Friday, December 08, 2006

Don't Miss East Bay Anglers' Winter Seminar


On January 9th, 2007, 7PM at Barrington High School, the East Bay Anglers Association will be hosting a special mulit-media fishing seminar designed to appeal to audiences of all ages. The event will feature presentations from 4 expert local fishermen and outdoor writers Mike Laptew, Bill Nolan, Captain Jim White, and Steve "Van Staal" McKenna.

All of these guys know a ton about Narragansett Bay. Mike Laptew is a legendary underwater photographer and an old friend of Save The Bay. He'll be showing some of his latest fabulous under-bay footage. Nolan, White, and McKenna are all top-notch anglers and know how to make fishing fun and exciting for a wide range of audiences.

I will be there representing Save The Bay and to support the East Bay Anglers. This is a great way to beat winter cabin fever and connect with like-minded fishing fanatics from ages 3 to 103.

This may be a sold-out show... to reserve tickets, call Will Barbeau at 245-8375

Save The Bay is proud to support the East Bay Anglers

- JT



Friday, December 01, 2006

EPA Reissues Strong Brayton Point Permit



EPA Region 1 today re-issued the discharge permit for Brayton Point power plant. The decision can be viewed on EPA's website here.

This is a major victory for the Bay, or at least a small part of one. The text of our press release follows:


Save The Bay Applauds
Strong EPA Permit for Brayton Point

For Immediate Release:
Dec. 1, 2006
Contact: John Torgan (401) 272-3540, ext. 116
jtorgan@savebay.org


Spalding calls for “aggressive” effort to make reach compliance

PROVIDENCE (December 1, 2006) – The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1 today issued the final pieces of a permit requiring the Brayton Point power plant to reduce its use of water by roughly 95%. Today’s ruling by EPA responds to a 2003 appeal by the plant’s owners, Dominion Power of Virginia, and further appeals are likely.

“Brayton Point has been ruining Mount Hope Bay for decades and this permit is long overdue. EPA has done great work, but as long as this permit is under appeal the damage continues. We urge Dominion to accept the new permit conditions and begin an aggressive construction schedule to come back into compliance with the Clean Water Act,” said Curt Spalding, Executive Director.

Brayton Point Station, in Somerset Massachusetts, is New England’s largest and dirtiest power plant. Each day, the station withdraws nearly one billion gallons of water from the Bay to cool its generators, which it then discharges at temperatures of up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Not only does this process warm the shallow waters of Mount Hope Bay, Narragansett Bay’s northeastern arm, it also sucks in and destroys trillions of fish eggs and larvae each year.

In 1985, Brayton Point added a new cooling water intake and increased its discharge, and generating capacity, by about 45%. Immediately, fishermen began to report troubling declines in the local fish stocks, calling the once productive Mount Hope Bay “a dead zone”. A decade later, a study by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management documented an 87% decline in the fish populations of Mount Hope Bay, a trend not reflected in other parts of the Bay or New England region.

Save The Bay strongly advocated for the once-through cooling system to be banned. In 2002, EPA issued a draft discharge permit calling for Brayton Point’s flow to be reduced from nearly one billion to forty five million gallons per day. The plant’s owners appealed that permit to EPA’s Administrative Appeals Board (EAB) in Washington, DC. In February, 2006, the EAB handed down a ruling supporting Region 1’s permit in part, but remanding certain key parts back to the regional office. Today, EPA essentially upheld its original work.

After several 60-day administrative review windows, the permit is expected to be appealed to the US Court of Appeals 1st Circuit. During appeals, the existing operating regime of the plant will continue.

###

Monday, November 27, 2006

Yet another LNG Hearing...

Hi, folks-

The State of Massachusetts is holding a public hearing on the Chapter 91/Waterways license for the proposed Weaver’s Cove Energy LNG project Monday, December 11th at 6:30PM at the Venus De Milo in Swansea, MA. This is another important opportunity to get comments and concerns on the record. The full public notice follows:




DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
WATERWAYS REGULATION PROGRAM

Notice of License Application pursuant to M. G. L Chapter 91 Waterways License
Application Nos. W04-1023D (Dredge), W04-1031 (LNG Facility) & W04-1030 (Pipeline)
Weavers Cove Energy, LLC & Mill River Pipeline, LLC

NOTIFICATION DATE: November 30,2006

PUBLIC HEARING DATE: December 11,2006

COMMENT PERIOD CLOSES: January 2,2007

Public notice is hereby given of the Waterways applications by Weavers Cove Energy. LLC to
dredge approximately 2.3 million cubic yards of sediment within Mount Hope Bay-Federal
Navigation Channel and the turning basin, to construct and maintain a liquid natural gas (LNG)
receiving 8 storage facility with auxiliary facilities, bulkhead, unloading platform 8 trestle service
platform 8 trestle, boat ramp, and floating dock, storm water outfall pipes and fill within the Mount Hope Bay Designated Port Area, off of 1 New Street in the municipality of Fall River in and over filled and flowed tidelands of the Taunton River, The Mill River Pipeline, LLC to dredge/backfill and to construct and maintain a gas transmission pipeline off of 1 New Street in the municipality of Fall River to an area off of Annette Avenue in the municipality of Somerset under filled and flowed tidelands of the Taunton River. The proposed projects have been determined to be water-dependent.

The Department of Environmental Protection Waterways Program, will conduct a Public hearing on the aforesaid projects on Monday. December 11. 2006. 6:30 PM. at Venus de Milo, 75 Grand Army Highway, Swansea, MA. The Department will conduct a public hearing in order to receive information to be used in its decision on whether to grant Waterways Licenses pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 91. Directions to the Venus de Milo can be obtained by contacting the restaurant at, (508) 678-3901.

Additional information on these projects may be obtained by contacting Michael Howard of Epsilon Associates at (978) 897-7100.


The Department will consider all written comments on these Waterways applications received
within 30 days subsequent to the 'Notification Date". Failure of any aggrieved person or group of
ten citizens or more to submit written comments to the Waterways Regulation Program by the
Public Comments Deadline January 2, 20071 will result in the waiver of any right to an
adjudicatory hearing in accordance with 310 CMR 9.13(4)(c).

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Projo Story on LNG Hearings


The first RIDEM hearing on Weaver's Cove LNG's happened on Tuesday night. There's another hearing on 11/20. See the attached Providence Journal story by Alex Kuffner, also available on www.projo.com:

Lynch asks DEM to put a stop to dredging plan

01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, November 15, 2006

By Alex KuffnerJournal Staff Writer

TIVERTON — Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch last night called on the state Department of Environmental Management to suspend its review of an application to dredge a section of Mount Hope Bay that would clear the way for tanker ships to reach a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Fall River.

At a public hearing on the dredging plan at Tiverton High School, Lynch, a staunch opponent of the construction of the $250-million terminal, called the application submitted by Weaver’s Cove Energy and Hess LNG inadequate and said the companies had shown “callous disrespect” and “gross disregard for officials in the state” and its coastal residents.

He said that in their application to dredge up to 230,000 cubic yards from 33 acres in the Rhode Island portion of the Bay, the companies had failed to provide essential information about the potential negative impact on water quality and marine life.

“What do they do? At best, provide misinformation,” he said to DEM officials and an audience of 50 people from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, most of whom had come to speak against the proposal.

In a statement released before the hearing, Lynch urged the DEM to hold a separate evidentiary hearing on the dredging application.

“The general public, like RIDEM, deserves a response to these legitimate and serious ecological issues, and unless the applicant can be forthright about the known consequences of its plans, the RIDEM should not be wasting its time, and that of the public’s, reviewing an incomplete application,” he said in the statement.

The project companies have received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee to build an LNG facility on 73 acres in Fall River’s north end fronting the Taunton River. The terminal would be supplied by tankers traveling north through Rhode Island waters. However, the 35-foot-deep shipping channel in Mount Hope Bay and the Taunton River is too shallow for the massive ships.

Weaver’s Cove and Hess propose deepening a seven-mile stretch to 37 feet and they need permission from local and state agencies to move ahead. The bulk of the project would be carried out in Massachusetts. In total, the companies would remove 2.6 million cubic yards of material from 191 acres in the Bay and river.

The companies say they would limit dredging during the three-year project to seven months a year from mid-June to mid-January to minimize damage to fish habitats.

Of the 15 people who submitted comments last night, 14 raised objections. Nobody from Weaver’s Cove or Hess spoke. The lone supporter of the proposal was Don Church, a retired Rhode Island boat pilot, who said Fall River’s economy would suffer without an adequate shipping channel.

The many opponents cited the harmful effects of disturbing what they said are buried toxic sediments that include zinc, copper and mercury and the potentially devastating effects of dredging on dwindling populations of winter flounder, herring, tautog, Atlantic sturgeon and other fish.

John Torgan, of Save the Bay, said dredging could exacerbate periods of hypoxia in Mount Hope Bay, cutting off oxygen to fish and shellfish. He and others told the DEM that the Taunton River, Mount Hope Bay and Narragansett Bay are part of a single ecosystem and asked them to also consider the dredging work in Massachusetts when reviewing the companies’ application.

Eric Hesher, of Portsmouth, said Rhode Island waters would suffer if buried pollutants around Fall River are dug up.

“Anything that’s up there is going to come down here,” he said.

State Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr., D-Bristol, Portsmouth, went one step further than Lynch’s request to suspend the dredging application. Gallison said Weaver’s Cove and Hess have no grounds to apply for a dredging permit because of a recently ratified state law he introduced that effectively prohibits LNG tankers from entering Rhode Island waters. The companies have said the law is unconstitutional.

Paul Roberti, a lawyer in Lynch’s office, said he and others would not give up their fight.
“The one thing we have are our natural resources,” he said. “They are not for sale. We will fight this to the end. This project will never happen.”

Monday, November 13, 2006

RIDEM to hold 2 Public Hearings on LNG Dredging


RIDEM is holding 2 hearings on the RI component of Weaver Cove's dredging application. Although the RI portion is relatively small, it's still important to attend or write a letter of testimony.

Save The Bay is urging DEM to deny the permit and water quality certification based on the fact that this would be a damaging project and it has the potential to harm critical habitat for winter flounder, river herring, and other key estuarine species. The proposed disposal of all the dredged sediment (3 Million + cubic yards) would be in the Rhode Island sound site, so it would negatively impact RI's resources both during dredging and disposal. The dredged channel, called "improvement" dredging, is actually new deepening which will cause a permanent impact on the bottom of Mount Hope Bay and the Taunton River.

The public notice follows:


News Release: RI Department of Environmental Management235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462

For Release:
November 3, 2006

Contact:

Gail Mastrati 222-4700 ext. 2402Stephanie Powell 222-4700 ext. 4418

DEM TO HOLD TWO HEARINGS ON WEAVER COVE ENERGY LLC'S REQUEST TO DREDGE NAVIGATION CHANNEL IN MOUNT HOPE BAYPROVIDENCE -

The Department of Environmental Management announces that it will hold public hearings on November 14 in Tiverton and November 20 in Bristol regarding a request from Weaver's Cove Energy LLC of Fall River, MA for a dredge permit and water quality certificate to dredge approximately 140,000 cubic yards of sediment from the state's portion of the existing federal navigation channel in Mount Hope Bay.Under the proposal, the depth of the channel would be deepened from its original 35 feet to 37 feet.

About 40,000 cubic yards of sediment would be removed from depths of up to 35 feet as maintenance dredging. The remaining 100,000 cubic yards, considered "improvement dredging," would deepen the authorized channel by two feet. The proposal would also allow a one-foot depth margin of error because of the nature of the dredging equipment, which could add an additional 90,000 cubic yards of sediment to the total amount dredged.

The hearing on November 14 will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Tiverton High School auditorium, 100 North Brayton Road in Tiverton. The November 20 hearing will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Mount Hope High School auditorium at 199 Chestnut Street in Bristol.

Written comments will be accepted at the hearings and also via mail by November 20 to Ronald Gagnon at DEM's Office of Technical and Customer Assistance, 235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02928.

Questions regarding the public hearings should be directed to Ronald Gagnon at 222-6822 ext. 7500. Documents related to the proposed project can be reviewed at DEM Headquarters in Providence by appointment by calling 222-6822 ext. 7307.

Weaver's Cove LNG in Deep Trouble


The proposed LNG terminal for Fall River has taken several major hits in this past week. First of all, the election will help take the momentum away from those who would force risky energy development into communities against the political will of the region. There are no guarantees, but it's likely that a democratic Congress will actually listen to the Governors and Delegations of Rhode Island and Massachusetts when they say they don't want Hess/Weaver's Cove in Fall River. Those "environmental" agency officials who are pawns of the oil and gas industry will be replaced, if we're lucky, with reasonable people who will work to plan a sustainable energy future for the Northeast instead of kowtowing to industry pressure from a greedy few.

Also, several proposed offshore LNG development projects will now get a leg up on the land-based competition. See today's Boston Globe story below on that...

It seems that between the Canadian Maritimes' facilities that can pipe LNG to New England and any of the proposed offshore facilities, there is no need to site any LNG terminals that would unduly risk the environment, the safety of our cities, or the rights and responsibilities of states to have a role in siting. A regional soultion has always been the most sensible soultion to the need for gas, and if they have any clue at all, Weaver's Cove and Hess will finally realize that their damaging proposal is a non-starter and that they should go back to the drawing board. JT

Romney may swing debate on LNG sites

Offshore approvals could slow land plans

By Beth Daley, Globe Staff November 13, 2006

In his last days in office, Governor Mitt Romney could dramatically alter the controversial debate about where to put new liquefied natural gas terminals as he decides the fate of two gas ports in the deep waters off Gloucester.

If Romney allows construction of one or both of the ports, 8 and 13 miles southeast of the fabled fishing city, they would get a head start on nearly a dozen proposed land-based LNG terminals from Rhode Island to Eastern Canada.

The offshore facilities could supply much of New England's projected natural gas needs for the immediate future, say some energy analysts, so their approval could delay -- if not outright kill -- the land-based projects.

The land terminals, including ones in Fall River and on a Boston Harbor island, have provoked stronger opposition from communities and politicians than the offshore ones because of safety concerns.

Federal laws give Romney no final say over the land-based projects, but he has veto power over the offshore proposals. In the past, he has said he favors offshore LNG over terminals on land because they are far from people in case of an explosion. But a spokesman last week said Romney is reserving final judgment until a public comment period is completed and a final state environmental review is released next month.

The US Maritime Administration, the lead permitting agency for offshore LNG, wrapped up public hearings last week on one of the projects, called Northeast Gateway. Tomorrow, the last hearing will be held on Neptune, the other project. Written comments on both will be accepted for several more weeks. The governor then has until Dec. 26 to make a decision on Northeast Gateway and Jan. 2 -- his second to last full day in office -- for Neptune. If he does nothing, the projects will automatically be approved.

New England needs at most two new LNG ports in the next five years to meet the region's growing energy demand, analysts predicted, and the offshore projects can be built much faster -- less than a year, compared with three years for land terminals. Natural gas consumption in New England is expected to grow some 25 percent by 2021, according to the Northeast Gas Association.

The Fall River proposal, known as Weavers Cove, has been approved by the federal government, but it remains mired in legal challenges and has faced intense public opposition because thousands of residents live nearby. "Clearly the offshore proposals will affect other projects and Fall River," said Neal B. Costello, a Boston lawyer who represents energy companies and is not involved in the current LNG proposals. "If these offshore projects do go forward, Weavers Cove is facing not only a political hurdle but an economic one."

A Weavers Cove official said last week that they still would build even if the offshore projects are approved because the proposed Fall River terminal is necessary to meet energy demand in the future.

Some analysts say it is too early to predict which LNG projects will be winners and losers because there are so many variables -- from the securing of long-term supplies of gas from overseas to lawsuits to stop construction.

A large LNG facility called Canaport is under construction in New Brunswick, and its plans to push gas into the New England market could erode the need for new LNG receiving ports or terminals. Some analysts say the Fall River terminal is needed because it will have the infrastructure to receive, store, and transport supercooled gas on peak demand days. The offshore ports are designed primarily to deliver vapor into the system that can't be stored, analysts said.

"The offshore projects will compete, but it won't necessarily drive Weavers Cove out," said John Meeske, president of Energy Market Decisions Inc., an energy firm in Hopkinton. "It could delay for a few years a land-based terminal, but it doesn't necessarily mean it will not be built, because demand continues to grow."

If Romney grants approval, Northeast Gateway officials say, they could be operating by December 2007. Neptune, proposed by Suez, the conglomerate that owns an Everett LNG facility, plans to go on line in 2009. Construction of an offshore terminal would not result in the closure of the land-based terminal in Everett.

The two offshore LNG ports would act as permanent floating factories. Ships from overseas would dock and regasify supercooled gas on board before pumping it into a pipe system connecting to the mainland. As soon as one of the massive ships -- some almost 2 1/2 football fields in length -- completed its weeklong unloading, another would take its place. Each ship could hold enough super-cooled gas in its tanks and labyrinth of pipes to heat about 30,000 homes for a year.

The only existing offshore LNG port -- in the Gulf of Mexico -- is run by Northeast Gateway's parent company, Excelerate. However, eight other offshore proposals are under review around the nation by the Maritime Administration, and two others in the Gulf of Mexico have been approved.

The governor's final say over offshore LNG lies in the Deepwater Port Act of 1974, which granted refusal rights over proposed offshore oil ports to adjacent coastal states. That law was amended in 2002 to include natural gas.

"The point hasn't been lost on me that a governor cannot stop a proposal like Weavers Cove, which clearly endangers the people he represents, but [the law] allows him to prevent one offshore," said Mayor Edward Lambert of Fall River. "It's incongruous."

The offshore proposals are opposed by fishermen who fear a loss of fishing grounds and others who worry about impacts to the federally endangered right whale and other marine mammals. But they have not generated the same outrage that Weavers Cove or other on-shore sites have.
In fact, state environmental officials have praised the offshore projects' water intake system, which has dramatically reduced the amount of ocean water needed to warm the LNG to about 5 million gallons a day from an originally proposed 54 million gallons.

The projects could exclude fishermen from about 7 square miles of fishing grounds, but federal officials say they are researching whether boats could steam through the closed zone to other fishing areas.

Beth Daley can be reached by e-mail at bdaley@globe.com.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

State of The Bay



This week's big news is that we finally released State of The Bay report. It ran in Monday's Providence Journal on page 1, and kudos to the projo's Metcalf reporter Michelle Lee for doing a great job on it. The full report is on www.savebay.org, and I've reprinted the text of the projo story below. -JT


Mixed report on Bay health

11:22 AM EDT on Monday, October 23, 2006

By Michelle J. Lee, Journal Staff Writer

The waters of Narragansett Bay are cleaner, with fewer pollutants — but low oxygen levels, among other problems, have damaged several fish and shellfish populations in the last six years.
These were the findings of the second extensive study done by Save the Bay, the state’s largest environmental organization. The report will be released today.

“State of The Bay 2006-2007: An Assessment and Action Plan” evaluated 11 health indicators covering a wide variety of issues, including toxic pollutants, public access to the waterfront and the condition of bottom-dwelling creatures and marine mammals. The issues were graded on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest.

The overall grade in the report was 4.3, a slight drop from the 4.5 grade in Save the Bay’s 2000 report. However, Narragansett Bay is a complex ecosystem and it is difficult to simplify its total health, said Baykeeper John Torgan.

“Declines in living resources outpaced our work to save the Bay,” Torgan said. “We’re not aggressive enough. This report is to show what we need to do to get a 10, to get high scores for the Bay.”

The report lists several recommendations for reviving Narragansett Bay, including: creating a strong water-monitoring program, passing bonds to pay for sewage-treatment plant upgrades, crafting management policies to address overfishing, building fish runs and removing dams to help decimated fish stocks; and drafting legislation to reduce the creation of toxins such as mercury.

Narragansett Bay covers 147 square miles and runs nearly the entire length of Rhode Island. The estuary provides spawning grounds and habitats for hundreds of animal species. It also offers many boating, fishing and swimming opportunities.

Torgan said programs to restore eelgrass beds and salt marshes along the Bay have been successful. There has also been tremendous progress in reducing nitrogen and other nutrients, a major problem cited in the first report. Nitrogen and organic pollutants in wastewater and storm-water enter the Bay and fuel large growths of plankton and algae. When the plants die, they draw off oxygen in the saltwater.

The biggest threat to the Bay, according to the report, is hypoxia, or low dissolved-oxygen levels. Most marine animals depend on dissolved oxygen to breathe, and areas where low oxygen levels and unusually warm water temperatures have spread, creating “dead zones” at the bottom of the Bay.

The decline in several species of fishes and shellfish can be attributed to a combination of decreased oxygen, warmer climates, overfishing and nutrient pollution, according to the report.
The fish decline mirrors a nationwide trend with some species such as American eel and herring disappearing because of unknown circumstances, said Curt Spalding, executive director of Save the Bay.

In 2003, adverse heat and oxygen conditions led to the deaths of 1 million menhaden in Greenwich Bay and millions of steamer clams in the Providence River.
The fish and clam kill sparked political action, with Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly supporting environmental studies and new ecosystem-management plans. In 2004, a law was passed for a 50-percent reduction of nitrogen dumping from sewer treatment plants by 2008.

Financing for the new initiatives has been uneven. In 2004, there was no initial money to finance efforts but voters approved a $20.7-million bond proposed by Carcieri. Progress stalled again in 2005 and last year when the legislature made cuts to bond proposals that would have paid for water-quality monitoring programs.

Still, there have been some advances. The Governor’s Narragansett Bay and Watershed Planning Commission has a new director. The Narragansett Bay Commission, which operates the state’s two largest sewage plants, cut nitrogen discharges to 2 million gallons this summer, compared with 136 million gallons in 2003. Volunteer watershed councils have been created to watch the rivers that feed into the Bay. Greenwich Bay, the site of the big fish kill, got a new management plan. Last month, Carcieri said he would propose an $85-million bond issue for environmental projects such as cleaning coastal cesspools and upgrading sewage treatment plants.

The new Save the Bay report is intended to build on momentum. The report was timed to coincide with election season in hopes of getting policymakers to commit to the report’s recommendations, Torgan said.

The report also contains an agenda with measurable goals to improve water quality, aquatic life and connecting the public to the Bay. Suggestions include reducing greenhouse gases, creating policies to protect certain marine areas and threatened fish species, and opening new beaches and parks.

Spalding remains optimistic that Narragansett Bay will improve if there is increased financing for monitoring, a regional management plan, more restoration projects and better marine life management.

“It is hopeful,” Spalding said. “There are actions ready to happen.”

To view “State of the Bay 2006-2007: An Assessment and Action Plan,” go to www.savebay.org/advocacy_SOTB06.asp.

Michelle J. Lee is a fellow with the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting Institute.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I'm Back!

Hi-

Sorry I have been offline for a while. I am delighted to announce the birth of my son, William Joseph Torgan, born August 31st. I have been working as well as tending to the little guy, but just haven't had the time and energy to keep up the blog along with everything else. I will begin posting again each Thursday and whenever there is breaking news, so please check in!

As far as issues go, there is a ton of stuff going on. On LNG:

Save The Bay continues to fight the Weaver's Cove LNG project through the regulatory process and in the communities. We are partnered with the Attorney General and are conducting independent research on the environmental impacts of dredging. We are working with a coalition of Bay users including Marine Trades and Yachting groups on the disruptive impacts to existing uses. We are also meeting with legislative leaders and the Congressional Delegations of both states to urge them to block the necessary approvals. If the project passes regulatory approvals, we are gearing up for appeals and legal challenges.

On the health of the Bay: We will be releasing a major report "State of The Bay and The Bay Agenda" on this coming Monday. I will include a link to it on this blog, so be sure to check the blog next week. JT

Friday, August 25, 2006

Another Manifestation of Climate Change


Despite the self-serving rants of some conservative pundits and politicians, global warming is real. The causes are still a subject of debate, though it seems likely that pollution from fossil fuel combustion is the prime culprit. Sea level rise is now included as a constant on USGS maps of the coast and average water temperatures are up both in terms of averages and extreme events.

The manifestation of climate change in Narragansett Bay is sometimes subtle, and at other times strikingly obvious. The clam kill we saw earlier this month was caused, in part, by hot water temperatures in the Bay following a record-setting heat wave. Temperature alone doesn't cause fish and clam kills, it also takes excessive decomposing algae from blooms fueled by nitrogen in wastewater. Rotting algae suck up the dissolved oxygen and the higher the temperature, the less oxygen the water can hold.

The exotic creatures we're observing in the Bay this year are unusual, even for late summer. It's true that we see "bubbles" of the gulfstream bringing tropicals every year, but this year has brought some really strange accidentals. Meanwhile, the native fish assemblage is crashing and this is not a good sign for the Bay. The excellent story by Tom Mooney of the Providence Journal (below) treats this subject well.

What is the take-home message and what can we do about climate change? In addition to supporting policies and elected leaders who are committed to weaning us off our fossil fuel dependency and who have the courage to support wind and renewables, we can act locally to reduce pollution from wastewater. While reducing sewage pollution alone will not reverse climate change, it will help take some of the pressure off the highly-stressed Bay ecosystem, and allow the fish and other marine life to breathe easier. -JT

Fish follow warm water
01:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 25, 2006
BY TOM MOONEYJournal Staff Writer

Mike Laptew has snorkeled for 45 years and makes underwater photography his profession. But the school of fish that filled his viewfinder Wednesday afternoon in the warm waters off Newport mystified him.

About 60 to 80 of the six-inch fish darted around, feeding above a bed of eel grass in eight feet of water.

Curious, Laptew, of North Kingstown, snapped some pictures and sent them yesterday by e-mail to a biologist with the state Department of Environmental Management. "Mystery fish," read his attachment.

The identification came back soon thereafter: the fish were mackerel scud, a sub-tropical fish more often found along southern coastal states.

If the scud are lost, at least they're not alone.

An unusually large number of tropical fish, as well as southern game fish such as cobia, black and red drum, even tarpon, have been reported in Rhode Island waters this month -- not to mention a several-hundred pound manatee, a gentle and endangered mammal that is more than 1,000 miles from its Florida home.

All seemed to have hitched what for most will be a one-way ride on the Gulf Stream. For once the local waters, now in the 70s, start to cool, swimming home won't be an option.
The Gulf Stream is a warm and powerful current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and swings around Florida before flowing north along the eastern United States and Newfoundland. Its strongest current is usually found over the continental shelf that sits about 90 miles off Rhode Island's coast.

Often in summer or the start of autumn, winds or storms will force a bubble or eddy of warm Gulf water to split off from the stream. As the Gulf Stream heads northeast, the eddy will spin off, continue traveling north, and get trapped between the islands of Southern New England and arm of Cape Cod.

Temperatures in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound yesterday hovered in the 70s. And earlier this summer, following a heat wave, temperatures in the Upper Bay surpassed 80 degrees, a temperature that exacerbated the problem of low dissolved oxygen levels and may have contributed to a massive die off of soft-shelled clams.

Scientist point to the summer's warm spell, the Gulf current and global warming as possible contributors for the number of warm-water visitors this summer.

"I don't know for sure what the reason is," says John Torgan, baykeeper with Save the Bay. "I've been careful about linking all of this to global climate change. There have been some unusual winds and currents that have brought some of this tropical warm water in. However, there are some things we do know that are different."

For instance, said Torgan, the average Bay water temperature has increased 3 degrees over the past few decades, which could be contributing to a shift in the assemblages of fish species, with cold-water species like cod and haddock moving farther north and fish more tolerant of warmer water moving in.

"What's different is we've seen warmer water and we're seeing an increased sighting of these rare or accidental species in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound."

Jean Bambara is an aquarist at Save the Bay's Exploration Center at Easton's Beach in Newport, which helps educate people about fish and plant life in Narragansett Bay. Once a week or so Bambara will pull a seine net through the shallow waters of Jamestown looking for tropical fish that she can display at the center.

"We're always catching tropicals during the summer months but I mean there are a lot more," said Bambara. "Probably about double the amount."

Among her catches so far this season have been juvenile orange filefish, snowy grouper and lookdowns -- "all the pretty tropical ones that people pay a lot of money for." Often she will catch banded rudderfish, spotfin butterflyfish, grey triggerfish, bandtail puffer fish and bicolor damselfish.

Larger tropical fish such as crevalle jacks, permit and sennets -- which are a smaller version of a barracuda -- are also being caught in Rhode Island waters, said Torgan.
Bambara said she received a phone call from a local lobsterman the other day who wanted to donate to the center something he caught in one of his traps: a large trigger fish.
Dave Beutel works as a sustainable fisheries specialist at the University of Rhode Island, where he is often talking to commercial fisherman, several of whom run fish traps off the Rhode Island coast.

Among the fish caught in those traps so far this summer, he said, have been cobia, which looks like a cod with a flatter head, red drum, which rarely travel north of Virginia, a pilot fish and a sheepshead, a fish common off Florida and Georgia that looks like a giant scup and eats barnacles off pilings.

"I'm going to bet that somebody will call any day with a report of a barracuda," Beutel said. "That usually happens around now."

Tarpon were reportedly caught off Newport a few weeks ago, which was not the first time. A picture of a 5-foot tarpon caught at the Goat Island Causeway a quarter-century ago still hands in the Clambake Club in Middletown.

As for the traveling manatee, the DEM says it hasn't received a reported sighting of the plant-eating creature since Tuesday, when it was seen nosing around Wickford Harbor.
The manatee has caught the attention of the U.S. Geological Survey, which has a team of researchers who track the endangered animals.

Survey researchers at first thought the manatee might be Chessie, a manatee that wandered by the Statute of Liberty in 2001. But researchers compared pictures of both animals and determined the markings on their skin did not match.

"In previous centuries it was probably common for manatees to migrate up the coast," said Catherine Puckett with the geological survey. Sightings of "sea monsters" in Chesapeake Bay were probably migrating manatees. "But there are so few of them now" -- a few thousand -- "that fewer of them migrate at all anymore."

Manatees like water temperatures above 68 degrees. They can swim 30 miles a day. Last week it was spotted off Woods Hole. If it is now in Rhode Island, it could be making its way back home.

"The thinking is," said Puckett, "he is probably going to turn around and head back south because of the onset of cooler weather."

tmooney@projo.com / (401) 277-7359

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Clam Kill and Low Dissolved Oxygen


The clam die-off and low oxygen conditions that made headlines last week is still going on.

(See http://www.projo.com/news/content/projo_20060805_bay5.1fcb4a8.html , and http://www.projo.com/news/content/projo_20060803_clams3.2008b0e.html).

Although water temperatures have moderated a bit, there is still a vast area of hypoxia in the bottom waters of the Upper Bay. Near-anoxic conditions exist in the cooler, deep dredged channels, and the shallows are still very warm. I was asked to submit a brief article on this whole thing to the national WaterKeeper magazine, and a draft of it follows below.

While I am always cautious about the use of the term "dead zone", Bay conditions are certainly setting up much like they did before the August 19, 2003 "fish kill" in Greenwich Bay. The only missing ingredients are heavy rain and another heat wave. While the bottom waters are in tough shape, huge schools of bluefish from silver dollar-sized juveniles to nine and ten pound slammers are exploding each evening across the Upper Bay. These blues and the juvenile menhaden, anchovies, and silversides they chase are able to tolerate and even thrive on the algae and plankton-rich surface waters.

We'll be out on the Bay in the coming weeks monitoring the conditions, and will continue to push for better science, wastewater capacity and efficiency improvements, and to get rid of cesspools and upgrade failing septic systems. Pollution is definitely a factor in the health of the Bay, and while we can't control the weather (or climate!), we can do more to keep sewage out of the Bay. -JT



Massive Clam Die-Off in Narragansett Bay

In August, after a record heat wave, millions of baby soft-shelled (steamer clams) began washing up on the shores of the Providence River and Narragansett Bay. Extremely high water temperatures (over 80 degrees F) combined with nutrient pollution from wastewater treatment facilities to create a hypoxic “dead zone” that extended throughout much of the Bay.

Narragansett BayKeeper first learned of this through citizen complaints and headed out on the boat to test water quality and survey the scene, accompanied by a reporter and photographer from the Providence Journal. The crew found dead and dying clams knee-deep in some places, along with a heavy stench and clouds of flies. BayKeeper quickly confirmed and documented the hypoxic conditions and high temperatures believed to have caused the kill.

The story ran the following day, prompting regional news coverage and a strong public outcry. Three years prior (August 2003), a similar scene of dead clams washing up preceded a massive fish kill in Narragansett Bay, as over one million juvenile menhaden came up gasping for breath and perished.

“The same conditions that caused the fish kill of ’03 are setting up in the Bay right now,” said BayKeeper John Torgan. “Record heat, excessive nitrogen from wastewater, algae blooms, and other weather and tide conditions are conspiring to suffocate everything on the bottom. We may not be able to control all these factors, but we need to take strong steps now to reduce the pollution. Improving wastewater treatment capacity and removing nitrogen are the best things we can do to prevent this.”

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MEPA Approves Weaver's Cove LNG


To my absolute disgust, but not to anyone's surprise, the Massachusetts Secretary of The Environment gave Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) certification today to the Weaver's Cove LNG project in Fall River. The certificate is conditioned on some of the lame mitigation and other approvals discussed in a previous blog.

It is truly a shame that this proposed project, which should have been a non-starter, has gotten this far in the regulatory process. In addition to all of the security and safety issues properly raised by Fall River and many others, this project has the very real potential of destroying the Taunton River and skewing uses of Narragansett Bay toward the industrial and away from the shared, mixed-use scenario that is naturally evolving throughout this region.

Outside of those who stand to directly benefit financially from this project, it is difficult to find anyone who supports it. We all recognize that we need energy and that gas is an important part of the mix. Still, the wisdom of putting a giant industrial project like Weaver's Cove in a densely populated and environmentally-fragile area like the Taunton is lost on me. If history is any example, Rhode Islanders and the citizens of Massachusetts would rather pay more to do the right thing than throw away our progress for the sake of the speculative benefits and great risks offered by this project.

There are a few narrow-minded people who long for the olden days when Narragansett Bay was a manufacturing and import/export economy, and these people will support any project that suggests it will stimulate economic development, no matter what the cost to people and the environment. Under the banner of NIMBYism, they accuse opponents of placing their own misguided interests of safety, security, and environmental protection above jobs and corporate progress. Perhaps these few LNG supporters really just want to ensure that the tycoons of the oil, gas, and shipping industries stay in control of the rest of the masses, and that the common people be kept down?

I think those greedy and myopic reptiles should start living in the 21st century. The future of Narragansett Bay and its tributary rivers is not oil, gas, and heavy industry. It is in the shared vision of the Bay as a public resource, clean and vibrant, beautiful and compelling, the cornerstone of our identity, staple of our quality of life, our sense of place in the world. That future belongs to us. JT

Friday, July 21, 2006

Weaver's Cove LNG Offers Lame Mitigation Plan


The Weaver's Cove LNG proposal in Fall River is still alive and kicking. Today is the deadline to submit comments to the State Of Massachusetts M.E.P.A office on the latest environmental impact report. I usually don't post our more technical comments on this blog, but I want readers to get a sense of how outrageous the Weaver's Cove proposal is. I think these comments reflect our position on the project clearly. -JT

July 20, 2006

Secretary Stephen R. Pritchard
Executive Office of Environmental Affairs
Attn: MEPA Unit, Analyst Rick Bourre
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Re: Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (SFEIR)

Dear Secretary Pritchard,

Save The Bay has reviewed the June 15, 2006 SFEIR for the Weaver’s Cove LNG project. We find that the project, as proposed, would result in permanent and irreversible impacts to the Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay. The SFEIR fails to meet the fundamental tests of MEPA to avoid and minimize environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable as required by law[1]. Recognizing the narrow scope of MEPA’s jurisdiction, we urge that MEPA certification be denied.

1) Proposed Mitigation is Improper and Inadequate

a) The Applicant’s FEIR has inappropriately proposed off-site mitigation to address the severe impacts that will be caused by the new deepening dredging and the creation of a massive turning basin in the Taunton River. The proposed set of mitigation measures in the FEIR may not be exchanged for avoidable damage. Comparisons to other mitigation and restoration projects are not valid as none of the referenced approaches were ever intended to offset avoidable damage to the ecosystem, and none were approved for these purposes.

b) The applicant grossly misrepresented and misapplied Save The Bay’s eelgrass restoration research and publications. Save The Bay’s eelgrass research and restoration efforts were never intended to mitigate any damaging projects, and it is scientifically indefensible for the applicant to suggest that paying for eelgrass restoration offsite will have any benefit to winter flounder or other marine habitat destroyed by the project.

c) Restocking of winter flounder to offset these damages would be similarly inappropriate, especially given the potential of the project to destroy existing winter flounder spawning habitat. Adding flounder to degraded, impacted habitats is not a reasonable mitigation measure to offset permanent habitat destruction and is in no way equivalent to natural conditions.

d) The on-site creation of shallow subtidal habitat via salt marsh restoration to offset damages will not compensate for losses caused directly by the project. It is not reasonable to assume that created marsh in the vicinity of a deep dredged channel and turning basin will offer equivalent or comparable ecological services as the natural habitats being permanently destroyed by the project.

e) For the same reasons as listed above, anadromous fish restoration is not viable as mitigation in this case. River herring populations in this region are so depressed that the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have all banned the possession of herring and stopped all fishing. Any project that has significant potential to further degrade or impact anadromous fish or their habitat must be denied.

2) The Proposed Dredging Will Cause Permanent and Irreversible Impacts

a) The characterization of the dredging as restoring the river to its fully-authorized depth is misleading. Outside of this project, no dredging is presently planned for the project area, and the turning basin and entrance channel represent new deepening dredging that will not benefit any parties other than the applicant, but will cause significant damage to the environment.

b) The dredged channel and deep areas in the Lower Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay presently experience hypoxia and stratification during summer months.[2] Shallower areas of the Bay are better mixed by winds and tides and generally maintain dissolved oxygen levels capable of supporting most marine life. The proposed creation of the turning basin will extend the deep dredged area nearly from bank-to-bank of the Taunton River, and therefore will create a hypoxic zone across the river that Save The Bay believes will act as a barrier to migration for fish and other marine life. The applicant has failed to address the hydrodynamic and physical water quality impacts of the project, which we believe will be severe.

c) The application of dredging windows or temporal restrictions on dredging will not mitigate the permanent impacts of the deepening. While dredging windows are a valuable management tool to minimize the short-term impacts of dredging on sensitive marine life, windows will not mitigate the permanent impacts of the created hypoxic zone. Also, the proposed observance of narrow dredged windows would require the project to be conducted over multiple years, causing repeated impacts to the river and Bay.


3) Operational Environmental Impacts Not Addressed

a) In addition to dredging impacts, ship operations will continuously disturb benthic habitat in the vicinity of the project by resuspending sediment.

b) Ballast water operations have the potential to introduce non-indigenous species at high volumes. Taking on ballast also has the potential to entrain fish eggs and larvae.

c) Air pollution impacts related to the additional tanker and truck traffic has not been addressed.


In summary, MEPA certification should be denied outright, and not conditioned on any dubious promises of mitigation. To do otherwise would run counter to the public interest.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments. If you have any questions, you may contact me directly at (401) 272-3540 x116.


Sincerely,



John Torgan
Narragansett BayKeeper


[1] 301 CMR 11.07 (6)(j)
[2] http://www.geo.brown.edu/georesearch/insomniacs/papers.html This link to Brown University’s ‘Insomniacs’ website shows multiple references to studies of hypoxia in Mount Hope Bay and Narragansett Bay. As a participant in water quality research in this area, Save The Bay has directly observed low dissolved oxygen conditions in the dredged channel of Mount Hope Bay and the Lower Taunton River in summer.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

When Rains... It Pollutes


Since the beginning of June, Narragansett Bay's watershed has received nearly 9 inches of rain. While that's short of the record, the wet weather affecting the East is already having a severe impact on Narragansett Bay.

Wastewater bypasses have been common from treatment plants, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO's), and storm sewers. Polluted runoff has been pouring into the Bay's tributary rivers. Many shellfishing areas and public beaches are already closed due to high bacteria levels (see the RIDOH Beaches Site).

We're already seeing major algae blooms and low dissolved oxygen in the Upper Bay from all the nitrogen being flushed in, and if we get hot, still weather in the coming weeks, we may be in for some serious water quality problems around the Bay. We'll be monitoring the situation closely.

Today's Warwick Beacon did a great story on this:

Warwick Beacon
Rain could mix lethal cocktail for bay

Written by HOWELL, JOHN
Thu, Jun 29 06
By JOHN HOWELL

Near monsoon conditions this month have done more than wreak havoc with family barbecues, sporting events and vacation plans. It could also be the prelude to a major fish kill in Greenwich Bay and sections of Narragansett Bay.

That’s what people who monitor bay conditions fear.

The heavy and persistent rains are seen as the cause for a spike of nutrients – nitrogen – in bay waters resulting in algae blooms. The blooms are responsible for the water coloration, which in sections of the bay is currently a tea-brown but may also be yellow, red or green according to Joseph Migliore, principal environmental scientist with the Department of Environmental Management office of water resources.

But more important to the creatures living in the water, the blooms of plankton deplete the level of dissolved oxygen. And when the dissolved oxygen falls below 1 milligram per liter, finfish and shellfish start dying.

Migliore says whether Greenwich Bay experiences another massive fish kill like that of 2003 depends on a variety of factors. Winds and tides have an impact on the level of dissolved oxygen as well as the “flushing” of bay coves and inlets. Wave action, the result of wind, serves to restore oxygen to the water. Temperature also plays a role. Warmer water loses its ability to retain oxygen, so a spate of sunny weather that would spell relief for those of us on land could be the death knell for some aquatic organisms.

Signs are pointing to the potential for a lethal cocktail, especially for Greenwich Bay that doesn’t get the tidal activity of Narragansett Bay.

John Williams of Warwick Cove Marina and the Greenwich Bay Watershed Group, which monitors bay water quality on a weekly basis, started seeing the alarming indicators last week. The group measures water temperature, dissolved oxygen and salinity at several assigned locations under a program financed by the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and the New England Grass Roots Environmental Fund. Samples taken the morning of June 24 found dissolved oxygen levels at 3.5 to 7.2 at a meter below the surface. At a meter from the bottom, however, conditions deteriorated. The readings read from a high of 3.9 at middle ground to 1.1 at Sally Rock.

“This is a wake-up call more than a proclamation of death,” Williams said yesterday, “we’ll leave that to the coroner.”

John Torgan, BayKeeper for Save the Bay, is concerned by the reports and what he is seeing on the bay.

“Unfortunately the conditions are similar to those that led up to the fish kill of 2003,” he said. He added that water conditions are particularly poor in the East Passage and “we are seeing major algae blooms.” Torgan said conditions are setting up “for periods of low dissolved oxygen” and for “dead zones in the bay.”

While the inability of the Providence wastewater treatment plant to process the loads it receives during periods of heavy rain – a condition that is being addressed with the construction of underground tunnels that will enable the retention of water until it can be treated – is seen as a major contributor of nutrients into the bay, it is not the only source. “It’s not just Providence that’s causing this,” said Torgan. He cites how storm runoff washes fertilizers into the bay as well as untreated water from failing septic systems and cesspools.

“When it rains, it [nutrients] pour into the bay,” he said.

Scientists believe there may be more factors at work.

Christopher Deacutis, chief scientist with the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program based at URI, says the introduction of fresh water, which is lighter than salt water, sets up a layering of waters within the water column. In effect, he said, the rain “seals off the bottom” from the mixing that occurs from wave activity. Further, Deacutis said, wind direction is thought to have a significant impact on Greenwich Bay water quality. It is thought that a westerly wind pushes the more sedentary waters on the Cowesett shoreline out into the bay where they are carried back again by the tide.

Finfish can escape by leaving areas that are low in dissolved oxygen, but shellfish are stuck.
Fortunately some shellfish can wait out the period of low to no levels of dissolved oxygen. Deacutis said mussels are among the most vulnerable and can last about a week. Soft shell clams can make it about two weeks and older mature quahogs can go for a month.
“Quahogs clam up, go into hibernation,” said Deacutis.

The next two weeks would appear to be especially critical. Deacutis notes that tides at this time are weak and that next week we will have a neap tide when the rise and fall of the tide is at its least variation.

Migliore says the “bay is very nutrient rich right now and the runoff is washing additional amounts of nutrients.” In this potent concoction, he said, is a number of competing plankton “some good and some not so good.”

The condition is not much different than a home aquarium.

“If you put too much fish food in the tank all of a sudden it goes green,” he said.
The difference, of course, is that reducing the nutrients flowing into the bay takes years to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and get residents to tie into sewer systems. Other actions such as wetland restoration also have an impact.

But for now, Migliore says, “there’s nothing we can do about it.”







Monday, June 19, 2006

Huge Win on Nutrient Pollution!!!


Today, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) announced a landmark agreement to reduce nitrogen loads from the two major wastewater treatment facilities that serve the Providence area. The Field's Point and Bucklin Point plants are now slated to begin construction of facilities that will reduce nutrient loads to the Bay from these plants by more than half.

This is something we pushed hard for over several years, and it's time to congratulate DEM and the NBC as well as all the people who helped make this possible. Nutrient pollution is still the most significant threat to the health and stability of Narragansett Bay's ecosystem. While today's agreement goes a long way toward addressing the problem, too much nitrogen is still flowing into the Bay from upstream sources (This means you, Worcester, Woonsocket, and East Providence, to name a few!). We also need to make sure we're monitoring to measure the effects of these improvements. JT

Read Save The Bay's news release on this historic agreement below:

Save The Bay welcomes nitrogen reduction agreement between NBC and DEM

Providence, RI – Save The Bay today praised the Narragansett Bay Commission and RI Department of Environmental Management’s agreement to dramatically reduce nitrogen discharges to Narragansett Bay from the Fields Point and Bucklin Point facilities.

In response to ground-breaking legislation passed in 2004, DEM first issued the draft permits in June of 2005. NBC’s agreement to reduce nitrogen discharges to 5mg/liter, once the new technology is installed and operating will lead to dramatic improvements in water quality for Narragansett Bay.

“While we will be reviewing the details of the agreement, we are enthusiastic about the agreement’s broad framework,” said Save The Bay Executive Director Curt Spalding. “This can indeed mark a great victory for the Bay and the many people who have worked hard to relieve the Bay of excess nitrogen loading.”

Spalding praised the bold first step and leadership of NBC in reaching this agreement. Their example should provide the impetus for other dischargers in East Providence, Woonsocket and upstream in Massachusetts to take similar steps. Save The Bay will continue to work to secure those nitrogen reductions as well, he said.

“This announcement is very timely,” Spalding continued. “It highlights the importance of two pieces of legislation pending at the RI General Assembly right now: A request for funds to monitor the conditions in Narragansett Bay and the $25 million Clean Water Bond that is necessary to provide capacity for the Clean Water Financing Agency to fund projects just like these.”

Save The Bay actively advocated for nitrogen reduction, even before the “wake-up call” of the 2003 fish and clam kill. The organization warned of the threat to the Bay weeks before the monumental event and has since led the effort to reduce nitrogen discharge by municipal wastewater treatment facilities.

“We cannot fully celebrate this victory without the General Assembly approving funding for Bay monitoring. We need benchmarks before the upgraded Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) system is online and in advance of nitrogen reduction at Fields Point and Bucklin Point. We cannot judge the performance of these two important improvements without monitoring Bay conditions. Similarly, financing of these and other water improvement projects hinges on passage of the Clean Water Bond. Save The Bay urges the Assembly to do the right thing.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Plug for the Natural News


Today, the second edition of the Natural News (http://www.naturalnews.net/) hit the e-newstands. This new publication, spearheaded by Rhode Island's Mary Grady, showcases the latest happenings and features in environmental and sustainable living in the Rhode Island area. Mary is a freelance writer and teaches Environmental Studies at Rhode Island College and Northeastern University. She's also an old friend of the Bay and Save The Bay.

I encourage readers of this Blog to visit the Natural News website and sign up. It's free. -JT

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New Report Shows Serious ByCatch Problem in NE


A new report by the Marine Fish Conservation Network released today shows that bycatch, or incidental take of non-targeted fish species, is a serious problem here in New England as well as nationally. The report describes how federal fisheries managers have failed to control or even monitor discarded fish as required by law.

The Northeast groundfishery, according to the report, throws away nearly 2 pounds of bycatch for every pound of fish kept and sold. This accounts for 215 million pounds of fish discarded and wasted annually.

This is totally unacceptable and appalling. We need to get the Magnusson/Stevens Act re-authorized in Congress this year, and it needs to address this problem by setting bycatch limits, requiring observers, and allowing public access to the information. -JT

See the report Here

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

LNG Simulation Run Story


On Friday, we had a great trip out on the Bay with Attorney General Patrick Lynch and a range of experts on marine safety and security to perform an independent analysis of the risks of shipping LNG to Weaver's Cove in Fall River. The folowing article, by reporter Sean Flynn, appeared in Saturday's Newport Daily News. I think the article sums it up well. JT


Boat trip aims to sink LNG proposal

By Sean Flynn/Daily News staff

Save The Bay took a group of maritime officials, security experts and elected leaders on a boat ride Friday along a 26-mile route a supertanker carrying up to 33 million gallons of liquefied natural gas would take from Newport Harbor to Fall River, Mass., where Weaver's Cove Energy LLC plans to build a large LNG terminal.Robin Wallace, director of the Rhode Island State Yachting Committee, was aboard Save The Bay's 45-foot trawler, the M/V Aletta Morris, with Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch.

The proposal has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but it still needs a certificate of waterway suitability from the Coast Guard.Wallace and the other passengers aboard the trawler want to persuade the Coast Guard not to grant that certificate.Wallace, a member of the New York Yacht Club and chairman of its race committee, said his club is teaming up with Ida Lewis Yacht Club to financially support a new Save The Bay campaign to raise awareness about the risks of the LNG proposal.John Torgan, Save The Bay's Narragansett Bay Keeper, said the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers and the Rhode Island Shoreline Coalition have made a similar pledge. He said Save The Bay hopes to raise about $100,000 for the campaign.

Those groups may have different reasons for joining the campaign, but they are all concerned about the "disruptive impact the LNG traffic and the necessary security measures would have on the bay.""It came about because of our desire to have a unified approach on behalf of recreational sailors," Wallace said, speaking for the yacht clubs.

Under federal regulations, the Coast Guard must maintain a security "exclusion zone" around the supertankers that extends two miles off the bow, one mile off the stern and 1,500 feet on either side of the vessel. That zone would cover the width of the waterway between Fort Adams in Newport and the eastern shore of Jamestown.

"Every time a supertanker passes, our most historic harbor is shut down," said Lynch as he held a map of Newport Harbor on the breezy deck of the M/V Aletta Morris.That could have a serious impact on Newport as a worldwide recognized sailing center, Wallace said."Once Newport gets a track record of events being interfered with by LNG tankers, it will become less attractive for recreational sailors to come here," he said. That could have a long-term effect on the area's economy, he said.Downgrade of Newport's appeal?The city lost the America's Cup Races in 1983, but Sail Newport was founded that year. The Newport Yacht Club moved to the city in 1988. These organizations and others have continued to attract sailors here, Wallace said."They sail here, keep their boats here and fit out their boats here," he said. "They buy sails, electronic equipment and other necessities. They support our restaurants and hotels."

According to Wallace, Bruno Peyron of France who was here recently to prepare for his cross-Atlantic trip, said, "The Newport area is the best in the world to prepare for a major event because there are so many resources here."The Newport to Bermuda race that begins June 16 will attract more than 250 boats."Newport's reputation is so good that organizations want to come here without us paying them," Wallace said.

That is not always the case. He said that more and more professional organizers want communities to pay for the privilege of hosting an event and reaping the economic benefits of such an event. He said a community in Portugal paid more than $500,000 (500,000 euros) to host the Farr 40 World Championship in September 2007.In the face of such competition, Wallace said Newport must become more attractive, and not become part of an LNG supertanker route that would diminish its appeal."

No one disputes the need for more LNG terminals, but they can be sited in places without having a destructive effect," he said.Assistant Attorney General Paul J. Roberti, chief of the office's regulatory unit, was also on the boat ride. He said there are now two proposals to site a terminal about 17 miles off the coast of Gloucester, Mass. He said a number of sites have been explored off the coast of Maine, all in sparsely populated areas. One Maine community, he said, voted to welcome development of an LNG terminal."There are alternatives out there," Roberti said. "But if Weaver's Cove happens, these reasonable alternatives may not be pursued." That could happen, he said, because it is less of an investment to develop an LNG terminal on land than offshore.

The experts

The three maritime experts on board Friday will write a report for the attorney general's office, which will submit it to the Coast Guard. One of the experts is Ron Gorsline, a former Navy SEAL who trained law enforcement personnel to provide security at the Cove Point LNG terminal in Maryland. He also trains Coast Guard personnel on LNG security issues."The biggest trouble spot is from the Braga Bridge (in Fall River) to Weaver's Cove," he said Friday as he surveyed Mount Hope Bay. The old Brightman Street Bridge will not be demolished under federal legislation successfully sponsored by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.If the bridge remains, there will be only 8 feet of clearance on smaller tankers as they pass between the bridge piles."It's a densely populated area and a restricted area for navigation," Gorsline said. "There is no maneuverability here. I don't see this as being a good option."

Jay Bolton, a U.S. master mariner with 39 years of international seafaring experience, said, "I'll do a risk-benefit analysis. There are some significant risks involved in the narrow channels and shallow water."Torgan said an estimated 3 million cubic yards must be dredged in Mount Hope Bay near Weaver's Cove to form a turning basin for the supertankers.The third member of the team is Merle Smith, a Vietnam veteran and former Coast Guard commander, who has served as legal counsel for the Electric Boat Division of the General Dynamics Corp. He will focus on the security necessary for the planned 70 to 120 tankers a year traveling up and down Narragansett Bay.

State Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr., D-Bristol, and Newport City Councilman Stephen R. Coyne were among the elected officials on the boat.Gallison pointed out the security zone around the tankers would extend onto land at points along the route, including part of the campus of Rogers Williams University."Will they have to vacate buildings every time a tanker passes?" he asked."The Coast Guard has already said they won't be able to protect the tankers from a well-planned and coordinated attack," he said.These questions and concerns will now all be directed at the Coast Guard."On this issue, Rhode Island is going to be entirely dependent on the Coast Guard," Roberti said.


© Copyright 2004 - 2001. The Newport Daily News. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Menhaden in the Bay


For the past 4 weeks, the staff of Save The Bay has been treated to the sight of massive schools of adult menhaden in the Providence River in front of the Bay Center. Called "The most important fish in the sea" Atlantic menhaden are a key fish species in Narragansett Bay as they provide forage for sportfish and also remove lots of plankton through filter-feeding.

Unlike river herring, menhaden spend their entire lives in salt water. Known to spawn above the continental shelf hundreds of miles offshore, they also lay eggs in estuaries. Eggs, larvae, and juveniles (called 'peanut bunker') are common in the Bay. Historically, large adult menhaden (>12") were also common in the Bay, but have declined since the mid-1970's and had not been regularly observed in big schools until 2005, when a large school of adults appeared again in the Providence River.

Stock assessments from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and estimates from the RIDEM suggest that the species is not overfished, and that a viable, sustainable coastal stock remains. Unlike the Chesapeake states and Gulf states, Rhode Island does not practice "reduction" harvesting and only allows commercial seining of the species for bait purposes. Reduction refers to the process of processing the fish to remove their oil and turn the protein into fish meal for fertilizer or animal feed, and has been implicated as a major factor in stock declines in menhaden and other dependent species in those areas where it is practiced.

The commercial seining of menhaden in Narragansett Bay for bait is controversial. Many recreational fishermen object to the presence of the large seine boats all the way up into the city of Providence, scattering if not decimating the schools and ruining the fishing. Many recreational fishers also object to the sight of bycatch such as striped bass and bluefish in the seine nets. Some commercial fishermen, some lobstermen, and the management agencies claim that there is no Bay-dependent stock, that they are not being overfished, and that the seiners support recreational fishing through bait shops.

Whether these seine boats are significantly depleting the Bay's populations is a matter of debate, but it seems reasonable that we should draw a line somewhere to limit the scope of the commercial netting even if just to protect the recreational fishery. My opinion is that the seiners are overfishing the Bay's stocks already. Drawing a line from the Conimicut light to the Nayatt light and prohibiting commercial seining north of that line would be a great start toward conservation and effective management.

It is probably too late to pass legislation in this year's General Assembly establishing real conservation zones, but it's something we should strongly consider for next year. It's wonderful to have these big "pogies" back in the River and we'd like to see them year after year. -JT




Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Let's lose the Cesspools!


It's unbelievable that Rhode Island still allows cesspools in coastal areas. A cesspool is basically a pit in the ground into which raw sewage is dumped. That sewage, along with all its nasty bacteria and other pollutants, then flows right into the Bay. For the past 5 years, Save The Bay has fought unsuccessfully to change the law and phase-out cesspools. Resistance from builders, realtors, and various other petty politics has prevented this no-brainer from passing. This year, a weakened version of the original bill is pending in the general assembly and even that looks like it might not pass. It's an outrage. -JT

Below is text from an open letter from STB to legislators and policy makers:


It is time to take the first steps to rid Rhode Island of its cesspools. The cesspool phase-out legislation before the House and Senate (H7699 and S2505) this year does just that by targeting the cesspools that pose the greatest threat to human health, public drinking water supplies, public beaches and Narragansett Bay. Save The Bay urges you to support this legislation.

The legislation will require inspection and removal of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 of Rhode Island’s estimated 50,000 cesspools by the year 2012. The affected cesspools are only those within 200 feet of:
· a public well,
· a water body with a public beach,
· the intake of a surface drinking water supply, or
· the shoreline (CRMC’s jurisdiction).

Owners of properties with cesspools are required to either replace the cesspool with a proper individual sewage disposal system (ISDS) or tie into sewer lines if available or planned. In addition, the bill provides prospective purchasers of property statewide ten days to obtain an inspection of the on-site sewage system to determine if a cesspool exists and its condition. This provision should create an incentive for the removal of cesspools at the point to sale throughout the state, although it does not require it.

Finally, the bill does not apply in a community which has its own municipal on-site wastewater management plan that meets the purposes of the legislation and contains provisions for waivers in cases of undue hardship.

Cesspool phase-out legislation has come before the RI Legislature for each of the last four years – each year since 2001 when the ISDS Task Force recommended removal of all cesspools in RI. Four years is far too long to wait to address a public health threat and although this bill is limited in its scope is represents a critically important beginning. Failing cesspools pose a direct threat to keeping Rhode Island’s waters drinkable, swimmable and fishable. Save The Bay asks you to defend these most important of public resources.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rally against Weaver's Cove LNG


The proposal to create a large-scale Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tanker terminal in Fall River by Weaver's Cove and Hess may be sailing along through the federal permitting process, but the States of Rhode Island and Massachusetts are united in their determination to keep it out of the Taunton River.

Senator John Kerry's appearance at a Fall River anti-LNG rally yesterday helped keep the momentum of the LNG opposition movement alive. Lately, much of the official news on the Weaver's Cove project has been discouraging: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied our motion to reopen the public record and require a supplemental EIS, and FERC punted most of the substantive safety and environmental decisions to the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and the States.

The locals in Fall River, led by the popular and charismatic Mayor Lambert, Joe Carvahlo and the Coalition for Responsible LNG Siting, have done a phenomenal job keeping this issue in the public's eye and this rally event was another example of their courage and vision . Despite great coverage by the local media and Save The Bay's best efforts to reach out to the public on this, many Rhode Islanders and Massachusetts residents still don't seem to understand the massive environmental, economic, and public safety risks of the Weaver's Cove proposal. Clearly this plan should have been a non-starter and it is a surprise and disappointment that it has gotten this far.

It seems like just about every year, there is some new scheme to convert a major portion of the Bay's public waters into private, for-profit, industrial or energy facilities at the expense of the environment and public trust. These kinds of proposals always promise a panacea of economic development, jobs, and energy security and claim to pose only a minimal or insignificant risk to the existing communities.

Save The Bay has a long memory for mega-boondoggles, each of which was supposed to be a "silver bullet" cure for all that ailed the local economy. Does anyone remember Commerce Oil's plans for Jamestown, the Tiverton oil refinery proposal, Patience Island LNG, Rome Point nuclear power plant, or the Quonset Point Container Port?

All of these proposals had strong support from big-business types, but ultimately they failed under their own dead weight. They failed, but not because of obstuctionist enviromental groups or burdensome government regulations. They failed because they were way out of proportion with Narragansett Bay and its coastal communities. They failed because they were bad business decisions, but it took the bright shining light of public review and disclosure to expose their fatal flaws.

Ultimately, we expect that Weaver's Cove LNG will go extinct like all those other ill-fated ideas. While it may be cruising through the industry-friendly FERC,other agencies like the Coast Guard, the Corps, and the states still have the time and the responsibility to act in the Bay's defense. In the meantime, we are committed to the fight. JT

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lessons From the Mussel Kill


Below is the abstract from an article published in Ecology by Brown University scientists Andrew Altieri and Jon Witman showing that large numbers of blue mussels in Narragansett Bay died in 2001 due to low dissolved oxygen.

Over the past five years, I have fielded a number of pollution complaints related to dead and dying blue mussels washing up on shorelines throughout Narragansett Bay and in Point Judith Pond. I strongly suspected that these events were caused by prolonged periods of low dissolved oxygen in the Bay. Until this article, though, there was little scientific evidence of a causal link between dead musssels and nutrient pollution.

It makes sense. So many of the major pollution problems we have observed throughout Narragansett Bay in recent years are rooted in the same cause- too much nitrogen from wastewater is polluting the Bay. That nitrogen causes excessive algae to bloom, turning the water a murky green and blocking the sunlight from penetrating the Bay's water. As this algae dies and settles on the bottom, it forms a stinky muck. As bacteria break down the muck and as the algae goes through its nightly respiration, these processes consume all the dissolved oxygen in the water.

Low dissolved oxygen can cause fish kills if it happens suddenly, as it did in Greenwich Bay in August, 2003. It has also caused massive numbers soft-shelled clams to wash up dead, as well as sea stars, oysters, and blue mussels. It is this same algae that piles up on the Warwick and Cranston shorelines causing rotting egg odor so strong it drives people from their homes.

What are the lessons to be drawn from this? First, we have to adopt advanced wastewater treatment practices at all the Bay's major wastewater facilities. This can be done equitably, and no single plant or company is solely responsible. Rhode Island has established nitrogen limits for some wastewater plants, but much of the treated wastewater flowing into the Bay still has very high nitrogen levels. Passing the clean water bond issue in November will help the state raise money for these sorely-needed upgrades.

Second, we need to eliminate cesspools entirely and get coastal communities to upgrade septic systems wherever it is practicable. It's shameful that we still have so many raw pits of sewage and clogged septic systems discharging directly into the Bay.

Third, we have to do a better job monitoring the Bay. Last year, the Rhode Island legislature failed to appropriate any money for Bay monitoring. Without standardized and comprehensive monitoring, we're not getting the information we need to accurately measure the health of the Bay. Lacking complete science is no excuse, though, for delaying decisive action where it is clearly needed.

Independent and unbiased scientific reports like this one provide clear and irrefutable evidence of the problem. In the face of facts like this, it's difficult to comprehend how anyone can still doubt the extent and obvious causes of nutrient pollution in the Bay. -JT

Ecology: Vol. 87, No. 3, pp. 717–730.
LOCAL EXTINCTION OF A FOUNDATION SPECIES IN A HYPOXIC ESTUARY: INTEGRATING INDIVIDUALS TO ECOSYSTEM
Andrew H. Altieri and Jon D. Witman

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Box G-W, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912 USA
Abstract.We integrated across individual, population, community, and ecosystem levels to understand the impact of environmental stress by tracking the foundation species
Mytilus edulis in the hypoxic estuary Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, USA. Our initial surveys revealed that the mussels occurred in nine extensive (2–28 ha) dense (814–9943 individuals/m2) subtidal reefs that attracted a diverse suite of predators (sea stars, crabs, gastropods). Hypoxia occurred in the summer of 2001, and a mussel transplant experiment revealed overall reduced growth rates of individuals, and higher mortality rates among larger mussels. At the population level, large decreases in densities and cover of mussels were correlated with dissolved oxygen concentrations, leading to extinction at one site and reductions of over an order of magnitude at others. Within one year, seven of the eight remaining populations were edged to extinction, and the previously extinct population was recolonized. At the community level, a predator exclusion experiment indicated that predation was an unimportant source of mussel mortality during the hypoxic period, in part due to the emigration of sea stars, as predicted by the Consumer Stress Model. However, mussels were too intolerant to hypoxia to have a net benefit from the predation refuge. The seasonal (summer) occurrence of hypoxia allowed sea stars to return following a lag, as predicted by a stress return time model, and the resumption of predation contributed to the subsequent extinction of mussel populations. At the ecosystem level, the initial filtration rate of the mussel reefs was estimated at 134.6 × 106 m3/d, equivalent to filtering the volume of the bay 1.3 times during the 26-d average residence time. That function was reduced by >75% following hypoxia. The effect of hypoxia on each level of organization had consequences at others. For example, size-specific mortality and decreased growth of individuals, and reduced filtration capacity of reefs, indicated a loss of the ability of mussels to entrain planktonic productivity and potential to control future eutrophication and hypoxia. Our study quantified patterns of loss and identified pathways within an integrative framework of feedbacks, summarized in a conceptual model that is applicable to similar foundation species subjected to environmental stress.
Key words:
Asterias forbesi; benthic–pelagic coupling; bivalve; dissolved oxygen; disturbance;; environmental stress; eutrophication; filtration; mussel; Mytilus edulis; predation; refuge.
Manuscript received 8 February 2005; revised 12 July 2005; accepted 1 August 2005; final version received final version 16 August 2005.. Corresponding Editor: P. T. Raimondi.