Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Snowy Owl at Stratford Point

This short HD video of the snowy owl that showed up at Stratford Point today is worth a look. The guys at Connecticut Audubon shot it, and also have a good number of great photos on their blog, here.

Snowy Owl at Stratford Point from Connecticut Audubon Society on Vimeo.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Keep Westchester's Nature Centers Open

Lots of organizations and environmental advocates are mobilizing to convince the Westchester County Board of Legislators to restore funding for the county's six nature centers in next year's budget. I had a few more thoughts about it this morning.

When County Executive Rob Astorino says he's shutting down the six centers, he means the buildings at six preserves; the preserves themselves will stay open for passive use, though they will not be staffed. All the programs will end, including camps and whatever conservation-maintenance work is done by the six curators. But the public will still be able to visit those preserves and, in the cases of Marshlands and Edith G. Read preserves, in Rye, have access to Long Island Sound.

Nevertheless, those curators play an important role. They help educate visitors -- an in particular, the curators at Marshlands and Read help educate visitors about the Sound and its habitats, which helps build support for restoring and protecting the Sound.

The curators keep an eye out for vandalism or other destructive behavior. They pick up trash on the shoreline, which makes the experience of visiting a whole lot nicer.

They watch and record the goings-on in the natural world, which I happen to think is a valuable function. When I worked in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle, I would not occasionally call Marshlands and ask for information (When was it that the dead sea turtle washed up onto your marsh? When do you start seeing terrapins nesting? What year was it that a black rail visited?) and the curator would look in her records and tell me. The record-keeping at Trailside Museum, at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, is even more comprehensive. They have an old-fashioned library-type card-catalogue for all the species seen in the reservation (which is 4,300 acres and very varied) going back to the first curator, in the 1930s. At Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers, a rufous hummingbird (a rare visitor from the west) has been visiting the hummingbird feeder this month, to the great excitement of birders. Those observations and activities will be curtailed if the centers close.

Are they essential? No. Are they important and do they make life here in Westchester better for a fair number of us? Unquestionably.

I hope the county board puts money for the nature centers back into the budget.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Closing Westchester's Nature Centers: Will the Backlash Succeed?

Federated Conservationists of Westchester County emailed an action alert today, asking Westchester residents to call their county legislators and tell them to restore funding for the six nature centers that County Executive Rob Astorino wants to shut down:

Dear FCWC Members and Friends,

As you may be aware, Westchester County's proposed 2012 budget includes 210 layoffs and further cuts across many departments. A large percentage of these layoffs and cuts have come from the Conservation Division of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, including the defunding of all six (6) nature centers and the wildlife biology monitoring program. This Division is tasked with protecting the natural resources of County parkland, and these layoffs further erode environmental programs that have already been reduced.

In the past when such cuts have been proposed, FCWC and its members have acted aggressively against them, as they undermine the importance of the environmental aspects of County government and Westchester County as a whole. That time has come again. We urge you to reach out to your local legislators through emails, phone calls, and letters, and to attend one of the public budget hearings to let your concerns with these proceedings be known. Further information on the budget hearings, and a directory of legislators can be found here.

And someone else -- probably Friends of Trailside but I'm not sure -- has started an online petition to keep it open. I read about it in Patch, here.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

We Regret to Inform You that Trailside is Closing

The staff at Trailside Nature Museum, at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, responded to the news that County Executive Rob Astorino is laying them off and closing Trailside with this email, which I received from someone else today:

It is with great sadness that we inform you that after 74 years of continuous operation Trailside Museum will be closing its doors effective January 1st. This includes a layoff of all museum staff. Built during the Great Depression by the CCC, the Museum has provided countless learning and enjoyment opportunities to Westchester and other area residents. While the Reservation will remain open, the programs and camp run out of the Museum will cease to exist. We apologize to all of you who will be personally affected by this change, and urge you to let your local County legislators know how you feel. For more information on how you can help, please contact us at: (914) 864-7322.

I haven't heard if any of the Friends groups that support the six county nature centers are planning to rally the troops. If anyone knows, email me.

I publish anonymous comments, by the way, but only if they're substantive and avoid attacks on individuals. If you're going to attack someone, I'd like to know who you are.


Greenwich Oysterman Is Thinking About Suing the Town

The Greenwich oysterman whose Fjord Fisheries business was shut down after raw sewage spilled into Long Island Sound near his oyster beds is indeed considering suing the town.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Westchester Means When It Says It will Close Its Six Nature Centers

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is planning to close the county’s six nature centers -- Marshlands Conservancy and Edith G. Read preserve, both in Rye; Trailside Museum, at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation; Croton Point; Cranberry Lake, in North White Plains; and Lenoir Preserve, in Yonkers.

The decision was part of his 2012 budget, which was released yesterday.

The Parks department is only a small part of the budget, and there are social services that are more important, but nonetheless there were few details either in the budget message or in today’s Journal News story.

For example, I wondered whether by closing Marshlands, did Astorino mean that the building will be shut and the staff laid off but that the park and the pubic access to Long Island Sound will remain open? Or did he mean a chain will be put across the driveway and no one will be allowed in? Ditto for Edith Read.

Other nature centers pose a different question. If he closes Trailside and the Croton Point nature center, obviously he will not be closing those entire parks. But in the case of Trailside, it's not just a nature center; it's a museum with collections that have some value. What will happen to them?

This morning I emailed Donna Greene’s, the county’s deputy communications director. She responded that the buildings at all six centers will be closed and the staff laid off, but the preserves themselves will remain open for passive recreation. Here are the reasons, from her email (with my interpretation in parentheses):

Least impact on revenues. (Nobody pays to get into Marshlands or Cranberry Lake, for example, so no revenue will be lost by closing them.)
Facilities can be physically "closed."
Local facilities offer similar services (Beczak, Greenburgh Nature Center, Rye Nature Center, Teatown)
(Westchester County has many nature centers -- which is true -- so we can do without these, or so the reasoning goes.)
Conservation continues at Muscoot, Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Lasdon Park, Bronx River Parkway Reservation (presumably this means that the staffs at those parks will continue conservation work -- whatever conservation work is: habitat management? -- but that conservation work will not continue at Croton Point, Lenoir, Cranberry Lake, Lenoir, Marshlands or Edith G. Read).

One question that Donna did not yet know the answer to is what will happen to the collections at Trailside. I’m familiar with only a little of what is there but it’s impressive: a detailed card catalogue of biodiversity data at the park going back decades; a big, important nature library; a collection of Native American literature and artifacts. The museum even has the fossilized bones of a mastodon dug up in the 1970s on the shores of Lake Kitchawan in Pound Ridge.

Great curators and naturalists have worked for the county nature centers -- Nick Shoumatoff, Ed Kanze, Beth Herr, Alison Beall, Jason Klein, Ken Soltesz, Leah Cullen, to name just the ones that pop into my head now.

It’s a shame their legacy is being washed downstream.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

As I Suggested, Asian Shore Crabs Are Now On the Menu

Bun Lai, the chef at Miya's Sushi in New Haven, is serving Asian Shore Crabs, an invasive species that have become abundant in Long Island Sound and other nearby waters:

The dish “kanibaba”— made with Asian shore and Dungeness crabs and spinach, rolled up tightly in potato skin, infused with Asian shore crab stock, and topped with toasted havarti cheese and lemon dill sauce — is now one of the most popular items at Lai’s restaurant, Miya’s, in downtown New Haven. “We run out of them at this point,” he says. “We go out and get thousands of them, and we sell thousands of them every week or so.” Kanibaba has become the signature dish of his “Invasive Species Menu,” a chapter in Miya’s 60-page menu that reads like a manifesto on sustainability, spirituality, and the creative process.

I'd like to point out, with all due modesty, that I had unusual foresight, culinarily-speaking, when I suggested cooking them back in 2005 (here).

Next time I'm in New Haven, I'll stop in for lunch. This is actually a fascinating story, I came upon it on Read it here.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Nuclear New York City

Rod Adams, who runs a website called, wrote in the other day in response to a post of mine about Entergy’s vision of providing electricity to New York City by building small nuclear power plants throughout the five boroughs.

He pointed out that small nuclear reactors are fairly common, on submarines and ships, for example. He added, “I really like the idea of building and operating networks of small nuclear reactors to power our modern society.”

So I responded:

I'd be interested in hearing more about nuclear-powered cities, with the understanding that in New York City they can't even put bicycle lanes on the roads without causing civic unrest. Nuke plants are unthinkable for reasons of public acceptance alone.

Among the questions I have are: Where would they be located? A quick look at the maps that were produced as part of the Hurricane Irene evacuation plan shows that a good part of the city is already threatened by sea level rise. Where would spent fuel be kept? And if a permanent spent fuel repository was ever built, how would you get it safely out of the city? How big of a security area around each would there have to be?

He wrote back and said that while he hasn’t spent much time in New York, what he saw when he was there leads him to believe it’s an idea worth pursuing:

I saw a lot of industrial facilities and power plants whose sites would be substantially improved if they were converted into being the home of small nuclear power plants that are similar in size to the ones that power aircraft carriers or submarines. Interestingly enough, NYC residents have already demonstrated on numerous occasions that they accept small reactors in their city when they are moored in the harbor.

Servicing either a floating nuclear plant or one that is built with ready access to the water would be relatively straightforward. Handling waste material would be easier - due to far lower volumes - than handling the industrial waste that is already being generated to produce electricity.

Our current perception of public acceptance is no reason to take viable options off of the table. People in NYC need reliable electrical power in order to survive. If you took a poll, some (perhaps most) might indicate a preference for anything other than nuclear, but that is a matter of not understanding the physical limitations and impacts of the alternatives. I can just imagine what the city would be like if it tried to obtain a significant fraction of its power needs from the wind or the sun - especially on a day like the one that we experienced during the OpSail parade.

If people worried about nuclear energy are reminded of events like the power plant explosion in Middletown, CT in January 2010 or the San Bruno pipeline explosion in September 2010, they will understand that natural gas may be relatively clean compared to other fossil fuels, but using it is certainly not without risk.

Since you mention the sea level rise that might come as a result of continuing to pump about 20 billion tons per year of CO2 into the atmosphere, don't you think that it is time to take more advantage of a power source that is clean enough to run inside a submarine - and safe enough to power floating cities carrying thousands of patriotic young Americans?


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bridgeport's Present and Future

I spent about 15 minutes strolling around downtown Bridgeport after the Long Island Sound Citizens Summit a couple of weeks ago. Among my impressions were that this compact area still had plenty of beautiful buildings, still in good shape, from its golden era. Another impression was that in the middle of a Friday afternoon, there was no street life at all.

Every time I hear Mayor Bill Finch speak (including at the Citizens Summit) I’m impressed with his vision for the city. I came away from my walk with a dozen questions about Bridgeport’s future.

Then this morning, the mayor himself (@MayorBillFinch) tweeted a link to this story, from Metropolis magazine, which answers virtually every question I had.

A few key paragraphs:

A short stroll from the train station, the downtown area is tantalizing. It’s small but has a decent mix of handsome historic buildings, inoffensive modern ones, and the usual oversupply of parking garages. Unlike downtown Stamford, 23 miles west, it hasn’t been redeveloped into one seamless, soulless office park. …

So this is it, the moment for Bridgeport and other struggling cities (like Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland…) to blossom. It’s time for a revival of those cities that were abandoned by the industries that once sustained them and have thus far been untouched by the waves of prosperity that have buoyed our showcase cities. Why now? The conventional wisdom about cities has finally changed. …

So far, the evidence in Bridgeport of a newfound love affair with the city is real but modest. Eversley takes me on a walking tour of downtown. There are old banks, like Citytrust, whose offices have been converted to desirable rental apartments, and ones like the squat, temple-shaped Mechanics and Farmers Savings Bank building, which is still awaiting rescue. The developer Eric Anderson restored the old Arcade Hotel and has attracted a cupcake bakery, a Mexican café, and a nonchain pharmacy to the downtown’s lovely 19th-century light court. Another developer, Philip Kuchma, recently completed a complex called Bijou Square, a historic restoration paired with new construction, which includes 84 units of housing and a 1910 theater reopening this summer with indie films, live entertainment, and a lobby bar.

By the way, here a some things I had to say in August about Bridgeport’s really big, really expensive sewage infrastructure needs, which are essential to a thriving waterfront.

It’s time to show Bridgeport some love -- I just wish at this point it had more to love.

Will Greenwich Make Good to the Oysterman Whose Business Was Shut Down by the Town's 40-60,000 Gallon Sewage Spill?

The Town of Greenwich spilled 40,000 to 60,000 gallons of raw sewage into a cove on Long Island Sound, shutting down Jardar Nygaard and his Fjord Fisheries oyster business for at least 10 days.

Nygaard is rightly upset because the holidays are coming and he has orders to fill. The Greenwich Time reported:

Nygaard is concerned about the effect the closure will have on his business, especially with the Thanksgiving holiday less than two weeks away.

"When you miss key dates on deliveries you lose customers, and you lose them for good," he said.

Whether sewage spills are accidents or not, they generally are permit violations.

I would hope the Town of Greenwich makes restitution somehow to Nygaard, or that Nygaard is successful in a natural resources damages suit.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Entergy, the Company that Owns Indian Point, Wants to Build Nuclear Power Plants Throughout New York City

The people who own and operate the Indian Point nuclear power plants have this amazing vision: powering New York City by building a bunch a small nuclear power plants and scattering them through city neighborhoods. Seriously.

They have this vision because they think that we the public are exaggerating the risks of radiation exposure.

I learned about it just now when I finally read New York magazine's current piece about Indian Point and New York's energy issues, called "A Slight Chance of Meltdown."

It's a good piece, carefully reported, clearly written, and lays out the issues for and against Indian Point. Those issues aren't simple.

And then near the end, there's this little scene, featuring two Entergy employees, Jim Steets, the spokesman for Indian Point, and Rick Smith, an Entergy vice president:

Sitting next to Smith is Jim Steets, director of communications for Indian Point, and together they begin to sketch their vision of a New York City populated with small nuclear plants dotted throughout the boroughs. “It’s a little like an aircraft carrier,” Smith says. “I think modular.”

“I grew up in grade school diving under the desk,” he goes on. “People still have the bomb theory, but a couple of generations down from now, everyone becomes more comfortable with nuclear power. That’s why we try so hard to get the facts out. Everyone who goes through the plant comes away with a better understanding.”

Steets pipes in. “The thing is, there isn’t really anything about dealing with radiation that we don’t understand.”

“You know,” says Smith. “I had an MIT professor, he did a presentation on Fukushima, and I said, ‘Listen, you have to explain what’s going on there and how it’s different from here.’ And he said to me, ‘Rick, you know what the problem is? Today we can monitor radiation to the finest detail, and we report it to the finest detail.’ ” This precision, industry officials believe, has distorted public opinion and led to overregulation; by their thinking, a little exposure to radiation isn’t a big deal. “Even the releases at Fukushima,” Smith says, “most of them would have very little effect on public health and safety.”

“Unfortunately,” Steets adds, “our detractors rely so much on fear.”

Smith nods in agreement.

“They refuse to look analytically.”

That's how the piece ends. It's not satire. I knew Jim Steets years ago when I was a reporter covering Indian Point. He's not given to joking around about nuclear power. And he's sitting there with the vice president of Entergy. And they apparently want to see "New York City populated with small nuclear plants dotted throughout the boroughs."

Mind boggling.


Who Cares About the Link Between Pesticides and Lobsters? Let's Just Stop Using Pesticides

For years lobster fishermen have been complaining about how pesticides were killing Long Island Sound’s lobsters and putting the lobstermen out of business, and for years reporters have been gullibly reporting the lobstermen’s complaints, and for years I’ve been complaining that the link between pesticides and the Sound’s lobster die-off is a myth.

But lately I’ve come to another conclusion: It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because what the lobstermen want is for communities near the Sound to stop using pesticides to kill mosquitoes.

I want that too. There are plenty of good reasons to stop putting poisons into the environment, and few downsides to stopping.

So my new position is that I agree with the lobstermen. I still think they are wrong about the link between pesticides and dead lobsters but it doesn’t matter. Let’s stop using pesticides to kill mosquitoes and we’ll probably find out soon enough if they are right or wrong.

Either way, something good will result: we will be reducing the amount of pesticides in the environment.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Our Old Broadwater Foe Resurfaces in Keystone XL Pipeline Proposal

I guess haven't been paying enough attention to the Keystone XL pipeline proposal that is causing so much controversy in Washington because I just realized today that the company that wants to build it is our old friend TransCanada.

TransCanada, as I'm sure you remember, is the the company which -- along with Shell -- brought us the Broadwater fiasco.

That proposal, to build a huge natural gas terminal in the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound, wasted our time, energy and money from when it was first proposed, in late 2004, to when Governor David Patterson finally killed it in 2008.

The only reason it wasn't a complete and utter waste was that it showed that occasionally governments recognize a bad idea when they see one.


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