U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy holds roundtable on new Long Island Sound measures

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, left, speaks at the Sound School in New Haven Friday about the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act that just passed in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, left, speaks at the Sound School in New Haven Friday about the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act that just passed in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., visited Sound School Friday, Oct. 12, for a roundtable discussion with environmental advocates, business leaders, scientists and municipal officials about efforts to protect Long Island Sound, in the wake of Congress passing the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act.

Murphy began by emphasizing the importance of Long Island Sound to tourism and the state economy, but warned that part of tourism means better infrastructure to get people here, which may conflict in some cases with environmental efforts.

On that note, he learned from a Bridgeport official that that city is soon going out to bid for a terminal for a high-speed ferry, although there is no plan yet for the ferries themselves.

“Our entire economy in this state and entirety of the state budget relies on a healthy Long Island Sound,” Murphy told a couple of dozen gathered, with students listening in.

He said Long Island Sound brings people to Connecticut and stewardship of the Sound is the right approach. With protections, the Sound has noticeably improved in terms of “flora and fauna,” the return of shellfish and fewer closures due to high bacteria levels, he said.

Milford Economic Development Director Julie Nash was among those at the table, as the city’s 17.5 miles of shoreline are considered among its greatest assets when it comes to marketing and tourism. The city also has a thriving shellfish industry.

“I thought it was a really fruitful conversation in regard to our shoreline vibrancy along with the intersection of all the related disciplines like tourism, environmental conservation, transit and marine related business as well as the interdependence of each,” Nash said, following the roundtable talk. “The shellfish industry, marine related business and tourism are extremely important to Milford’s economic viability, so it’s encouraging to see so many people working so hard with such passion to make Connecticut better than it already is.”

Murphy said after several Republicans blocked the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act,  Congress passed it earlier this week as part of a larger bipartisan bill. He also introduced the Living Shorelines Act, which funds nature-based coastal resiliency projects.

A spokesperson for his office said as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murphy’s work led to a tripling of the federal investment in the Long Island Sound Geographic Program.

He said the state once received $4 million in federal funds for Long Island Sound per year and now gets $12 million. He said the other good news in the federal act is the ability for shell fishermen to access the farm bill.

But Murphy warned, “You can’t have a tourism economy if you can’t get people to your state.”

He said it takes longer to get to Connecticut from New York and Boston than it did 10 years ago and that means infrastructure such as highways need to improve. The goal is to address that matter in 2019, he said.

“It involves construction,” he said, noting that activity can conflict with environmental efforts, as structures will no doubt will be near shore and wetlands.

Murphy found out about the beginnings of the high-speed ferry plan in Bridgeport from a Bridgeport official after another person at the roundtable asked about that mode of transportation for getting people to Connecticut. The official said Bridgeport is hoping to find an operator for the terminal.