In anticipation of the 2015 legislative session, Gov. Dannel Malloy has begun a push for a comprehensive study of the Long Island Sound.
If passed by the General Assembly, the Long Island Sound Blue Plan would authorize the aggregation of all existing and new data on the sound, including a new mapping of the sound’s floor. Once new proposals for the sound’s use are presented, the state will be able to base its decisions on the data aggregated by the Blue Plan. The bill originally appeared before the General Assembly last year, but failed to pass before the session expired.
“What the plan would do is establish an inventory of data,” said State Rep. James Albis FES ’16, D-East Haven, a co-chairman of the General Assembly’s environmental committee. “It would come up with a blueprint of how we should be using and protecting [Long Island Sound]’s resources.”
Albis said the state plans to use the data to pre-empt any plans that companies or other organizations might propose for the sound. In past years, those proposals have included implementing underwater cables and natural-gas storage facilities, a motion that the U.S. Commerce Department blocked in 2009. In the future, energy pipelines, wind turbines and changes in fishing regulations might be considered by the General Assembly.
Without a single comprehensive database on the Long Island Sound, considering and approving plans can prove difficult, according to Dennis Schain, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Pollution should be among the primary concerns for the state’s management of the Long Island Sound, said Leah Lopez Schmalz, the director of legislative and legal affairs for the advocacy group Save The Sound. She said hypoxia — low levels of oxygen in the water, caused by excess nitrogen — is a serious problem.
Schmalz said improving wastewater and sewage treatment facilities in towns within watersheds that drain into the sound is crucial to dealing with pollution problems. Albis agreed, emphasizing the importance of monitoring the nutrients flowing into the sound.
“Repairing and updating our sewage infrastructure will also help stop bacterial pollution that forces the closure of beaches around the sound each summer,” she said.
Schain said the state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the improvement of wastewater and sewage treatment facilities around Connecticut in recent years and will continue working to combat pollution and hypoxia in the sound.
For some, the sound’s commercial promise has gone unfulfilled. Last year, Malloy signed legislation creating the Connecticut Port Authority to regulate the state’s three deep-water ports in New Haven, New London and Bridgeport. Part of the Port Authority’s mandate is to make Connecticut’s ports more attractive to domestic and international shipping companies, which its leaders hope will increase commercial cargo shipping.
Albis said the data aggregated by the Blue Plan would likely be of use when considering changes to policies regarding the deep-water ports. He added that Malloy has made environmental policy a priority during his term, and his support of the Blue Plan moves in the same direction.
But the short-term effect of the Blue Plan may be limited, Schain said.
“The Blue Plan is more about information and planning, not so much pollution prevention and improvement,” he said. The Blue Plan will not allow the state to take immediate action on proposals for the sound, but will instead create a more organized pathway for the consideration of future proposals, according to Schain.