Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Connecticut Wins Islander East Lawsuit Again in Federal Court

Connecticut won a favorable ruling in federal court today in an appeal of a natural gas decision -- not Broadwater but Islander East (here's the news and here's some background).

Is that good news? Island East divides enviros in Connecticut, who think it's a bad idea, from those on Long Island, who think it's an easy way to get natural gas. All those enviros, of course, are allies in the fight against Broadwater's plan to put a LNG terminal in the middle of the Sound.

Personally I can't say if the court decision is good or bad, or even surprising. What I might say, if I knew more, is that it might be ominous for Broadwater if that decision ends up in federal court. I'd ask the lawyers who read this if they agree, but I don't think any lawyers read this.


Beefsteak, Shad, and Joseph Mitchell

It’s a good morning when two stories in the news call to mind great pieces written by Joseph Mitchell, even if one of them is the sort of sad tale that underscores how basically clueless we are when it comes to trying to understand and manage some ecosystems.

I’ll get to that next. First though is “Gluttonous Rite Survives Without Silverware,” in the Times, a long, fun account of a dining tradition – if “dining” is not too delicate a word – called a beefsteak. You have to read it to believe it but even better, you have to get Mitchell’s book, Up in the Old Hotel, and read his piece from the 1930s, called “All You Can Hold For Five Bucks” (it’s also available as a download if you go to this site, then click on “For More Beefsteak Information Click Here,” but you really ought to buy it or get it from the library, because everything in it is good). But the Times story isn’t about a revival; it’s about a survival through the decades in northern New Jersey, even as the New York beefsteak faded in the mid-twentieth century. Totally gross, but amusing.

Less so however for this story, in the Journal News, about how New York State is considering closing the commercial shad season in the Hudson. Striped bass, zebra mussles, PCBs, General Electric, intercept fisheries – all of them have a role in the decline of the shad fishery, or at least people think they do. Truth is, nobody knows, and the state is left to draw the conclusion that the only thing to do is tell people like Bob Gabrielson and the nine or so others who still fish commercially in the Hudson that they’ll have to cut back even more. Mitchell also wrote about the Hudson’s shad fishermen, in The Rivermen, page 574 in Up in the Old Hotel.

I went to Gabrielson’s house a decade ago to buy shad roe (read about it here) and although I probably never would have done so again – Pound Ridge to Nyack for roe is a long drive – it was nice to know I could have if I wanted to.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Guzzling Meat

Reading Mark Bittman’s piece, “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler,” in yesterday’s Times made me try to recall how long it had been since it became relatively common knowledge that the way we produce meat is an environmental disaster and scandal. Was it Orville Schell or Jonathan Schell who wrote about the over-use of antibiotics on beef feedlots 25 years ago? And then there was a terrific book called In the Rainforest by a mostly forgotten writer named Catherine Caufield, which came out in 1984, and all of Alex Shoumatoff’s rainforest reporting.

Still, after two-plus decades of reading about this stuff, I was blown away by “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler.” Here’s some of what Bittman says:

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. …

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. …

… The argument that meat provides useful protein makes sense, if the quantities are small. But the “you gotta eat meat” claim collapses at American levels. Even if the amount of meat we eat weren’t harmful, it’s way more than enough. Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources. …

Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,” says Professor Eshel, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”

Bittman says, probably correctly, that it won’t be easy to get people to eat less meat – “the psychologically difficult and politically unpopular notion of eating less of it.” However there are examples of destructive behaviors that we’ve reduced dramatically largely by stigmatizing them socially: smoking cigarettes is one, drunken driving is another.

Eating as much meat as we do – and I say “we” because I’m no vegetarian – is bad for us. Let’s say so often, loudly, publicly, and cleverly, and meat consumption and the environmental degradation that goes with it will go down.

Newsday's Cynical and Parochial Position on Broadwater

This editorial in Newsday pissed me off. What it essentially says is, Broadwater’s LNG terminal will be really bad for Long Island Sound in lots of ways, and we oppose it, but even though it would be really bad for Long Island Sound, we would change our opinion if Broadwater provided Long Islanders with more and cheaper natural gas. It's a big Sound, and only part of it is in Long Island, but we wouldn't care if it gets degraded, we certainly wouldn't care if Connecticut's part of the Sound gets degraded, if only we could get more out of the deal than what Broadwater is offering.

It’s a cost-benefit trade-off of the most cynical and parochial sort.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Westchester's Treatment Plant Upgrade Dilemma

What should Westchester County do? Its sewage treatment plants discharge 4552 pounds of nitrogen a day into the heart of Long Island Sound's dead zone (click here for summer hypoxia maps and look for the blotches of black and dark red, usually in mid to late August). The county has enthusiastically advocated for the Sound cleanup. But now its says that upgrading its four Sound shore treatment plants so they meet the 2014 goal of a 58.5 percent reduction in nitrogen would cost residents of the four sewer districts from about $472 to $1200 a year for 30 years. Because of that cost, the county wants the state to extend the deadlines for the work, although from this story it's not clear if it wants to extend the interim deadlines or the 2014 deadline.

My solution: change the law so that all of Westchester becomes one sewer district, and then spread the cost among all county property tax payers; in exchange for that, work with New Rochelle and Mamaroneck and Rye so that they make it easier and cheaper for all county residents to use their beaches and public boat ramps.

The other way to look at the cost is like this: property tax payers in the four Sound districts will pay $1.29 to $3.29 a day to do their fair share in cleaning up the Sound. I don't think that cost is so outrageous.

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Hillary Clinton Again Says She'll Try to Stop Broadwater

Hillary Clinton still says she'll do everything in her power to stop Broadwater. She's a U.S. Senator now. What exactly is it in her power to do? If she becomes president and takes office next January 20, it might be too late, although one possibility is this: New York State says no to Broadwater next month; Broadwater would then appeal that decision to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who obviously is part of Bush's cabinet and will uphold the appeal; New York will then sue in federal court, with Bush's Commerce Department defending the suit vigorously. If Clinton were president she would obviously have her own people in place at Commerce and could decide not to stop defending the suit.

In any case, here's what Hillary told a Connecticut TV reporter yesterday:

Davis: I just came from an event where Attorney General Dick Blumenthal endorsed you and he said that you will stop Broadwater. Is that a promise that you’ve made as a senator from New York or as a presidential candidate?

Clinton: It is a promise that I’ve made for the last several years. I want to say how grateful I am to have Attorney General Blumenthal’s support. I’ve known Dick for a long time. We have worked together on issues that were important to Connecticut and New York…and I am on record…committed to preventing Broadwater. I will work with the Attorney General and when I’m president I will do everything in my power to keep our sound safe and secure.

The Times provides a roundup of the situation here. There's one new item in it -- namely that after the New York Department of State makes its decision on whether the LNG terminal merits a permit to operate in the coastal zone, Governor Spitzer will issue a formal statement, presumably explaining his case.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Developer Says Sound Tunnel Will Help Reduce Traffic But If It Doesn't, He Won't Build it.

If you're looking for an example of meaningless non-news, you have to look hard to do better than this story, in Newsday. The reporter was sent to cover the public hearing about the proposed Long Island Sound tunnel (the hearing was somewhere on Long Island, I think, although I'm not sure because the reporter doesn't say where). Covering a hearing is a pain because people tend to get up and say the same things that you've already heard and reported.

So to her credit, the reporter seems to have buttonholed developer Vincent Polimeni afterwards and asked him some questions. What she got out of him was this:

The developer who proposed a $10-billion tunnel beneath the Long Island Sound said at a hearing that he would pull the project if a regional traffic study finds it would make traffic worse.

"If it finds that it will enhance the traffic situation, we want to go forward," Garden City developer Vincent Polimeni said yesterday. "If it will make things worse, I'm stopping it. I don't want to waste more money."

Think of it: if the tunnel will make traffic worse, he won't build it. Now think of the opposite: Imagine if he had said, I don't care if the tunnel will make traffic worse, I want to build it anyway? Obviously there's no way in the world he would say that, even if it were true (whichit might be).

So why report it? I guess because Newsday had to send her and she had to come back with something.

This story, in the Journal News, is far better (for one thing, it tells us that the hearing was in the Oyster Bay Town Hall). The reporter was in on the same interview but added this:

Polimeni said he would commission a study to project the tunnel's impact on traffic - including on Interstate 287 and the Tappan Zee Bridge - and that it could be done within six months.

But Polimeni predicted that the tunnel project would not draw traffic. Rather, he said, it would help the region better handle the legions of cars and trucks already growing in number.

That at least allows us to question how objective a study is going to be if it is commissioned by a developer who has already made up his mind that the project will not increase traffic.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Phoning It In Today

Chris Zurcher has all the environment news from the region that you could possibly want -- headlines and summaries from every paper in Connecticut and beyond, it seems. You can read them here and then subscribe to his daily email.

(There was no school today because of mid-terms and so no need for me to get out of bed at 6:10 to urge a reluctant teenager to make the school bus, so I had no time to blog for real -- and Chris's headlines make it easy for me to phone it in. Which reminds me: where does the expression 'phoning it in' come from and why is it used to describe someone who is taking it easy on the job? When I was a sports reporter at the Staten Island Advance, well before the days of laptops, I'd often be sent to cover a basketball game on Long Island, say, and with the game ending shortly before deadline, I'd have to write a story in longhand and then phone it in to the desk -- dictate it to some unlucky editor. That was phoning it in, and it wasn't all that easy.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A New River Through Downtown Stamford

Down the hill from where I live the Mill River cuts a fairly straight line through a valley of Inwood marble, slowing through marshes and swamps, and then emptying into Stamford's reservoirs before continuing through the heart of Stamford to Long Island Sound. One of my opthamologists has his office on Mill River Street, in Stamford, and the last time I was there, in November, my son, Kaare, and I walked across the street and through the park to peer over the concrete wall into the river.

I can forgive the park itself for not being very attractive on a gray November day, but the river is another story -- bleak, apparently stagnant, broad and shallow, walled in by concrete, and inhabited by a handful of ducks and gulls. In that part of town it's not much more than a huge gutter.

While we were looking down into the water, I told Kaare that there had been plans to make the Mill River park and the river nicer for people and much better for wildlife, but that I hadn't heard much about it lately. Then earlier this month, Milton Puryear, who works for the Stamford planning department under a contract with the Trust for Public Land, emailed me that the city had gotten federal funding to continue the restoration of the park and the river (including dam removal, which would help restore the spring spawning runs of anadromous fish) and that the project has a new website,

It's a big project and it won't be finished quickly, but good things will start happening soon. Here's what Milton told me about scheduling:

We hope to start the river restoration and dam removals by this time next year and complete them in about 18 months.

Acquisition of the remaining large properties will range from 3-10 years.

We will launch a capital campaign this summer to raise funding for key features like fountain, skating rink, carousel, kayak launch and depending on success some of these can immediately follow the Army Corps work.

We also plan to extend the greenway upstream to Scalzi Park (3-4 yrs) to achieve a 3-mile greenway out to the Sound. Work on the east side of the river may take longer as it is tied to private development of sites along Clinton Avenue just north of the new RBS building.

There's a road called Shad Road in my town, under which the Mill River flows, presumably because in times past shad would ascend the river and spawn in these middle reaches (the river continues up for a number of miles through South Salem, and rises in Ridgefield). We'll never see anadromous fish again up here, unless Aquarion puts fish ladders on its reservoir dams. But it's nice to know that the good water that flows through Pound Ridge will reach a healtheir river in downtown Stamford.


Monday, January 21, 2008

In Praise of Wendell Berry, the Original Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan has become unavoidable and it's hard to argue that that's a bad thing. Here he is being interviewed by a Times blogger, and here he is being interviewed by a blogger for Gourmet. And here is In Defense of Food, the book he calls "An Eater's Manifesto," at number 1, top of the pops, on the Times best seller list.

With Pollan getting ink by the barrel and pixels by the billions, Gourmet, in its print edition only, does us the enormous favor of reminding us that before Michael Pollan there was Wendell Berry, who, as an essayist, poet, writer of really good novels, and farmer, has bona fides that Pollan doesn't (not that Pollan claims to have them). Here's an excerpt from Gourmet's story about Berry, which was written by John T. Edge:

... Berry has argued tirelessly for independent communities, small family farms, and local foods. His outlook marries agrarian and environmental ideologies, but he doesn't settle for either. A traditional agrarian values small farms and argues that they are essential to the politcal and social well-being of the nation; Berry claims they are key to our ecological health. Environmentalists often concern themselves with the against-all-odds protetion of wilderness; Berry believes land was meant to be worked by man.

While I'm sure that's not all he believes about land, it's an important point, and what Berry means by it is that land was meant to be worked by man and not by machines, namely huge grain combines. Small is beautiful.

I have a notebook in which I used to jot down quotations from things I was reading. Here are a few from Berry:

You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.

The Appalachian Group to Save the Land and the People ... What impressed me was the complexity of purpose announced in its name: it proposed to save the land and the people. This seems to me still an inescapable necessity. You really cannot specialize the work of conservation. You cannot save the land apart from the people or the people apart from the land. To save either, you must save both.

Good cooking must be said to begin with good farming.

We have these Wendell Berry books on our shelves: The Gift of Good Land; What Are People For?; A Continuous Harmony; Recollected Essays; Home Economics; Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community; and In the Presence of Fear (all books of essay); and Fidelity: Five Stories; A Place on Earth; The Wild Birds; and Nathan Coulter, all fiction.

Praising Berry doesn't diminish Pollan -- in fact Pollan acknowledges Berry as one of his inspirations. He's well worth checking out.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fairfield Wants Penfield Light, PETA Drops Out of Running. But Will There Be Fish Sticks Served There?

When the federal government announced some time ago that it wanted to get rid of its lighthouses and was looking for local governments or non-profits to take them over, it prompted some odd plans, including one considered for a while by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is based in Darien.

PETA's plan was to submit an application to the federal government to take over the Penfield Reef light in Farifield and convert it into a cafe and a memorial to honor dead fish. It also wanted to use other lighthouses as the sites of "fish empathy projects." Here's how PETA described it:

In all seriousness, we're applying for the lighthouses to serve as the international headquarters of our Fish Empathy Project, where we would install interactive displays promoting the protection of fish. Plus, it would be the perfect place to house the world’s first Fish Empathy Quilt.

After we submitted our application for the Penfield Reef Lighthouse, we found out that an official with the City of Fairfield—backed by the local Historical Society—is trying to obtain the lighthouse. So we wrote to him offering to bow out of the competition (which, incidentally, is just between us and him right now) if he can ensure that no cruelty to fish (such as angling or fish sticks) takes place on lighthouse grounds.

So that was PETA's ultimatum to the town of Fairfield: you want the lighthouse and we want the lighthouse, but we'll back off if you guarantee there are no fish sticks there. I'm not joking. Apparently PETA was willing to give up its plan for a memorial to dead fish but only if Fairfield made two concessions, one of which was a promise not to serve Mrs. Paul's Frozen Fish Sticks at the lighthouse.

Whether the town caved to the demand, I can't say. The Connecticut Post reported yesterday PETA never actually got around to applying and that it looks as if the town will be the only applicant. Inexplicably, the Post story ignored the questions of whether there will be fish sticks there once the town owns it.

So now that I've made fun of them, let me make a serious point about PETA, namely that it does a lot of good, important work but that issues like fish memorials and bans on fish sticks make it look silly. Concentrate on the anti-fur campaign, which is effective and worthwhile, and campaigns against factory farming, which is an atrocity (the factory farming, not the campaign), in my opinion, and forget the fish sticks.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Help Fish Spawn in Greenwich

The number of fish that swim upstream to spawn in Long Island Sound's watershed is ridiculously low. Every stream -- literally -- used to have a spring run, but dams have blocked them off. To compensate (we're always trying to compensate for our environmental mistakes; we never seem to recognize them ahead of time and avoid them), a number of towns have worked with the Connecticut DEP to build fish ladders and passageways.

One of the best and most active is on the Mianus River, in Greenwich. If I lived near closer, I'd volunteer to do this.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

New York's Three Broadwater Decisions

Three bits of information or inferences from a Courant story today about how Governor Rell really really really wants Governor Spitzer to say no to Broadwater ("I'm begging you, man!"):

1. The New York State Department of State, which has to decide whether a big, industrial LNG terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound is consistent with state standards for use of the coastal area, has a deadline of February 12, at which point Spitzer will review it. But how long he'll take or whether the department's decision will be made public while Spitzer is reviewing it (doubtful but it would be nice) is unknown.

2. Broadwater has yet to respond to the many and detailed questions and concerns that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation raised in a late-December letter. A DEC spokeswoman said it could be months before the department makes its decision.

(What I still don't understand though is this: the DEC said the Broadwater environmental impact statement didn't address a number of issues and told Broadwater that it can't make a decision until it gets more and better information; but the Department of State is using that same (flawed) environmental impact statement to make its decision -- so how could the DOS be able to say yes based on an analysis that another state agency says is flawed? Maybe one of my loyal readers in state government can explain it to me, anonymously or not.)

3. Reading between the lines, it seems that Connecticut officials might believe that their best hope is the New York Office of General Services, which has to decide whether to grant an easement to Broadwater for use of the land under its terminal (I thought it was a lease rather than an easement, but whatever). Rell said in a letter:

It is critical that these agencies carefully consider ... how Broadwater would violate the state's public trust responsibilities to manage its submerged lands and waters for the benefit of the people, not for private exploitation and profit.

Could it be that that sort of basic decision -- it's our land and we've decided we're not going to let you use it -- is the one that would be hardest to challenge in court?

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Connecticut Appears Ready to Approve Madison Landing, Next to Hammonasset

Good news for a big new development next to Hammonasset State Park in Madison, bad news for the people who want to stop it: a hearing officer for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has decided that a new-fangled sewage treatment system will be adequate to handle the waste of 127 new houses.

The project is called Madison Landing. It's proposed for the old Griswold Airport. The reason it's different and imporant is that the developer -- Leyland Alliance -- wants to build in a relatively dense, "traditional" development rather than a less dense sprawl-type development. And they want to build it next to the state's busiest park, which happens to be on Long Island Sound.

Lots of people who I respect, including my friends at Audubon Connecticut, think it's a bad idea. The fellow who writes the Connecticut Smart Growth blog, up in northwestern Connecticut, thinks it's a bad idea too. My opinion is that Connecticut needs to do something to counter prevailing development practices, which have turned much of the state into indistinguishable strips. So if Griswold Airport is going to be developed, then Leyland's plan should get a shot.
But I also agree that the state and the town of Madison should start to talk to Leyland about a sale for preservation. The Courant today says (here) that Leyland isn't interested in selling, but as someone who is in the land preservation business, I can say confidently that what developers say in public isn't always what they say in private. And money talks.

Speaking of which, the Madison residents who are opposing Madison Landing need to put their money where their mouths are, in the form of a local bond issue to raise acquisition funds and also in the form of private donations from their own bank accounts. If protecting Griswold Airport is that important, make a commitment to it.

Here's what I've had to say about Madison Landing in the past.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Silent Spitzer, Noisy Blumenthal, and the Fate of Broadwater

People seem surprised that Governor Eliot Spitzer himself has given no indication of whether New York will say yes or no to Broadwater’s proposal for a huge LNG terminal in Long Island Sound.

But look at it this way – if you were an advocate for the project, and Spitzer came out against it before his state reviewers finished their reviews, and before the FERC commissioners officially accepted the environmental impact statement, you’d have a great case that Spitzer was unfairly deciding before all the fact were in. The same is true of he came out for it and you were against it.

Spitzer is the judge. He’s right not to make a decision before all the evidence is in. And if he’s leaning one way or the other, he’s right and smart not to let on. And in any case, his departments of State and Environmental Conservation have raised some serious, skeptical questions about Broadwater. My guess is that the proposal won’t fly with those two agencies. The question is whether it will fly with the people (particularly at the Long Island Power Authority) who are reviewing it for its energy and economic benefits. We haven’t heard much from those agencies.

The Stamford Advocate has a story today about Spitzer and particularly on his relationship with Richard Blumenthal, the combative Connecticut attorney general, who has said recently he’ll sue anyone he has to – including Spitzer – to stop Broadwater. Here.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Connecticut Made a Bad Deal When It Traded Land To Allow Denser Development in Madison Next to Hammonasset

The head of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection was apparently so eager to see an old airport next to the state's busiest park developed into offices or houses that he pretty much gave away state land to allow access to the site, despite a state policy against doing so. So says the Hartford Courant, in an example of first-rate reporting aided by first-rate digging on the part of environmentalists who don't want to see the land developed.

The land that the state gave away opened the former Griswold Airport, which is 42 acres and is next to Hammonasset State Park in Madison, to the potential for much more intensive development than otherwise would have been allowed. In exchange for the access, the state received a conservation easement on one-fifth of an acre.

The property is now being considered for a 127-unit housing development, called Madison Landing, proposed by Leyland Alliance. I've praised it in the past, here, because it represents a break from the suburban sprawl that I think has marred much of the landscape in Connecticut and beyond. I've also said that if it would damage Hammonasset, opponents should concentrate on persuading the state to buy it rather than in reducing the density of the development. I don't think the news about the land swap changes my opinion of the development but it does strengthen the argument for state acquisition.

Here's what Kim Martineau of the Courant reports about the land swap:

The former DEP commissioner, Arthur Rocque Jr., had approved the easement exchange without public notification, appraisals or justifying its compatibility with park purposes, the council found. Rocque, it turns out, had ignored a policy crafted by the DEP and the Council on Environmental Quality in 1990.

Although Rocque approved the land swap, he did so despite hearing strong opposition based on sound reasoning from his staff. From the Courant

A Branford developer in 1996 proposed building a golf course on the site. To acquire the needed frontage on Route 1, the developer asked the DEP for a land swap that internally drew condemnation.

Roger Kinderman, supervisor of Hammonasset, estimated that the state land was worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars," and suggested that the state buy the airport.

"Perhaps since we already own the only access to this airport, we should buy the airport and develop an expanded, modern campground which could also be Connecticut's only salt water boating access," he proposed.

The wildlife division worried that development might degrade the state nature preserve nearby. "Exchanging road frontage owned by DEP would only help facilitate the encroachment on the natural area preserve," wrote Peter Bogue, assistant director.

"I do not see the benefit to the state on this one," echoed James Moulton, an inland fisheries director. "But it might be worth it if the trade includes all the marsh/wetland abutting the Hammonasset River."

If I were the guys at Leyland Alliance, I might have my attorney make a call today to see if the state is interested in buying the old airport, for a fair price. And the people in Madison who think the development, and who no doubt support the concept of private property and private property rights, ought to follow that with calls to the governor and their state representatives to come up with the money.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Broadwater and Wind Power

With FERC essentially having approved Broadwater's proposal to put an LNG terminal in Long Island Sound, the Hartford Courant says Connecticut should "go to the mat" in the fight against it. Not that the state doesn't already intend to do that -- Richard Blumenthal said the other day he'll sue anyone he has to, including Eliot Spitzer, to stop Broadwater from being built.

Note to Blumenthal: if you need Eliot Spitzer's cooperation in stopping Broadwater, isn't it better not to threaten him? Do you think Spitzer is somehow going to be scared off by the threat of a lawsuit? Wouldn't it be better to say something like, "I've known Eliot Spitzer for years and I'm confident that he and his staff will see this project for the environmental disaster that it is)?

Note to Hartford Courant editorial writers: the cliche-metaphor "go to the mat" is from the sport of wrestling. If you go to the mat aren't you in troulbe and about to get pinned? How about a boxing cliche instead? Connecticut should go for the KO or, failing that, the TKO.

Rhode Island, meanwhile, is considering wind energy projects in four places -- two off Little Compton, one off Block Island, and one off Watch Hill, not far from the Sound. Here's The Day's story.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fairfield Replaces Its Environmental Watchdog on a Big Project Because He Was Too Tough

There’s an interesting conflict going on in the town of Fairfield, when the First Selectman has brought in a consultant to make sure that environmental regulations are being adhered to by a big development, because the people who should be overseeing it – the town’s Conservation Departmen – were being too tough.

The head of the Conservation Department is Tom Steinke, who long-time Long Island Sound-watchers know as the former co-chair of the Long Island Sound Study’s Citizens Advisory Committee. From everything I’ve heard, his reputation is golden. But apparently First Selectman Kenneth Flatto didn’t like it that Steinke was keeping a close watch on the so-called Metro Center, a project that the town is co-developer of. The Connecticut Post (here) describes the project as …

… a joint effort of the town, state Department of Transportation and Blackrock Realty, would include the town's third train station, 1,500 rail commuter parking spaces, a hotel, office buildings, a health club and retail space.

The project, slated to be built on 35.5 acres across from BJ's Wholesale Club on lower Black Rock Turnpike, was unveiled in January 2001, but construction has yet to start, despite several groundbreaking photo opportunities and missed construction milestones.

Environmentalists in Fairfield have several reasons for being pissed off at Flatto for pulling Steinke. Some of them have to do with their assertion that by doing so, Flatto violated the town charter. Others are annoyed because Flatto seems to be one of those think-skinned elected officials who doesn’t take kindly to public criticism and shows little compunction about letting the criticizer know how he feels:

Some environmentalists said they were reluctant to criticize Flatto on the issue for fear that he might take retribution against them on other initiatives.

"Any of the times I've criticized Ken, he's called me immediately, come over or left a note at my door, being very upset," said Miner, a Democrat.

Ritter, an unaffiliated voter, said Flatto was "very public in his unhappiness" with her when she criticized a power line project that was later scuttled.

Brown said Flatto used to call him at home after letters he wrote to area newspapers were published until Brown filed a complaint against Flatto with the town's Ethics Commission.

Brown said his complaint didn't go anywhere, but that Flatto got the message. "He'll go after you He won't call me, just because he knows better," he said. "I kind of said, 'Do it again, and I'll file a complaint with the Police Department.' "

As for the question of whether Flatto’s action violates the town charter, the Post provides a lot of he said-she said but doesn’t do the one thing that might throw some light on the issue: quote the relevant section of the town charter. Granted, there must be some room for interpretation, but how about letting us read it and see for ourselves?


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Did Broadwater Answer All the Questions New York Asked 21 Days Ago?

On the day after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released the Broadwater final environmental impact statement with the conclusion that the LNG proposal is genrally a sound and safe one, it's worth reiterating that Broadwater not only needs approval from FERC, it needs approval from New York State, including several permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

It was just three weeks ago, on December 21, that the DEC sent
this letter to Broadwater and its attorneys, with copies to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, detailing why Broadwater's permit applications were incomplete and inadequate and why, the DEC believed, the environmental impact statement should be changed to address the incompletions and inadequacies.

A lot of them critiques are technical and hard for me to understand. But they raise an interesting point as to timing. Here's one example, regarding air quality and tiny particles of pollution that Broadwater's Long Island Sound terminal would spew into the air. It's tough reading but slog through it and then I have a question and a larger point:

The application discusses the impacts of the project on PM2.5 levels in the context of Commissioner's Policy 33 (CP-33. Assessing and Mitigating Impacts of Fine Particulate Matter Emissions. 12/29/2003) on pages 4 8 to 4 10. It concludes that even though these impacts are above the thresholds in CP 33 that would require an environmental impact statement, such a Draft EIS has been submitted to FERC. We previously commented on this analysis and do not know yet FERC's conclusions in the Final EIS.

However, it is seen from Tables 11 to 13 that the impacts from AERMOD predictions are above the 24 hour PM2.5 standard of 35 ug/m3 with and without the carriers next to the FSRU, when the maximum regional background level from the protocol is added to the project impacts. If this background level is used for the OCD model results in Tables 8 to 10, the same standards violations would result. As noted previously, these results do not account for comments 1 and 2 above which could increase the level of impacts.

These projected violations are unacceptable for inclusion in the FERC EIS, and for DEC permitting purposes. Broadwater can revisit the background levels, which they note to be conservative, using procedures allowed in EPA's Modeling Guidelines. In addition, the application (and FEIS) should discuss all measures which Broadwater can take to minimize the impacts of PM2.5 not only to meet CP 33 requirements, but also because the location of the project can be deemed to be in the PM2.5 nonattainment area. [emphasis added]

Now, I haven't read the 2,000-plus-page environmental impact statement, but is it possible that in the 21 days between the DEC's letter and the release of the EIS, Broadwater has answered the state's question and modified the EIS? The state's letter is long and is filled with similar critiques and requests for further information and analysis. In 21 days, could Broadwater have satisfactorily addressed all of them?

The state's decision will be based on the application and the supporting information in the EIS. If Broadwater hasn't responded adequately, is there any way the state can approve a permit? If the EIS was not modified in the 21 days since the DEC sent its letter, presumably Broadwater would still have time to change its application to the state. But if Broadwater modifies its application to the state, doesn't the information and analysis in the application have to correspond to the information and analysis in the EIS?

The answer might be simple: Broadwater answered all the state's concerns and the environmental impact statement was modified over the last three weeks to reflect that. Or Broadwater didn't answer the questions.

There's another possibility: the state's letter was a formality, sent to create a record of the state's concerns, and that in reality the state officials and Broadwater had been working together all along to solve the state's issues. In other words, the letter was the conclusion of a collaborative process and Broadwater had plenty of time to change the EIS.

I have no idea which scenario is the right one. At some point perhaps I'll wade into the EIS and try to figure it out. But for now, it will be fascinating to watch how New York State responds.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Unsurprisingly FERC Says Yes to Broadwater, Which Leaves the Real Decision Up to New York and Maybe the Courts

People might be outraged but nobody who is honest is surprised that the staff of FERC thinks Broadwater is a good idea, as FERC announced today when it released the final environmental impact statement for the project. As I've said before, expecting FERC to say no to a big energy project is like expecting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut down a nuclear power plant: it's not going to happen because that's not the business they're in.

So the questions now are whether New York State will live up to its history of courageously rejecting bad projects -- like Davids Island in the western end of the Sound and the Iroquois pipeline crossing of the Hudson River and the St. Lawrence Cement plant near the city of Hudson -- and reject Broadwater too. I think it will.

But if it does, will Broadwater prevail in federal court, which is no doubt where it will go, arguing that the federal energy act trumps the federally-authorized state coastal zone laws? We'll see.

Read more from FERC about today's announcement, here.

It's not a surprise that the staff of FERC thinks Broadwater is a good idea. Back in May Judy Benson in The Day explained why we shouldn't be surprised at the announcement, here.

And the commision itself of course won't reject Broadwater. Among other reasons, one of the commissioners used to be a partner in the law firm that represents Broadwater, as Denise Civiletti pointed out back in July (here):

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.

A lot of news stories about the announcement moved this afternoon. Here's The Day, in which Adrienne Esposito says she's not surprised. Here's Denise Civiletti, who characterizes the FEIS as a major hurdle -- perhaps, but if so, it's a low one. Here's the Journal News blog. Here's Jodi Rell saying the FEIS is a travesty (as if she's read it), Richard Blumenthal saying he'll sue on Connecticut's behalf if he has too, and Chris Dodd saying the project is too dangerous and disruptive to be approved.

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Can the Coast Guard Keep Us Safe if Broadwater is Built? The Federal Government Says No

The federal government says that, as things stand now, the Coast Guard is having trouble keeping the coast secure, and that it definitely lacks the resources to deal with the increased need for security that new liquefied natural gas terminals and their tankers will create.

Is that bad news for Broadwater? Over the short term, it should be. How can the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approve Broadwater's plan for an LNG terminal in Long Island Sound if they can't guarantee it will be safe? That's what three Congressmen from the Sound area contend.

The question of course is this: if one branch of the federal government -- namely FERC -- decides that Broadwater is needed and would be a benefit to the region, isn't it the responsibility of the other branches to help figure out how to make the project work, in this case by providing more funds for the Coast Guard? Or would that amount to a public subsidy of private industry? We already subsidize lots of private businesses by providing security (also known as police). So why shouldn't we do the same for Broadwater?

One reason perhaps is that the public subsidies are starting to add up. There's the use of the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound for the terminal itself. There's the closure of parts of the Sound as tankers come in and out. There's the loss of fish, a public resource, killed by the Broadwater cooling system. There's the destruction of scenic views cherished by the public. I'm sure readers can add others as well. And at some point the cost-benefit ratio begins to tilt more towards the cost than then benefit.

If you're a staunch opponent of Broadwater to begin with, the government report is not another point to debate. It's another reason to say no. That seems to be what Congressman Courtney, Bishop and DeLauro are saying, here, in the New London Day.

Denise Civiletti, on eastern Long Island, has a news story about the U.S. Government Accountability Office report, here. And a sumary of the report itself is here.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Listening to Michael Pollan

By luck I was in the car shortly after noon today and heard Leonard Lopate interviewing Michael Pollan about his new book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. I think Pollan is great, and the interview was worth hearing. You can get the podcast here.


Want to Eat Blackfish from Long Island Sound? Just Ask for Way-bah

I’ve eaten blackfish once. Twenty years ago I drove down to City Island to interview recreational fishermen as they were coming in from a day on one of the party boats. Generally the party boats look for bluefish but one of the guys I talked had caught some blackfish. The boat’s mate had filleted them and put them in a plastic bag for his customer to take home, but the guy didn’t want them, so when he offered, I took them. We ate the blackfish that night, and it was delicious.

Nobody’s giving them away now. A couple of weeks ago, the Stamford Advocate had a story about how traps set for blackfish in Norwalk Harbor were killing other fish. The reason traps were being set for blackfish is that a market for them had developed in Manhattan.

And then a story just came across from the Village Voice about a black market for blackfish in Chinatown. Here’s some of what reporter Elizabeth Dwoskin wrote:

The Chinese call the fish way-bah, and customers need to ask for it by name or point it out when it's displayed in a tank. The menu at this restaurant only listed "fried fish," with no mention of the species.

Two decades ago, the tautog, or black fish, was hardly a popular fish, but it has become one of the most expensive and frequently harvested fish in the region. At the same time, there has been a drastic decline in many fish populations across the Atlantic Coast. The shortage has left fisherman—including lobstermen on the Long Island Sound—scrambling to regain their livelihoods.

The state's size limit protects tautog reproduction, and since a management plan was put in place in 1996, the decline, biologists say, is leveling off. But more needs to be done to return the population to healthier numbers.

Although the DEC limits the annual blackfish catch to 68,000 pounds, that doesn't take the black market into account. Regulators say that's because poaching is too difficult to measure, and, with only a handful of officers to watch over 30 managed species, even tougher to police.

"We need to take some action to identify the scale of this," says Alice Weber, a marine biologist at the DEC who thinks that the illegal activity is "significantly affecting the agency's ability to manage the resource."

Scientists say the price of blackfish should be leveling off along with the population levels, but instead, it just keeps going up. That baffling statistic causes them to suspect that poaching is on the rise.

Today, live tautog can fetch more than $10 per pound in Chinatown, making it one of the five most expensive fish, says LaCroix. In the early 1980s, the fish went for "next to nothing," says Christopher Vonderwiedt, a project coordinator for the commission. But the price began to rise along with the expansion of live markets serving Asian immigrant communities, which nationwide more than doubled between 1980 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census. At the same time, the fish population began an abrupt decline, plummeting from 90 million pounds to 30 million during the following decade.

Though it's impossible to tell without poaching figures, scientists say the live markets can't be fully blamed for that drop. The real culprit is the severe strain that overfishing has placed upon the entire Atlantic ecosystem. Fisheries that were once far more popular than tautog, such as cod and winter flounder, experienced debilitating population declines starting in the mid-'80s. Those losses led fishermen to turn to blackfish, says Sandra Dumais, a Long Island–based marine biologist at the DOC.

The turn to blackfish may be particularly acute in the Long Island Sound, where lobstermen have never recovered after a major die-off in the winter of 1999-2000. Officers like LaCroix and Powers frequently write tickets for violations involving lobster pots, which, besides bait and tackle, are the primary means—both legal and illegal—to catch tautog.

"Years ago, it was kind of a bycatch in the lobster pots; people threw it away because it wasn't worth a lot of money—maybe a nickel a pound. Then the price goes up, and it becomes a targeted species," says Jim King, a lobsterman and trustee in the town of Southhold, Long Island.

I guess poaching is a big deal although my guess is that the DEC is so understaffed their enforcement efforts are probably not much more than a nuisance to the restaurants selling under-sized fish. On the other hand, I think it’s fantastic whenever fishermen can catch and sell something from Long Island Sound. That’s what our estuaries and coastal waters are for.

The voice story is fascinating. Read it here.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blumenthal Tells New York that Blue Oceans Means There's No Need for Broadwater

I have no idea if, when he was New York's Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer had a good relationship with Richard Blumenthal, his counterpart in Connecticut, but if he did he might take more seriously Blumenthal's arguments against Broadwater's proposal to put a liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound, just over the border in New York's waters.

Yesterday Blumenthal sent a letter to the New York State Office of General Services, which will have to decide whether Broadwater (Shell and TransCanada) should get a lease to use the state-owned land at the bottom of the Sound. He argued that a recent proposal by Blue Ocean Energy (Exxon Mobil) for the Atlantic Ocean would safer and would do less damage to the environment than Broadwater's proposal. From Blumenthal's press release:

He stated that the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) mandates consideration of alternatives, including the newly proposed BlueOcean Energy LNG. SEQRA says that the office must reject Broadwater if an alternative is safer with less environmental impact and provides comparable service.

Blumenthal wrote that Exxon's recently proposed BlueOcean Energy LNG -- 20 miles off New Jersey -- is such an alternative, promising to provide New York with 20 percent more natural gas than Broadwater while causing less environmental damage and posing fewer public safety risks. New York law therefore requires rejection of Broadwater, he said.

"BlueOcean Energy is a clear, direct alternative to Broadwater, which is obviously far less dangerous and destructive to the environment than Broadwater," Blumenthal wrote. "While Broadwater would devastate pristine, untouched areas in Long Island Sound and endanger the lives of countless recreational and commercial sailors, the BlueOcean Energy project would be located 20 miles off the coast, away from crowded areas of the Sound. BlueOcean would also deliver 1.2 bcfd of natural gas, 20 percent more gas than Broadwater, directly to the important New York and New Jersey gas markets.

"Compared with BlueOcean Energy, Broadwater has far greater negative environmental impact. Broadwater would require approximately 30 miles of undersea pipe while BlueOcean would build only 20 miles. Further, the seafloor of Long Island Sound has unique and highly vulnerable natural resources that would be compromised by construction as described in the Attorney General's comments of April 20, 2007.

"Finally, due to the confined environment of the Sound, any accident or terrorist attack involving either the LNG facility or its attendant tankers would pose a vastly greater threat of unacceptable damage than would an accident in open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, the impact minimization requirement of SEQRA mandates denial of the Broadwater project."

SEQRA is an interesting and sometimes maddening law that can frustrate developers, environmentals, neighborhood activists, and even the agency trying to use it to decide what to do on a project -- and all at the same time. It can also be manipulated successfully by any of those or their lawyers. But when it's used right it can actually help lead to a rational decision.

In this case, where three New York agencies -- OGS and the departments of State and Environmental Conservation -- have to make independent decisions based on SEQRA, you'd imagine that it would work something like this: each agency follows its regulations and the laws, keeping the governor's staff informed along the way. Meanwhile, the governor starts to form his own opinion, perhaps guided by Judith Enck, who oversees his environmental program. If the agencies reach conclusions that the governor agrees with, he lets them proceed. If they don't, maybe they work it out, either by the agency convincing the governor that it's making the right decision or by the governor convincing the agency that it ought to look at the situation a bit harder.

In either case, Blumenthal's opinion could carry serious weight, assuming he had a mutually respectiful relationship with Spitzer to begin with.

Here's Newday's story; and Chris Zurcher mentions it on his relatively new blog, here.


Monday, January 07, 2008

The Taste of Long Island Sound

Sketch Pad: A Renovation on Long Island Sound

The Sunday Times has a new feature, called Sketch Pad, in which they find a house or an apartment that needs work, and then they ask an architect to design something new for it. Yesterday's happened to be a house in Clinton, Connecticut, on a tidal creek that leads to Long Island Sound. It's not modern, particularly, but it sounds like a good way to readapt a decent house rather than razing it and building a McMansion. And they strove for energy efficiency:

The whole house has been redesigned for the conservation-minded. Although the windows facing the marsh have been made much bigger, they are certainly more efficient than the tiny ones that inexplicably offered only a peek at the marsh and the tree-covered point beyond. The existing fireplace has been kept; the architects envision geothermal heating, solar collectors and scads of insulation.

I laughed at this part:

“If the phragmites are cut down,” Mr. Grover said, “you could put in a walk to the dock.”

Sure. Phragmites probably should be cut down, but convincing the local wetlands commission to let you do so and then put a walk through the wetlands would take longer than getting the house built.

Here's the story. Click on the slideshow, on the left side of the Times page, for a good look and some interesting audio from one of the architects, William Grover.

I also posted this on Modern, our new blog.


Build a Tunnel Under the Sound and It's Just a Matter of Time Before the Traffic Will Arrive to Fill It

Vincent Polimeni, the real estate developer who wants to build a for-profit tunnel under Long Island Sound, from Syosset to Rye, implies that anyone who doesn't seen the benefit of his proposal is being obtuse:

The benefits to the region's environment can be summed up, he said, in "simple mathematics." Whereas it takes a 45-mile trip to go from point A to point B, the tunnel would cut the distance to 16 miles.

"So just that savings alone is huge, in terms of gas consumption, in terms of pollutants put in the air and all that means," he said.

Right. More transportation infrastructure results in less traffic. That's why Los Angeles has high air quality and no traffic jams. That why's Staten Island, where I grew up, is as quiet and bucolic as it was before Robert Moses built the Verrazanno Bridge and the Staten Island Expressway.

Sorry, Mr. Polimeni. It's pretty much an iron-clad law of road building that when a new highway or bridge or tunnel opens, it eases traffic congestion for a while -- a relatively short while. But soon drivers realize there's a new highway or bridge or tunnel where the traffic isn't so bad, and the vaccuum gets filled.

Polimeni's quote comes from Phil Reisman, in the Journal News, here, who lets the history of other grandiose traffic projects convey his skepticism. Background and other opinions here.


Governor Spitzer Will Say No -- or Yes -- to Broadwater

Will Eliot Spitzer say yes or no to Broadwater? No one knows, including Newsday.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Protecting Modern Houses

There's a new post about how to protect your modern house and get a tax break, at our new modern house blog, Modern, here. In it I modestly suggest that the owner of the Alice Ball House in New Canaan ought to consider it.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Birth of the Modern -- Our New Blog

Regular readers and regular Googlers know that I occasionally veer off and write about things besides Long Island Sound and the environment, most frequently modern houses. I've always thought it was a juxtaposition that didn't make much sense; and it also effectively excluded my wife, Gina, from participating, and she knows far more about modern things that I do.

So we did what anybody in our predicament would do -- we started a new blog, called, simply enough, Modern. As of now there's only one introductory post but henceforth all of my modern house posts will be there, and a lot of new posts from Gina too, I hope.

So if you're interested in modern houses, the Harvard Five, New Canaan's modern house day, Philip Johnson and the Alice Ball House, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Eliot Noyes, John Johansen, Edward Durell Stone, the Glass House, the house in Pound Ridge that Moore and Hutchins designed (and which we live in), and a lot of other modern things, stop by often. It's right here.

And for a while anyway I'll cross-post my modern house stuff here, for those readers who don't catch on right away.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Let's See It In Lights: Slow Down to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Driving around during my Christmas vacation (often fruitlessly, but that’s another story), I got to thinking about all these new-ish signs on the highways that tell you in lights if there’s a traffic jam ahead or when construction is scheduled for the near future, and specifically I thought about how they can be used when there’s no traffic jam or construction work.

What prompted this were comments Bryan and Sam made to this post from last month, in which I linked to a Gristmill post that showed that trading in an SUV that gets 16 mpg for one that gets 23 mpg saves twice as much gas as trading in a car that gets 32 for a hybrid that gets 47. Bryan and Sam pointed out that if you really want to use less gas, you should slow down too.

Can people be persuaded to do so? Would they be more willing to drive slowly if they were reminded that by doing so they can help fight global climate change?

What if the highway signs occasionally said something like, “Slow down. Driving 55 instead of 65 reduces the carbon footprint of your trip by 15%.”

Or something (I made up the 15 percent but somebody smarter than me can figure out the real number).

I think some people will go for it. And the more people that go for it, the more conspicuous the non-compliers will be, which might result in a form of peer pressure.

I tried it one day after Christmas when my son and I went to see the Siberian tigers at the Beardsley Park Zoo, in Bridgeport (this was a couple of days after the tiger fatality in San Francisco, and we were mainly interested in looking at the huge beasts and imagining what we’d do if…). On the Merritt, I set the car’s cruise control at 55 (the speed limit, which of course nobody obeys). I don’t know how much gas I saved but I sure felt self-righteous, and the truth is, with all the slow-downs on the Merritt, we didn’t really lose any time by maxing-out at 55.

Note to the New York State Department of Transportation and the Connecticut Department of Transportation: You ought to try it.

Slow down. Driving 55 instead of 65 reduces the carbon footprint of your trip.

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Fishers Out of the Wilderness

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals, published in 1980 says of the fisher, an animal not shy about defending itself, “A valuable fur-bearer, with female skins especially prized, in many areas it has been extirpated; loss of habitat has also depleted populations, for it requires extensive wilderness.”

If that was true then, it’s not so much now. Three or four years ago an acquaintance who was the head of Bedford Audubon told me that someone who knew what he was talking about found fisher tracks in northern Westchester, which, despite some areas of intact habitat, is not quite an extensive wilderness. And for a few years there have been reports of a fisher in southeastern Connecticut.

The other day, Rae-Jean Davis, an animal control officer for the town of Stonington, caught one, the New London Day reported:

… a snarling, hissing fisher, which rushed the side of the cage when it saw her approach …

She said she was concerned the fisher would come out of the cage and bite her. She used a leash to open the front door of the cage while standing behind it. She said the slightly woozy animal then ran off into the woods off Chesebro Lane, just outside the borough.

Reports of fisher cats in southeastern Connecticut have increased in recent years. The state Department of Environmental Protection reintroduced fisher cats into northwestern Connecticut in 1989, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that fishers live in the woodlands of the proposed route for the extension of Route 11.

In 2005, residents of a Gales Ferry neighborhood were convinced that fishers were responsible for the disappearance of numerous cats, squirrels and ducks.

The fisher – Martes pennanti – is a weasel, bigger than a marten or a mink. The Audubon guide says the origin of its common name is unknown, but it adds, “If disturbed, it hunches its back like a cat and may hiss, snarl, growl, or spit,” which presumably accounts for why some people call it a fisher cat. If you’re wondering how tough it is, it likes to eat porcupines. It will also eat your house cat if it wants to.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Eve Bird

On a late afternoon walk yesterday, heading down Trinity Pass toward the Mill River, I was in front of Judge Kelly's place when a big bird caught my eye. It was drifting above the river toward the reservoir and I knew immediately it wasn’t a turkey vulture. I watched it sail, and I saw it bank against the wind above the trees to the north. Its tail was white and its head was white. A bald eagle, indeed -- the first I’ve seen in Pound Ridge.
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