Topic:
COAL; COMMERCIAL FISHING; ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION DEPARTMENT; FISH; LEGISLATION; LONG ISLAND SOUND; MARINE RESOURCES; WATER POLLUTION; WETLANDS;
Location:
LONG ISLAND SOUND;

OLR Research Report


July 15, 2008

 

2008-R-0392

STATE INITIATIVES TO PRESERVE LONG ISLAND SOUND

By: Paul Frisman, Principal Analyst

You asked about state initiatives to preserve Long Island Sound.

SUMMARY

There are a host of state and regional initiatives to preserve various aspects of Long Island Sound, including its water quality, coastal areas, wetlands and estuaries, and shellfish and lobster populations. There also are initiatives to improve recreational boating and commercial fishing in the Sound. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) oversees or participates in these programs, many of them cooperatively with New York and regional agencies and federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Army Corps of Engineers, Fish & Wildlife Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This report summarizes some, but not all, of these initiatives. For more information, please contact DEP's Office of Long Island Sound Programs (OLISP) at (860) 424-3034.

GENERAL

Ocean Governance

Connecticut is taking part in the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) to address ocean and coastal issues that cross state and federal boundaries. NROC collaborates directly with the president's Ocean Policy Committee to communicate ocean-related issues of national scope in the northeast. NROC has identified four goals, including preparing New England for such coastal hazards as storms, shoreline erosion, and coastal inundation resulting from global warming. Other areas of concern are ecosystem health, ocean energy planning and management, and maritime security. More information on NROC and its priorities, as well as other information about the Sound, can be found in the February 2008 issue of DEP's Long Island Sound newsletter, “Sound Outlook” (http://www.ct.gov/dep/lib/dep/long_island_sound/soundout/sound_outlook_february_2008.pdf).

Long Island Sound License Plate Program

CGS 14-21e authorizes the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue Long Island Sound license plates and CGS 22a-27k establishes the Long Island Sound Fund. Proceeds from the sale of the license plates are deposited into the fund and used to (1) develop public outreach and education programs to increase public awareness of the need to preserve and protect the Sound; (2) increase public access to the Sound; (3) protect and restore essential habitat; and (4) support scientific research. According to DEP, more than $4.7 million has been awarded for 300 projects, including an educational grant that helped fund a 30-minute DVD documentary on the Sound, sent to Connecticut sixth-grade science teachers; coastal public access projects across the state including the creation of new shoreline parks, canoe and kayak trails, fishing piers, boardwalks, and boat launches; research projects on Sound water quality and tidal wetland health and restoration; and studies of horseshoe crabs, fish, birds, and marine mammals. A complete list of projects is available at www.ct.gov/dep/lislicenseplate.

Dredging Agreement

Six agencies that regulate dredging in the Sound, including DEP, agreed in 2007 on a process to reduce or eliminate open water disposal of dredged material in the Sound. A regional dredging team will help evaluate various management options until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes a Dredged Material Management Plan in 2013. The Long Island Sound Regional Dredging Review Team will review all federal dredging projects and non-federal projects proposing more than 25,000 cubic yards of open water disposal in central or western portions of the Sound. Taking part in the agreement, besides DEP and the Corps, are EPA, NOAA, and the New York State departments of environmental conservation and state.

Long Island Sound Integrated Coastal Observing System (LISICOS)

The University of Connecticut's Marine Sciences program is the lead institution for developing a system to observe the Sound's ecosystem. Originally a series of buoys that recorded temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and wave height, DEP states that funding from the national Integrated Ocean Observing System has allowed the program to add new water quality sensors to provide real-time data on oxygen levels, and radar units that provide data on surface water current velocity. More information can be found at http://lisicos.uconn.edu.

Seafloor Mapping

UConn and DEP are working to develop a habitat classification system and seafloor mapping strategy of the Sound. Recent proposed projects such as the Islander East natural gas pipeline and Broadwater liquefied natural gas facility demonstrate the need for seafloor maps to allow the analysis of impacts of deepwater construction activities.

LONG ISLAND SOUND STUDY AND THE STEWARDSHIP INITIATIVE

DEP is a partner in the Long Island Sound Study (LISS), a cooperative effort of the state, local and federal government, environmental organizations, academic institutions, and business and industry to analyze and correct the Sound's most pressing environmental problems. LISS seeks to achieve the goals of its 1994 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan to protect and preserve the Sound. More information on LISS and the Sound's environmental health is available at Long Island Sound Study: Sound Health 2008. The LISS is a National Estuary Program established under the federal Clean Water Act.

LISS' Stewardship Initiative identifies places with significant ecological or environmental value. The 2006 Stewardship Atlas identifies 33 such areas, 15 of them in Connecticut. The initiative's goal is to conserve these areas, increase access to the Sound, protect important habitats, and plan for multiple uses.

WATER QUALITY

Nitrogen Credit Exchange Program

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to establish Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for waterbodies that do not meet minimum water quality standards. In 2001, the EPA approved a TMDL plan submitted by Connecticut and New York to reduce the amount of nitrogen their sewage treatment plants discharged into Long Island Sound. Excess amounts of nitrogen cause greatly reduced levels of oxygen (“hypoxia”), which in turn can disrupt the feeding, growth, and reproduction of nearly all forms of aquatic life. Connecticut and New York agreed to reduce nitrogen discharges by a combined 58.5% by 2014. Connecticut set a 48% reduction goal for 2009 and a 64% reduction goal for its 79 municipal treatment plants.

To achieve this goal DEP issues general permits that set out annual, gradually declining discharge limits for each plant. According to the Nitrogen Credit Advisory Board's 2006 report, the state's treatment facilities have made “steady progress” towards achieving the 2009 and 2014 TMDL allocations, and EPA has declared the program a national model. DEP commissioner Gina McCarthy has cautioned that continued progress depends on adequate financing through the Clean Water Fund. In 2008, the legislature authorized about $600 million in Clean Water Fund grant and loan money for FYs 08 and 09, which DEP says meets most of the immediate need. More information on the fund and the program can be found in OLR Report 2006-R-0552. More information on the nitrogen reduction program in general can be found in OLR Reports 98-R-1495 and 2000-R-1144.

Nonpoint Source Pollution Control

Nonpoint source pollution comes from many diffuse sources, including rain and snowmelt that carry contaminants from lawns, parking lots, farms, city streets, and inadequate septic systems into coastal waters and the rivers and streams that feed them. According to DEP, urban runoff is the primary nonpoint source of pollution in the state. Urban runoff can carry road sand, oil, nutrients, sediments, heavy metals, bacteria, and viruses to the Sound, closing beaches, harming fish populations and water quality. DEP's Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control program, approved by EPA in 2003, seeks to manage nonpoint source pollution from agriculture, urban areas, marinas and recreational boating, hydromodifications (the artificial altering of water's natural flow for such purposes as flood control or drainage) and wetlands and riparian areas. More information on this program is available at http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?a=2705&q=323566.

BOATING

Clean Vessel Act and “No Discharge Area”

Raw or poorly treated sewage can cause serious local problems by spreading disease and contaminating local shellfish beds. Since 1993, Connecticut has sought to improve the availability of pump-out facilities for proper handling of sewage generated by recreational vessels. Since that time the number of available pump-outs has more than tripled from 30 to more than 90. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has distributed more than $9 million in grant funds, most of which has been given to marinas, municipalities, and not for profit entities to install, operate, and maintain pump-outs.

As a result, in July 2007, Gov. Rell was able to declare all state waters in Long Island Sound to be a “No Discharge Area,” making it illegal for boaters to discharge sewage from vessels anywhere in those waters. Boaters must use pump-out facilities or pump-out boats to dispose of waste. The state received the No Discharge Area designation from EPA after demonstrating that sufficient pump-out facilities were available to boaters. Connecticut became the third state (after Rhode Island and New Hampshire) to designate its entire coastline a No Discharge Area.

Clean Marina and Clean Boater Programs

Connecticut's Clean Marina Program is a voluntary program that encourages inland and coastal marina operators to minimize pollution. DEP states that compliance with existing environmental laws and regulations is the starting point for program participation. Facilities certified to be Clean Marinas must go beyond compliance and adopt Best Management Practices to further reduce impacts from their operations. According to DEP, there are currently 11 certified facilities, and 29 pledged to become certified within a year. The Clean Boater Program, a companion to the Clean Marina Program, encourages state boaters to learn about and implement clean boating techniques.

COASTAL MANAGEMENT AND TIDAL WETLANDS

Coastal Management Act (CMA)

The 1972 federal Coastal Zone Management Act requires coastal and Great Lake states to develop coastal zone management programs. One of the act's objectives is to encourage states and municipalities to exercise their full authority over lands and waters in the coastal zone.

Connecticut passed its Coastal Management Act (CMA) in 1979. The act establishes standards by which all activities within the coastal zone may be reviewed by state and municipal authorities. It includes an extensive list of legislative goals and policies and identifies 14 coastal resource categories to be considered in coastal planning. The objectives and policies express a clear preference for preservation of waterfront sites or development of those sites for water-dependant uses. The act authorizes municipalities to adopt municipal coastal programs that are consistent with the state's objectives and policies. It requires the DEP commissioner to prepare model municipal regulations to help towns develop programs. In addition, the act requires towns, regardless of whether they have a program, to review coastal site plans (for activities at least partially within coastal areas) submitted to the town zoning board, planning commission, or zoning board of appeals. Proposed activities must be consistent with CMA policies and comments from the DEP must be considered. DEP may appeal municipal coastal site plan decisions to Superior Court. A DEP overview of the state's coastal management program is available at this link: http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?a=2705&q=323536&depNav_GID=1622&pp=12&n=1.

Tidal Wetlands

Anyone proposing to conduct certain activities in a tidal wetland must apply for a permit from the DEP (CGS 22a-32). These activities, as defined in CGS 22a-29(3), include draining, dredging, and excavation, directly or indirectly in a tidal wetland, and building structures, driving pilings, or placing obstructions.

The commissioner may grant, deny, or limit the permit; she must consider the effect of the proposed activity on:

1. the public health and welfare,

2. marine fisheries,

3. shellfisheries,

4. wildlife;

5. protection of life and property from floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, and

6. other public policy considerations set out in the tidal wetland statutes (including, under CGS 22a-28, preservation of wetlands to protect marine commerce, fisheries, recreation, and aesthetic enjoyment).

Tidal Wetlands and the CMA

In addition to the statutory criteria for each individual and general permit DEP issues, the law requires DEP to administer all coastal permitting programs in accordance with the goals and policies of the coastal management act (CGS 22a-98). These include:

1. preserving tidal wetlands and preventing the despoliation and destruction of their vital natural functions (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (E));

2. encouraging rehabilitation and restoration of degraded wetlands (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (E));

3. encouraging the creation of wetlands for fisheries and habitat purposes when feasible (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (E));

4. regulating shore land use and development to minimize harm to adjacent coastal systems and resources (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (I));

5. managing the area exposed at low tide to preserve its value as a nutrient source and reservoir, a healthy shellfish habitat and valuable feeding area for invertebrates, fish and shorebirds (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (D));

6. disallowing new dredging in tidal wetlands, except where no feasible alternative exists or where adverse impacts to coastal resources are minimal (CGS 22a-92 (c) (1) (E));

7. disallowing filling of tidal wetlands and near shore and inter-tidal waters to create new land which is otherwise undevelopable (CGS 22a-92(c) (1) (B)); and

8. requiring structures in tidal wetlands and in coastal waters be designed, built, and maintained to minimize adverse impacts on coastal resources, circulation and sedimentation patterns, water quality, and flooding and erosion (CGS 22a-92(b) (1) (D)).

Structures, Dredging, and Fill in State Waters

Anyone proposing to dredge, fill, obstruct, encroach, erect or maintain any structure or perform work incidental to such activities seaward of the high tide line in tidal, coastal, or navigable waters of the state must apply for a DEP permit (CGS 22a-361). The commissioner may approve, deny, or modify the application.

The law requires the commissioner to consider the effect of proposed activities on (1) indigenous aquatic life, fish, and wildlife; (2) preventing or alleviating shore erosion and coastal flooding; (3) the use and development of adjoining uplands; (4) improving coastal and inland navigation; (5) the use and development of adjacent lands; and (6) the state's interests including pollution control, water quality, recreational use of public waters, and coastal resource management (CGS 22a-359). In addition to individual permits, DEP may issue general permits for minor activities in tidal wetlands and state waters.

Structures, Dredging and Fill and the CMA

The CMA lists a number of criteria related to structures, dredging, and fill that DEP's Office of Long Island Sound Programs must consider. They include all of the criteria relating to tidal wetlands, above, and, among others;

1. protecting rocky shorefronts and preserving (a) the functions of inter-tidal flats (b) the dynamic form of beaches, and (c) coastal bluffs and escarpments (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (A), (B), (C), and (D));

2. promoting the use of developed shorefront for marine related use (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (G));

3. discouraging uses that would adversely affect undeveloped islands (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (H));

4. disallowing structural flood and erosion control structures except for the protection of infrastructure, water dependent uses or homes built before 1980 (CGS 22a-92(b) (2) (J));

5. requiring that access to public beaches below the mean high water mark not be unreasonably impaired by structures, including jetties, groins, and breakwaters, and encouraging the removal of illegal structures below mean high water that obstruct passage along the beach (CGS 22a-92(c) (1) (K)); and

6. maintaining, enhancing, or restoring natural water circulation patterns and fresh and saltwater exchange (CGS 22a-92(c) (2) (B)).

In addition to structures and dredging permits, the DEP may issue general permits for minor activities in tidal wetlands and state waters.

More information on the Coastal Zone Management Act can be found in OLR Reports 97-R-0872 and 2002-R-0657.

Connecticut Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CCELC)

The state typically acquires coastal land on an ad hoc basis as opportunities arise. The CCELC program seeks to better organize these acquisitions by identifying coastal properties most in need of protection, developing working relationships with the property owners and land acquisition partners, identifying funding sources, and developing land stewardship plans for newly acquired property. Federal funding for this program is awarded through competitive state grants.

National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR)

NOAA has agreed to allow DEP to identify a site for nomination as a national estuarine research reserve. The NERR program provides opportunities and funding for research, education, and long-term monitoring of coastal lands and estuarine waters. NOAA's Coastal Training Program provides funding to develop programs targeting a broad audience, from municipal officials to coastal businesses. More information on this program is available at http://nerrs.noaa.gov/.

Habitat Restoration

Among other things, DEP (1) restores tidal wetlands, (2) provides funds and technical expertise to towns restoring degraded coves and embayments, (3) removes dams and builds fish ladders so that fish can swim upriver to spawn, and (4) provides technical support to towns for dune restoration. DEP states that it has restored more than 1,700 acres of wetlands, helped restore 17 degraded coves and embayments, provided migratory fish access at 33 sites in 22 towns, helped restore dune complexes in 7 coastal towns, and supervised the installation of more than 200 osprey nesting platforms.

COMMERCIAL FISHING

Lobster Restoration

PA 05-281 requires the DEP commissioner to establish a lobster restoration program, in which the tails of mature female lobsters that licensed commercial fishermen land are marked with a v-shaped notch and then released in order to increase lobster egg production. The act is meant to provide relief to the state's lobster industry, which is still recovering from a massive lobster population drop-off in 1999. The law requires lobstermen who subsequently catch such lobsters to throw them back, giving them more time to breed. The act requires contractors to accompany participating commercial fishermen on fishing trips and mark mature female lobster tails. It requires the commissioner to adopt implementing regulations and allows her to select a contractor to implement the program. The commissioner chose to enter contracts with students from three state high schools with aquaculture related curriculums.

DEP implemented the program with $1 million the legislature appropriated. Governor Rell announced on June 16, 2008 that $90,000 in funding for the program will be carried over into the next fiscal year. The funding, associated with the $1 million restoration effort, was to lapse on June 30. More information on the v-notch program can be found in OLR Report 2007-R-0324.

“Maritime Heritage Land”

PA 07-127 provides a property tax break for certain licensed commercial lobstermen by treating portions of waterfront property they own and use for lobstering as a “490 program.” Under the 490 program, farm, open space, and forest land is assessed at its current use value for property tax purposes.

The act defines “maritime heritage land” as the portion of waterfront real property that a licensed commercial lobster fisherman owns and uses for commercial lobstering. It excludes buildings the lobsterman does not use exclusively for commercial lobstering. The lobsterman must have earned at least 50% of his or her adjusted gross income in the prior tax year, as determined for federal income tax purposes, from commercial lobster fishing. The lobsterman must provide satisfactory proof to the municipal assessor where the property is located. More information on this program can be found in the attached public act summary.

Shellfish Industry

The Agriculture Department is the lead agency for aquaculture in the Sound. Information on this industry can be found in OLR Reports 2001-R-0715, 2004-R-0720, and 2006-R-0653, and on the department's website at http://www.ct.gov/doag/cwp/view.asp?a=1369&q=259168&doagNav=|

DEP staff also take part in an interagency shellfish workgroup to protect shellfish resources, assist the aquaculture industry and regulate aquaculture activities.

More information on state efforts to protect the commercial fishing industry in general can be found in OLR Report 2005-R-0912.

MORE INFORMATION

OLR Report 2006-R-0318 summarizes public and special acts affecting Long Island Sound from 2004 through 2006.

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