Connecticut’s new Soundkeeper will be partly based in New Haven
WILTON >> Growing up in Wilton, Bill Lucey spent most of his time around Long Island Sound. He caught flounder in Norwalk, fished for blue snappers in the Saugatuck River and dug for clams in Stamford Harbor.
Those experiences sparked his career in biology and conservation, which has spanned 30 years and taken him across the nation and in Central America. And those memories convinced him to move from Hawaii back to the East Coast to help protect and preserve Long Island Sound as the new Soundkeeper, with a part-time office in New Haven.
For many years, reading about fish consumption advisories and polluted waters kept him from moving back. But the progress made by Soundkeeper Inc., Save the Sound and other organizations dedicated to improving the Sound encouraged him to bring his expertise to the area, he said.
“I guess I felt it was sort of my responsibility to come back and lend my shoulder to the collective push, because the Sound is getting better and we need to keep pushing where there is no fish consumption advisory and people don’t have to worry about catching fish and feeding it to their children,” said Lucey, former project manager with Kauai Invasive Species Committee at Research Corp. of the University of Hawaii.
“My goal is to make sure that everybody is thinking about the whole picture, all the problems are addressed and we move forward to that nice clean Long Island Sound future.”
Lucey will replace the late Terry Backer, a Norwalk native, third-generation fisherman and longtime state representative who was the first Soundkeeper from 1987 until his death in 2015.
The position has been vacant since then. It is being relaunched as a result of an upcoming merger between Soundkeeper Inc., which Backer founded with Chris Staplefelt, and Save the Sound, a Connecticut Fund for the Environment state program.
Looking through Backer’s diverse accomplishments, Lucey said he is aware of the big shoes he needs to fill.
“Terry did a tremendous job,” he said. “I look at it as carrying on that work and carrying it on to the next generation. And hopefully after me, someone else will pick the flag up and carry it on as well.”
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said he is confident Lucey’s appointment is an indication of the same passion and dedication that Backer brought to the role.
“Terry pretty much dedicated his entire life to improving Long Island Sound and the conversation efforts and making sure that the Sound is as clean and healthy as possible and that was his passion,” Rilling said. “So the Soundkeeper is very important because ... we all know what an important resource Long Island Sound is, not only for recreation and commerce but tourism and our economy overall.”
Curt Johnson, executive director of Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Save the Sound, said he is thrilled to welcome Lucey back to Long Island Sound in relaunching the position.
“He has the passion, experience and technical know-how to continue Terry’s legacy by patrolling bays and harbors around the entire Sound and by acting as the Sound’s voice in Hartford and Albany,” Johnson said.
As the new Soundkeeper, Lucey will focus on addressing water quality problems and ensuring polluters comply with the Clean Water Act and advocate for the Sound.
The former Soundkeeper office in Norwalk closed in 2015. In addition to New Haven, Lucey will work out of an office in Mamaroneck, N.Y. But he plans to spend a lot of time on the Soundkeeper boat, a 21-foot Mako named the Terry Backer. Lucey hasn’t yet settled on a place to live.
“We’re here to try and solve problems,” Lucey said. “It’s not necessarily to go after people. But we need to keep an eye on things because lots of things slips through the cracks and you’ll get chronic problems that people sort of sweep under the rug.”
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