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.
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.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Omega Dam and the Ten Mile River to be Restored

Herring stacking up at Omega Dam may finally get the boost they need to get into the Ten Mile River by next year. A long-awaited feasibility study by the US Army Corps of Engineers is finally complete and calls for the installation of fishways at three key locations: Omega Dam, Hunts Mill Dam, and the Turner Reservoir.

The Corps, in partnership with Save The Bay, RIDEM, East Providence, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, NRCS, and the RI Saltwater Anglers Association, is now moving forward with the design and specifications for the restoration of the Ten Mile. The project is expected to cost about $2 million, with 65% coming from Federal funds. Construction is expected to begin in 2007, but this is still contingent on finding state and local match.

The Ten Mile once supported large populations of blueback herring and alewives, but today nothing can pass its dams and restrictions without being manually transported. After the State of Rhode Island passed regulations prohibiting the taking and possession of river herring this spring, the Saltwater Anglers obtained a special permit to perform “dip-assist” transplantation of fish over Omega Dam until the fishway is built. Known as the “Human Fish Ladders”, these salty dogs like RISAA and Save The Bay member Paul Bettencourt are largely responsible for sustaining populations there for many generations.

It is a high priority for both Save The Bay and RISAA to make sure that this restoration gets funded and moves forward. Just as important is our collective commitment to maintaining public access and water quality improvements to this dusty jewel of Narragansett Bay. -JT

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why We Care About Federally Regulated Fisheries

This week, the reauthorization of the Magnusson-Stevens Act, the federal law governing ocean fisheries, comes before Congress. At stake for our region are 36 federally managed fish species.

Just last week, the Marine Fish Conservation Network issued a report on the status of our nation's fish stocks. The news is grim. Currently only 13% of federally-managed fish stocks are considered healthy. Of the 36 species managed in New England, only 10 are considered healthy. Many of these, including cod, haddock, flounder, herring, striped bass, and many others are dependent on Narragansett Bay and other local estuaries at various life stages. Save The Bay has been a member of this network since the 90's, and MFCN has done a great job of advocating conservation at the national level.

The federal fisheries act needs to be reauthorized. That is unanimous among commercial and recreational fishing communities. In Rhode Island, at least, fishermen appear to understand and value conservation as an investment in the future of the industry as well as the environment. The battered and heavily-regulated commercial fishing groups seem resigned to new stricter regulations and are adapting to stay in business. Recreational groups also seem to be more in tune with the need for tougher catch limits than in past years.

Still, there are interests out there seeking to insert riders into the act that would weaken existing laws. That just shouldn't fly. With river herring headed toward an endangered species listing and other stocks in severe decline, conservation is really the only option. -JT