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Source: Newsday

Lawmakers pledge to protect LI Sound


Posted: August 9, 2011
Originally Published: August 8, 2011

New York and Connecticut lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pledged Monday to improve coordination on efforts to protect Long Island Sound, where pollution has lessened but remains a problem nearly 25 years after it was designated an estuary of national significance.

The Port Jefferson strategy session was the first such meeting in 20 years between elected officials from both sides of the Sound, organizers said.

Among the goals they agreed on: joint state planning on wind farms, continued upgrades of aging sewage-treatment plants that ring the Sound, and a look at how climate change will affect coastal communities and ecosystems. State lawmakers also committed to forming Long Island Sound caucuses in both legislatures. The groups will meet again in October to discuss those priorities.

"Water and wildlife don't recognize political boundaries," said Sandy Breslin, director of governmental affairs for Connecticut Audubon and a member of the Long Island Sound Study's Citizen Advisory Committee. The 37-member body represents business, municipal, environmental, civic and academic organizations on both sides of the Sound.

Organizers called the meeting "productive" and cast it as a step forward for the at-times troubled waterbody.

Sewage-treatment plant upgrades have helped improve water quality and have shrunk a "dead zone" where low oxygen levels caused fish kills, said Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale.

But stormwater runoff continues to sweep nitrogen, bacteria and other contaminants into the Sound.

Lobster populations have still not recovered from a catastrophic 1999 die-off that put baymen on both sides of the water out of work. The Sound has been the scene of political tussles over proposed energy projects such as the Broadwater liquefied natural gas terminal. Coordination between state agencies and legislatures on both sides of the water has been fitful at best in recent years, advocates and lawmakers said YesterdayMonday.

The initiative also comes as state and federal agencies struggle to fund basic programs, and House Republicans seek to limit regulators' authority to enforce the Clean Water Act and other key environmental laws.

"When you couple absence of funding with the legislative efforts that are under way to essentially eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency, the climate is a very difficult one," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), a longtime supporter of Long Island Sound restoration projects.

Those challenges make such collaborations all the more necessary, Bishop said, adding that regional industries from tourism to fishing all depend on environmental protections. "For a great many of us, the environment is the economy, and the economy is the environment."