, the Clean Water Fund - the primary mechanism for funding those wastewater treatment and sewer projects in Connecticut - began to fall apart when the legislature decided to shift that money to other non-water-related purposes in 2002.

The effect of this failure to adequately invest in the Clean Water Fund began to accelerate.

The value of a well-financed Clean Water Fund to protect the public's health became painfully clear in 2005. That year Hartford's city sewer flooded the basements of local residents with raw sewage and the number of beach closings increased to 200 - a nearly 10 percent increase from the previous year.

The value of a well-financed Clean Water Fund was reinforced in 2006 when inadequate funding for nitrogen reduction forced the state Department of Environmental Protection to approve the discharge of more than 1.5 million more pounds of oxygen-depleting nitrogen into Long Island Sound than was allowed under existing permits.

Last year, it became obvious that if we did not fix this problem, Connecticut's effort to meet its obligations to its citizens and the environment would be set back by decades.

During the last legislative session, Gov. Rell and the legislature were called on to put the Clean Water Fund back on the short list of top priorities.

Although $110 million in general obligation bonds in each of the next two years is not enough to complete all of the state's clean water projects, it would be a significant influx that could help keep raw sewage from entering our waterways, create high-quality jobs and restore Long Island Sound.

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Monday, October 29, 2007


We finally got cold weather, 31 degrees at 7:30, which I guess qualifies as our first frost. We also got a hell of a lot of rain on Saturday, which is good for the drought but which doesn't end it, as this picture shows.


We took it yesterday afternoon from the bed of a nearby reservoir. The water has been down long enough to allow plants to take hold, and its rawness, combined with the north wind, reminded me of places I've hiked in Switzerland, places that seem as if the glacier receded just a few years ago (which I guess now, in the global warming era, is actually true in parts of the Alps), where golden eagles swoop down to snag marmots. A long, sharp shadow ran up the length of the valley yesterday afternoon, and an osprey flew over us. We didn't see any marmots but we found this dead wood turtle (which is a species of special concern in New York).


There's been almost no Long Island Sound news lately, and I'm too busy to find stories of my own. Newsday had this piece about lobstering, which was written by Judy Benson for the New London Day and which I hadn't even had time to read, but I will, soon.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Striped Bass

The other day President Bush signed an executive order that turned striped bass and red drum into gamefish. There's not much commercial fishing for striped bass as it is (and none in Connecticut or New York) but as I understand it, the executive order means there won't be any in the future either, at least in federal waters.

It's not clear to me why Bush would bother. Striped bass populations are recovering, to say the least, from record low levels 30 years ago and commercial fishermen are essentially small businesses who could benefit if commercial fishing restrictions were lifted. So why make the restrictions permanent?

Bush's action got no publicity up here but was covered further south. The Outer Banks Sentinel, in North Carolina, pointed out that the executive order received strong support froma group called the Coastal Conservation Association. Its chairman seems to be one of Bush's cronies:

Connaughton said the Bush administration has discussed the management of striped bass and red drum with the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and other recreational fishing interests over the past couple of years. The CCA, an organization of sportfishermen and associated industries, began in Texas in 1977 with a campaign to make red drum, more commonly called redfish along the Gulf of Mexico, and speckled trout gamefish. The organization has secured gamefish status for red drum in all Gulf coast states except Mississippi. Walter Fondren, CCA national chairman, was present at the announcement ceremony in Maryland on Saturday. "This administration's alignment with the CCA and Walter Fondren and other rich Texas oil men doesn't surprise me," said Willie Etheridge, owner of Etheridge Seafood in Wanchese. Fondren's family helped pioneer the oil industry in Texas. "Still, it's mind-boggling that my President would hand over the resource exclusively to the small group of people who fish for striped bass and red drum for fun," said Etheridge.

But my question is does this executive order have any relevance in New York or Connecticut? I'm guessing that the Hudson River and Long Island Sound are not federal waters. The Atlantic probably is but maybe New York controls the waters of the Atlantic close to shore.

Bryan Brown, who used to live on Long Island's north shore but recently moved to Texas, asked me about Bush's order the other day and I responded that it reminded me of the conflict that Peter Mathiessen wrote about in Men's Lives -- essentially a resource allocation conflict. Bryan then Googled it and came up with a chapter from the book (here) that explains some of its history on the east end of Long Island.

Matthiessen was a strong supporter of the commercial fishermen.

This used to be the kind of issue that would engage Riverkeeper and its predecessor, the Hudson River Fishermen's Association. Coincidentally, Matthiessen's son, Alex, is the executive director of Riverkeeper. I can't find anything on the group's website about the issue. But maybe that's because the Hudson isn't federal waters. There's nothing on the Waterkeeper Alliance website either; that's Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s organization and the parent of the various Riverkeepers, Soundkeepers etc.

The best coverage I've seen, by the way, is from the Outer Banks Sentinel, here and here.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Abandoned Places

All you have to do to see that the decline of the industrial era still plagues us is to visit Bridgeport or Waterbury or any one of dozens of old cities in the Long Island Sound watershed. From higher up in the watershed, here are some photos of the industrial past, Turners Falls, Massachusetts, where 18 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

One conclusion to draw is that the great industries of the northeast exploited our resources, contaminated the environment, provided us with some short-term prosperity, and then abandoned us. Thanks for the memories.


An Old Farm on Blind Brook

I just visited a beautiful spot on Blind Brook, near the head of Milton Harbor, in Rye. It’s an old farmstead that some preservationists are trying to keep from being developed. There’s a modest Greek Revival farmhouse from the 1830s set back from the road and obscured from it by a tangle of trees and vines and shrubs, a barn built in the 1880s, and a long chicken coop-shed running parallel to the bank of the brook. The brook is lined with salt marsh – Spartina alterniflora and Spartina patens – and the tide was up when I was there. A small rowboat bobbed in the water at the base of the bank. In the mid 1800s, the owner operated a small farm there and owned two market sloops in which he’d run produce, presumably to New York City.

blind brook

Even now it’s a peaceful spot, the brook placid, the grasses still green, and despite the noise of hammering from a house being built across the way, quiet and beautiful.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dredging the Housatonic to Replenish Hammonasset -- A Controversy?

Connecticut wants to dredge sand from the Housatonic River and use it to replenish the beach at Hammonassett State Park, which is eroding away.

I read about it in yesterday's New Haven Register, which did its best to manufacture a controversy about the issue, insisting that there is one despite presenting no evidence.

Take a look at this story. The first paragraph sets things up not as an account of the news – that is, sand will be dredged from the river and used on the beach – but rather as a proposal that has generated opposition:

MADISON — The idea of scooping up a half-million cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the Housatonic River and dumping it on Hammonasset Beach — arguably the most sacred of Connecticut's beaches — to fix erosion problems, doesn't sit well with a lot of people.

You read that and you might well say to yourself, "That's interesting. I look forward to learning more about why the plan doesn’t sit well with these people."

So you read on. In the next two paragraphs you learn that even though the idea doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, scientists insist that the sediment is clean and that putting the stuff on the beach is a good solution to two problems – the need to dredge and the need to keep a popular beach from washing away. But – and there’s a big but coming -- according to the Register:

Not everyone is convinced.

Now comes the good part – the analysis from the “lots of people” with whom the idea doesn’t sit well and the “not everyone” who remain to be convinced:

Two independent scientists who either reviewed the data or were told about the results mostly agreed with the DEP's assessment, but still had reservations about the project.

Wait a minute. Two independent scientists either reviewed the data or were told about it? That means one independent scientist reviewed the data and one was told about it by the reporter. And they “mostly agreed with the DEP’s assessment”!

The first scientist quoted is Dick Harris, a good, serous guy who lives in Westport and has been testing the water in local harbors for decades:

"Do I feel real good about putting that on the beach? No. Do I see a real problem? No," said Dick Harris, a water-quality expert for Harbor Watch/River Watch at Earthplace in Westport.

"It looks to me that they've done their homework pretty carefully," he added.

Harris said the DEP's data reveal no elevated levels of dangerous polychlorinated biphenyls, heavy metals or pesticides. While Harris typically studies water quality as opposed to sediment quality, he is familiar with sampling methods and said the DEP's data appear solid.

Wow! That’s a devastating critique. They’ve done their homework pretty carefully and the data appear solid. He doesn't see a real problem!

But still the Register says the proposal doesn’t sit well with lots of people. So let's see who else they get to demolish the DEP’s work.

You have to read for a while because the next seven or so paragraphs are devoted to the DEP scientist who explains and justifies the project. And then we get back to Harris, who is worried that perhaps the Army Corps of Engineers won’t oversee the work carefully enough and that the dredging equipment might take some sediment from an area that hasn’t been tested.

Fair point, well worth making. So let's make sure the Army Corps does its job right.

Then we hear from "Elaine LaBella of the Housatonic Valley Association." She has the same concern. But who is Elaine LaBella? I don’t know. The paper only says she’s “of the Housatonic Valley Association.” Is she a scientist affiliated with the association? Is she the organization’s president or an officer? Is she someone who sends them $25 every year? I wish I knew, but I don't. All I know is that she's "of the Housatonic Valley Association" and that she wants the DEP to hold public hearings.

Next we hear from someone who lives near Hammonasset:

Madison resident Herb Gram has a background in physics but he knows his chemistry, too. The environmental activist and member of Citizens for a Clean Hammonasset River said scientists better be absolutely sure the sand is safe.

Gram is involved in a battle to halt a housing development and wastewater-treatment system on land adjacent to Hammonasset Beach State Park. He said the DEP's track record in regulating wastewater discharge permits and Clean Water Act violations throughout the state is troubling. He hopes the same isn't true for the Housatonic dredging project.

My guess is that Herb Gram is one of the two independent scientists referred to higher in the story, probably the one who was told about the testing. He's apparently not an environmental scientist and, like Dick Harris, he doesn't seem to particularly know anything about sediments. He has a background in physics and he knows his chemistry though.

Does he have a big problem with the project? It doesn't seem so. He wants the DEP scientists to be absolutely sure the sand is safe (me too). He doesn't really trust the DEP, he thinks it has a bad track record in regulating water quality, and he hopes the same isn't true for the Housatonic-Hammonasset project. I don't have the same mistrust of the DEP but then again I don't live next to a development project the DEP might approve, so I give him the benefit of the doubt on his mistrust.

But even he doesn't have any real critique of the dredging project -- or at least none that the Register saw fit to print.

And that's apparently it -- the sum of all the people with whom the project doesn't sit well: A scientist who does not see a real problem, a woman associated with a watershed association who wants public hearings, and a man who apparently is a scientist but who has not looked at the data and who hopes the DEP knows what it's doing.

That's what passes in the Register for good environmental journalism, apparently.

The sad thing is that if you get rid of all the bad journalism, there's an interesting story there -- the story of the dredging and beach replenishment project:

According to George Wisker, a senior environmental analyst for the DEP's Long Island Sound Office, the bottom line is this: The corps needs to dredge the river channel and dispose of the sediment somewhere. The DEP needs sand — a lot of sand — to combat erosion problems at Hammonasset Beach. With the recent push to find beneficial uses for dredge sediment and a desire to limit dumping it in the Sound, the plan seemed an ideal solution.

"It would really be a shame if this sand is good quality to just dump it in the Sound," Wisker said. ...

Wisker said his agency conducted extensive testing of the sediment before determining it was clean.

"I think we did a pretty good job," he said.

Wisker said the DEP applied standards used in remediation projects in which humans will have direct contact with the soil as the basis for its sampling tests of the Housatonic. That carries with it a long list of chemicals, including pesticides, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, PCBs and other substances, that must be tested for.

In all, 23 sample cores up to 7 feet deep were taken along the channel where the dredging is to take place. The cores varied in depth depending on how much sediment needed to be dredged in that particular area.

Wisker said the sediment in the channel is mostly uniform because of currents in the river and so the samples should be representative of the entire channel. The mud flats on the sides of the river are a different story. Wisker said those areas are likely to have contaminants.

One section of the river slated to be dredged is at the mouth of Ferry Creek in Stratford, which was polluted at one time with asbestos, lead and PCBs from the former Raymark Superfund site.

While the DEP did not take samples from the channel just downstream of Ferry Creek's entrance to the Housatonic, because not much sediment has built up there, Wisker said sample tests from a previous proposed project revealed no contamination in the channel sediment....

People's initial opposition to the plan seems to be rooted in the pattern of pollution that flows through the history of the Housatonic River. For decades, General Electric in Pittsfield, Mass., released PCBs into the river. Cleanup measures for the suspected carcinogen are still in the works. Of bigger concern to some environmentalists are more local sources of pollution from marinas and storm runoff.

But Wisker stands firmly behind the DEP's data. Only trace amounts of PCBs — at the parts-per-billion range — were detected and far below the remediation standard limit. The tests did reveal slightly elevated levels of PAHs, a combustion byproduct found in industrial waste and backyard barbecues.

In very high concentrations, much higher than was found in the sediment, PAHs can cause cancer. Wisker said the PAHs detected in the sediment likely came from fragments of burnt wood and could be cleaned out in the process of transferring the sand from the Housatonic to the beach.

Meanwhile, no one disputes the very real erosion problems at Hammonasset Beach.

"West Beach has basically vanished," Tammy Talbot, a DEP environmental analyst, said Friday.

The sand is so badly eroded that the high tide line comes right up to the boardwalk, threatening that expensive structure. Talbot said a plan is in the works to bring sandy sediment from Clinton Harbor's dredging project to the beach, but that would only be a temporary problem. The Housatonic dredging project offers vastly more sand.

"That could be the ultimate fix," she said, adding the project would cost between $5 million and $10 million.

A consultant studying the erosion problems at the beach is considering other more permanent fixes, such as new jetties or underwater mats to keep the sand in its place.

Wisker urged people not to jump to conclusions about Housatonic River sediments and the lack of pollution turning up in DEP tests of the sand.

"When you don't find it, that's good. It doesn't mean we didn't do our job."

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Big Land For Sale For Big Bucks: Haroche Wants $95 Million For Property He Bought For $6.7 Million from Sulzbergers

The old Sulzberger estate on the Stamford-Pound Ridge border, now owned by Gilbert Haroche (owner of Liberty Travel), covers 263 acres and, if it sells for its asking price of $95 million (which I reported on Monday), would be one of the most expensive property transactions ever in the U.S.

The property is being marketed as being in Pound Ridge, rather than Stamford, which is slightly ironic, I guess, because years ago the Haroches got into a publc quarrel with the Town of Pound Ridge when they proposed building an equestrian center on the Pound Ridge part of the property. The planning board here said no, and the Haroches held a grudge for some time. About six years ago, when I became chairman of the committee here that advises the Town Board on how to spend its open space acquisition fund, one of our committee members knew Gil Haroche professionally and asked him if the committee could walk his property. Haroche's answer was a flat no, and the reason given was that he was still pissed off at the Town.

Whatever. We weren't likely to recommend acquisition anyway.

So who would buy 263 acres for $95 million? Local real estate agents tell me that there's a lot of hedge fund money around, waiting to be spent on land, and that people with that kind of dough don't really care what land costs if it's the property is what they want. And of course it could go to a developer, although any developer with sense would realize that developing the Pound Ridge part would require a lot of long, tough years in front of the planning board.

The property is known as Hillandale. The Haroches bought it from the Sulzbergers (the New York Times family) in 1992 for $6.7 million. In the mid 1980s (and perhaps earlier) it had its own menagerie of lethargic animals who would mope around behind a chain-link fence on Rock Rimmon Road, on the Stamford portion of the land. It has five houses, including a main house with almost half an acre of floor space, 5-plus miles of roads, and a lake. And because the property is in the Mianus River watershed, what happens on it could affect Long Island Sound and Greenwich's drinking water supply.

Here's a link to the newspaper account where I found some of this information.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

On the Old Railroad Bed

About a hundred years ago some would-be magnates had the brilliant idea of connecting Port Chester, New York, with Ridgefield, Connecticut, and points beyond via railroad through Pound Ridge. They got as far as building part of the railroad bed on the east slope of the Mill River valley, about a quarter of a mile from where I live, before bankruptcy stopped them. I don’t go there often but late yesterday afternoon my son and I decided to check it out. What remains extends only for a short distance – a narrow raised bed through the woods, cleared, mostly, except for some small trees and fallen branches. On one side of the road it’s on water company property. It’s not far into the woods but even if you know it’s there you can’t see it from the road. Another remnant is visible further north and across the road, behind an old white house. In this picture Kaare is standing on the bed and, even though the light is bad, you can sort of see how it's raised above the rest of the woodland.

on the old RR bed

In two places, streams cut down the bank toward the Mill River. The railroad builders created culverts of native stone – massive and solid and still in good shape. I didn’t measure but my guess is that the openings are about 4 feet by 4 feet. The light was fading when we were there yesterday, but here’s what one of the culverts looks like, close up and further away.

stone culvert close-up

stone culvert
I love them because they're still in great shape after having been adandoned a century ago, and also because we can look at them with a sense of relief and wonder -- imagine what Pound Ridge would have been like if the railroad had been completed.

Broadwater Decision Early Next Year?

Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment put the word out yesterday afternoon that she has heard that FERC''s final environmental impact statement for the Broadwater LNG terminal proposed for Long Island Sound is scheduled to go to the printer in December and released to the public by the end of December or in January. She says she also heard that the state will then want to move quickly with its decision, so figure early in 2008 we'll know the fate of that proposal.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

First Frost and Global Warming

We haven’t had a frost yet (and we did not turn the heat on for the first time until Sunday evening, although on some cool nights we’ve had a fire in the fireplace). I’ve been thinking that it was unusual if not unprecedented to be frost-free this late into the fall -- another sign of global warming. For six or so years in the late 1990s I kept track of weather information – high and low temperatures, big storms, first frosts, etc. This morning I pulled out the notebooks in which I jotted down those records. It turns out that in 1995, we didn’t have a frost until October 18. I was under the impression that the first frost always hit in late September or early October, but this might be because the third week of September is when you have to start worrying about your tomatoes getting zapped – not that they will, but that they could.

Here are the first-frost dates from my notebook:

1994 – October 3

1995 – October 18

1996 -- October 4

1997 -- September 25

1998 -- September 24

1999 -- October 8

During those years we lived in New Canaan, on the Pound Ridge border, about 200 yards from a reservoir, which might have protected the immediate area from an early frost. In any case, a first frost during the third week of October isn’t that unusual. Of course the third week of October is half over and there’s no frost in sight yet, so who knows how long it will last. So maybe it is global warming; and since no one with any knowledge is claiming that we're just starting to feel the effects of global warming now, maybe the 1995 record should be attributed to it as well.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

You Can Live Where the Sulzbergers Lived, for a Small Price

I heard today from a friend that Gilbert Haroche, who owns Liberty Travel, is selling his estate, on the Stamford-Pound Ridge border, for $95 million. That's not a typo. Ninety-five millions dollars.

The property used to be the home of the Sulzbergers, the New York Times family, and is called Hillandale, I believe (I once bought a used book somewhere and in it was Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger's calling card; it's probably still in the book but I can't remember which book it was). The Pound Ridge section alone is 159 acres. There's a $28 million house on the Stamford side.

I'm in the open space preservation business and I pay attention professionally to the price of land. I've never heard of a place around here going for $95 million.


Eating Fish Safely, Killing Fish at Millstone

I reported 10 or so days ago that New York and Connecticut were trying to come up with consistent advisories about the safety of eating striped bass and bluefish from Long Island Sound. The Journal News has a follow-up, here.

A Waterford resident named Mike Hessling, who works at a natural gas-fired power plant, takes Terry Backer to task in the New London Day for wanting the operators of the Millstone nuclear power plant to build a cooling tower that kills fewer fish than the cooling system they have now.

He argues that nuclear power is not as cheap to produce as Terry thinks. He also makes a valid point that I'd like to hear more about: He asks why the Soundkeepr is focusing on Millstone and not the other many non-nuke plants on the Sound.

He seems to jump to the conclusion though that this must mean that Backer is somehow a front for the same old anti-nuke groups. I've never asked Terry specifically if he's for or against nuclear power, but from what I know of him I'd be surprised if he's unequivocally against it. The issue of fish being killed by nuke plants is one of the issues that got the Waterkeeper Alliance (which Soundkeeper is a charter member of) its start, back at Indian Point in the 1960s (Waterkeeper Alliance is a descendant of the Hudson River Fisherman's Association, which documented massive fish kills at Indian Point). So I tend totake Terry's opposition to cooling towers that kill a lot of fish at face value.

He also says, essentially, that Soundkeeper should be concentrating on other issues, like controlling contaminated stormwater runoff. This is not only a red herring but it happens to be an issue that Soundkeeper has worked hard on, sponsoring the Smart Sponge program in Norwalk.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thank You, Martha Stewart

The large, roundish object in the photo here is a puffball mushroom that Gina plucked from the roadside while driving past Martha Stewart's house yesterday. You cut it into manageable slices, dip it into egg and breadcrumbs, and saute it until it looks done. We ate a good part of it last night with dinner.

A puffball from outside Martha Stewart's house

In other produce news, this morning I picked 11 plum tomatoes. Most were small -- together the 11 weighed only 10 ounces. But there are more out there still ripening. We haven't had a frost yet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Modern House Tour in New Canaan

[Read 'Modern,' our new modern house blog, here.]

Tickets are on sale for the next Modern House Day tour and symposium in New Canaan, on Saturday, November 3. Some of the houses on the tour have changed from the original plans but there’s good stuff nonetheless. Tickets are $250 each. There's more info on the New Canaan Historical Society's website (the History Society and its volunteers are the organizers of the event).

Logo for the Modern House Day Tour and Symposium in New Canaan, CT

I've been helping to write the brochure for the event (my wife's firm, Gina Federico Graphic Design, is doing the design, pro bono), and here's some of what I've learned:

The oldest house on the tour was built in 1939 by two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin fellows, John Howe and Edgar Tafel. I always think of our own house, also built in 1939, as being the oldest Modern around here, but apparently it has a contemporary. (October 31 correction: This is wrong; the house was built in 1982.)

Edward Durell Stone’s Celanese House, where renovations are just finishing up, is on the tour. The Times had a story about it, and the people who are renovating it, over the weekend, here.

The house that Eliot Noyes built and lived in with his family will also be on the tour. As I understand it, it's been decades since the public has been able to tour the house. But it’s been written about a lot recently and the family is obviously interested in helping people remember Noyes’s achievements. His son, Frederick, will be one of the speakers at the day’s symposium.

There’s also a house designed by John Black Lee, who will be there to answer questions; and one attributed to Victor Christ-Janer.

The house that Breuer built for himself, in the late 1940s, will be on the tour, although only for an exterior view. My wife’s parents and aunt and uncle rented the house from Breuer in ‘49; her parents lived there while their own Modern was being finished and her aunt and uncle lived there while buying the house we live in now. We have some old glass-plate photos of it but I don’t know how to get them digitized.

The Gores Pavilion, in Irwin Park, will also be on the tour, as a drive-by.

The day starts with a symposium. Among the speakers are Jens Risom, the furniture designer, and John Johansen, the only surviving member of New Canaan''s "Harvard Five" architects. Johansen, by the way, is married to Walter Gropius's daughter, which is an interesting connection to the birth of the Bauhaus and Modern architecture.


Killing Fish at Millstone; Shays Should Be Proud of Opposing Broadwater for the Right Reasons

Terry Backer argues forcefully and convincingly that the Millstone nuke plant, in Waterford, is killing fish by the millions and that the only question for its owner, Dominion, is whether it wants to stop killing fish. It could easily do this by building a closed-cycle cooling system but if it does so, its profits will be lower. In other words, there's an environmental cost to running a nuke plant, but Dominion doesn't want to pay it. Here’s what Terry says:

Power plant cooling water intakes kill trillions of fish, fish eggs and larva on an ongoing basis. This fact is certainly no secret. It's clear that species of fish in Long Island Sound are heavily affected by power plants. The fish are killed, in all their life stages, along with other marine life when they are sucked into the facility along with a flood of water to cool the plant, in Millstone's case it can be up to two billion gallons per day. The marinelife that can't escape are then either scraped off the protective screens into a trash pit or discharged back to the Sound as a lifeless soup….

Studies of large power plants demonstrate that cooling water intakes have caused the near collapse of fisheries. Millstone is already known to have created great pressure on the flounder population in Long Island Sound. The carnage caused by cooling water intakes at Millstone has been known for some time, now we know how to stop it. Closed cycle cooling is the best available technology to protect our dwindling fish populations and preserve the environmental integrity of the Sound.

I will leave you with this. Power plants are not built to make electricity, they are built to make profits for investors and shareholders. Dominion will fight tooth and nail for that profit. After years and years of no progress it is time for us to stop giving away our irreplaceable and threatened resources of Long Island Sound for power-generator profits.

There’s more about the issue on the Soundkeeper’s website.

Meanwhile, Newsday quoted Congressman Chris Shays as saying he was “becoming ashamed” of his opposition to the Broadwater liquefied natural gas plant.

"I'm formally against Broadwater, but I'm becoming ashamed that I am."

But look deeper and you’ll see that, in a way, Shays is right. What he’s ashamed of are the silly, irrelevant reasons people cite for opposing Broadwater. Anyone following the issue has noticed the same thing, from the beginning, and I wrote about it at least once, here (these kinds of the-sky-is-falling scenarios are common whenever a project causes opposition on environmental grounds – some people raise legitimate issues and some don’t; that’s life, and while I don’t like it, in this case it’s Broadwater’s problem, not mine).

Oppose Broadwater because it’s an unneeded natural gas factory being imposed on the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound and would usurp all kinds of beneficial, non-industrial uses of the Sound, as well as damage marine life.

So now that he’s said he’s ashamed, Chris Shays ought to also say he’s proud to oppose Broadwater for the right reason.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Oysters Recovering, Jellyfish Arriving, and the Washington Post Explains the Sound's Problems to Us

You sort of get the idea that a newspaper story is going to be a crock when it begins with a dateline that says “Long Island Sound, Connecticut” and then goes on to describe lobster buoys as “winking” and global warming's effects on the Sound as somehow "controversial." But that’s how a Washington Post story about the Sound’s lobster die-off started this weekend. Read the whole thing here, if you have a taste for the overwritten and overwrought.

Meanwhile, oysters appear to be recovering in Greenwich Cove.

And with summer apparently lingering forever, have the stinging jellyfish arrived? In response to this post, a fellow named Bob Marra wrote:

I too am a regular swimmer in the Sound, enjoying Hammonasset for the 2.2 mile jetty-to-jetty swim. Have swum jelly-free all summer, until this weekend (6-7 October), when I got stung on both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday's stings are particularly bad, covering the major parts of both forearms with raised red welts. I'm wondering if it wasn't a blue bottle (Man-o'-war).

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Lunch and an Update on Long Island Sound's Problems

I went to the SoundWaters lunch program at Stamford’s UConn campus (if campus is the right word for a big building on the site of the old Bloomingdale’s) to hear Mark Tedesco, director of EPA's Long Island Sound office, talk about “what we think we know about Long Island Sound,” as he put it.

Here are some factoids:

There are six to eight times more nitrogen entering the Sound now than in pre-colonial times. (Nitrogen of course is the cause of the Sound’s hypoxia problem.) Since 1994, though, there’s been a 25 percent reduction in the amount of nitrogen that we put into the Sound, mainly through sewage treatment plants. This seems to have caused a slight improvement in water quality although it’s hard to tell for sure because conditions vary a lot from year to year. The nitrogen reduction goal is 58.5 percent, by 2014.

Testing in recent summers has shown that PCB concentrations in striped bass and bluefish have continued to fall and are lower than the last big round of testing, in 1994. As a result, New York and Connecticut are reconsidering their health advisories for people who eat those fish. Right now there’s one health advisory for Connecticut’s part of the Sound and another for New York’s part of the Sound, which raises the question of what do you do if your boat is near the state line in Byram and your fishing line stretches across into Port Chester – if you catch a bass big enough to keep do you follow New York’s advisory or Connecticut’s? To resolve this obvious absurdity, the states are trying to come up with one Long Island Sound health advisory. Mark, by the way, referred to PCBs as a “legacy contaminant,” although he was polite enough not to point out that the probable carcinogens are the legacy of GE, one of whose subsidiaries – GE Money – was a sponsor of SoundWaters’ program yesterday, presumably paying in part for the sandwich I ate.

Lobstering is still bad, although it might possibly be getting a tiny bit better (here's a Hartford Courant column that talks about the issue today).

Boaters have a lot more places to dump out their vessels’ heads than directly into the water: there are now 142 pump-out facilities on the Sound, compared to 42 about 15 years ago.

It’s well-known that bacteria and other pathogens get washed into the Sound each time it rains. Monitoring by officials who oversee Connecticut’s shellfish program seems to indicate that more pathogens are reaching the Sound now than before – in other words, a one-inch rainfall now carries more pathogens into the Sound than a one-inch rainfall did, say, 20 years ago.

I should add that I don’t go to many of the SoundWaters lunch programs, but every time I do it’s worthwhile. A lot of the credit has to go to Dianne Selditch, who like me used to make her living as an honest newspaper reporter (she was covering the hypoxia stuff for the Stamford Advocate when it was first making news 20 years ago) and now works for a non-profit (she directs the SoundWaters center, at Cove Island Park in Stamford). Get on her e-mail list to find out what programs they’re working on for the future.

A Tropical Enclave

Each year tropical and subtropical fish spawn to the south and their eggs are carried north by the Gulf Stream. When the fish hatch, they either leave on their own or are carried out of the Gulf Stream and into Narragansett Bay, particularly near a place called Fort Wetherell.

I had known that this was how juvenile sea turtles, particularly Kemp's ridleys, got up here, but I hadn't heard of the same thing happening with fish, although it makes sense. The sea turtles have a chance of making it back to the Gulf Stream, assuming the water stays warm enough, but the fish are doomed. So a group of divers collects them. From the Jamestown Press, in Rhode Island:

The dive club tries to rescue as many of the juvenile fish as they can and then donates them to different aquariums and private tank owners.

... "There are about 30 or 40 varieties of fish that we see. Some are more common and easier to catch than others," Stefanik said. "The different types of butterfly fish are the most common, but we have even seen a barracuda." The group caught a lionfish last year, the first catch of its kind in New England.

Snorkelers and children also got in on the fun. "It really is a family event. Because the shallow water is warmer, there are many fish around the edges so even those without scuba gear can see many fish," Al Bozza, programs director for the club, said.

They Shot A Moose

It was headed toward the Merritt Parkway, where a moose-car collision earlier in the year had killed a man.

According to the DEP, the moose population is growing in Connecticut, and moose-vehicle accidents are expected to become more of a concern in the state.

Moose, usually thought of as denizens of the ponds and forests of Maine, have an established population in Connecticut of about 100 animals, according the Howard Kilpatrick, eastern district biologist for the state DEP Wildlife Division.

... Massachusetts has seen a "large breeding population" of 1,000 moose develop over the last decade, some of which have ambled south to Connecticut to establish a resident population that usually stays in the northwest and northeast corners of the state.

Here's another guy who shot a moose, under somewhat different circumstances.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hike to the Melting Glacier

Memories and anecdotes are unreliable as evidence. Nevertheless I've lived in this neighborhood for almost 20 years and can't recall a year in which we hadn't turned the heat on at least once by the first week of October. This year we haven't though. We haven't had a frost either and tomatoes are still ripening in the garden.

One of the great luxuries of my life is the trip to Switzerland we've taken in each of the last several Februarys, to ski in the Engadine. The overnight flight is brutal and by the time we get off, gather our luggage, buy train tickets, hop the commuter train to Zurich Hauptbahnhof, the regular train to Landquart and then finally the Rhaetia Bahn into the Engadine, I'm ready to sleep in my seat.

It's a good opportunity to do so because you get a few minutes to settle in and then the tracks duck into a long tunnel and travel through the dark for 15 minutes. On the other end, you're deep in the mountains, near Klosters. It's a scene of great beauty, Alpine meadows rising into mountains that get lost in the clouds, snow falling, skiers gliding past. We keep going to the end of the line, however, another 45 minutes on the train, and last year when we got there we skied in 50-degree weather for the whole week, the brown patches on the mountainsides growing noticeably larger as the days passed.

The glaciers are melting in Switzerland, of course. In Klosters they're trying to make the best of it, by promoting a mountain hike to view the effects of global warming:

Here, climate change serves as an occasion for a climate hike. The four-kilometer-long circular tour from the Silvretta hut high above Klosters to the glacier features 15 theme-posts proposing interesting tidbits on the glacier, the melting of the ice, alpinism, the local flora and fauna, and the influence of humans on the Alpine ecosystem.

The Global Warming Trail features 15 theme-posts describing the effects of climate change and giving suggestions as to how individuals may learn to respect the climate in their daily lives. Changes, which may already be observed, are also documented. In this manner, the consequences of climate change are both made visible and tangible. The circular route evolves on a simple trail set in a lovely landscape. The beauty of the trail is in itself a highlight. For further information


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hearings and Briefings for the Public

Mark Tedesco, the head of EPA's Long Island Sound office, is giving a "State of the Sound" talk tomorrow at UConn's Stamford campus. SoundWaters is organizing it. You need to register: email or call 203-406-3335.

The Long Island Sound Congressional Caucus is holding a couple of hearings on Saturday. The official announcement actually refers to them as "hearings," "panel discussions" and "the study," so I'm not sure what's going on. In any case, here are the details:

9:00-10:30am Public Hearing on Long Island Sound I, Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport, NY 11721

2:00-3:30pm Public Hearing on Long Island Sound II, Norwalk Maritime Aquarium, 10 North Water Street, Norwalk, CT 06854.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tidal Power, Greenhouse Warming

Remember the electricity-producing turbines under the East River that broke because the tides were too strong? The outlook for that project is still promising although not without its problems. Here's a good account of what's going on.

Meanwhile, the Arctic is melting and the Northwest Passage has finally been discovered, here.


Monday, October 01, 2007

The Old Hotel is Shutting Down

The first time I walked into the Narragansett Hotel on Block Island, I expected to hear Tommy Dorsey playing from the wireless in the corner. That's what the place looked like -- a hotel from the 1930s or '40s, and charming in its way, although it wasn't quite charming enough to entice us to stay for dinner on a cool evening when we wouldn't have been comfortable eating on the wide porch.

Although you can't help passing the Surf Hotel on Block Island -- its on the corner of Water Street, in Old Harbor -- I haven't been inside. But I'd be surprised if it doesn't have the same atmosphere as the Narragansett. It's closing up though, and the place is on the market, and its patrons are full of laments. The Surf has no bar. Only a handful of the rooms have private bathrooms and none have TVs. This Hartford Courant story, here, explains why people like going there anway.
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