Senator Murphy leads discussion on health of Long Island Sound

Representatives from area environmental organizations, and environmentally-minded residents, gathered at the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center in Milford Sunday, March 10, with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy to talk about the health of Long Island Sound and other issues.

One of the attendees, DJ King of DJ King Lobsters in Branford, told the senator that lobsters have almost disappeared and that he has seen first hand the changes in Long Island Sound since he started fishing its waters in 1969.

Lobstering was a way for King to make a living through the 1980s and 1990s, but no more. King said government regulations need to keep pace with changes in the species that can be caught in the Sound.

Murphy held the roundtable discussion to talk about the future of Long Island Sound and to highlight new federal funding. He said he also wanted to hear from people about what they are doing in support of the Sound and to hear their ideas for improvements and changes.

Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society, said Long Island Sound has come a long way in terms of water quality, but there is still work to do.

“Whales swim in Long Island Sound again and there are tens of thousand of birds that are out there, tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds stop over here every year and take advantage of the habitats at the mouth of the Housatonic River, but there is still a long way to go. We face a variety of threats we don’t even comprehend fully yet,” Comins said.

James O’Donnell, executive director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) at the University of Connecticut, told Murphy he would like to see the federal government clearly identify funding it plans to allocate toward resiliency projects so local governments and individuals can start planning projects that provide protection from flooding.

O’Donnell believes that resiliency projects that might be undertaken are being delayed because people are waiting to see if the government will help fund them.

“I think you are doing something about these problems that we see and know are going to get worse, but it would be accelerated if there were signals from the federal government about how you and others see funding for adaptation going,” O’Donnell said.

Dr. Jennifer H. Mattei, biology professor at Sacred Heart University, said Murphy’s support of funding to reduce non-point source pollution that runs into Long Island Sound is extremely important for the health of the Sound and the people that make a living from it.

“The best way to accomplish this is to build/restore freshwater and estuarine marshes that trap and render harmless the runoff from agriculture and homeowners’ lawns,” Mattei said. “Using green infrastructure and living shorelines are win-win techniques for promoting the health of the Sound.”

But Mattei said getting permits to restore wetlands can be an arduous task at the state and federal levels, and can sometimes take up to two years. She hopes the senator can work with federal and state partners to streamline the permitting process.

Captain Joseph Gross of d'Amico Shipping USA Ltd. talked about dredging, which he said can benefit the business community and the environment.

“We have three deepwater ports in Connecticut – New Haven, Bridgeport and New London,” Gross explained. “Dredging is a usual need for any deepwater port — any port, really — in order to maintain the water depth needed to get commercial, ocean going vessels into the port. Certainly, if we can get a larger group of stakeholders behind dredging by using the dredged material for wetland restoration, that helps industry. If environmental groups want the dredged material to use for wetlands restoration, that helps them.”

There were a host of questions and suggestions for the senator, from groups including Connecticut Sea Grant, the Audubon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Mystic Aquarium, the Nature Conservancy, town of Darien, Milford Garden Club and more.

People talked about recycling, dangers of buried coal ash, plastic bags, solar and wind energy, clean water funds and more.

Murphy kicked off the roundtable by talking about funding and legislation directed at improving the health of Long Island Sound. A member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations committee, Murphy, in a press statement issued Feb. 22 and made available at Sunday’s meeting, applauded the passage of “critical investments to protect Connecticut's natural resources and improve the health of Long Island Sound.”

He said those investments include funds for nine federal agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year, as well as the Natural Resources Management Act.

“Long Island Sound is a boon for Connecticut’s economy,” Murphy said in his release. “We rely on a healthy and vibrant Sound for manufacturing, fishing and tourism. I have used my seat on the Appropriations Committee to triple funding for the Sound and make critical investments to protect its coastline and our environment from pollution.”

Murphy listed highlights of that legislation, including $14 million for the Long Island Sound Geographic Program, which is $2 million above the 2018 level; $435 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; $26.7 million for the National Estuary Program; $9.5 million for the Beach Act Grants to monitor water quality at beaches, and $170.9 million for EPA Nonpoint Source Program Grants to protect the Sound from agricultural runoff and other forms of pollution.