Blue Plan for this bit of the Blue Planet
A well-run company protects its assets, and a family fortunate enough to have inherited heirlooms cherishes the legacy. That's how the newly passed Long Island Sound Blue Plan is meant to benefit Connecticut.
The plan collects and publishes the facts of life in and on the Sound. Digitally and in print it documents the sea floor, plant and animal habitats and inventories, and human uses — where people sail and boat, where they swim and catch fish. It has been coming together since 2015 and this spring passed both houses of the General Assembly without any nay votes. It now awaits Gov. Lamont's signature to become the state's official policy tool for stewardship of the Sound.
Somewhat like the land-based Plan of Conservation and Development enacted by each Connecticut town and city, the Blue Plan is a "marine spatial plan" for the waterway that separates the state from Long Island, N.Y. It does not make or supersede existing regulations but rather lays out the considerations and goals so that any new proposed use or impact on the Sound is weighed in the context of existing human uses and marinelife habitats.
As wonky as that may sound, the state has needed this badly. If someone were to propose to build a bridge, say, from Connecticut to Long Island, or to moor a giant floating barge full of liquified natural gas off Branford, it would not be the first time. Environmental, economic, transportation and homeland security officials would have the massive task of evaluating the many ways such a project could affect the Sound. Now, however, all parties can have instant access to the critical descriptors of what happens where.
The goal is to protect what is sensitive while giving due, informed consideration as to whether a proposal makes sense. Both environmental and the economic needs are meant to be better served.
The cross-sound bridge is still a twinkle in the eyes of some planners; the Broadwater Energy liquefied natural gas barge idea was sunk in 2012 after several years of failing to convince the federal government and the border states, Connecticut and New York, to allow it. Islander East, a 50-mile natural gas pipeline proposed in the early 2000s to cross the Sound, also failed to gain credibility. Governmental processes of evaluating the projects for approval or rejection took longer and cost more than they might have if measured against defined policy goals.
Connecticut is more or less following the lead of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which have had their own "ocean plans" for years. While the Blue Plan has more obvious impact on the shorefront towns from Stonington to Greenwich, the habitability of those communities influences the economic health of the state in terms of recreation, fisheries and tourism, among other areas. Conversely, the ecology of the Sound, although tidal, is downstream of whatever effluent the inland towns send into the watershed. Infrastructure repairs in Enfield, for example, could influence the quality of the water the Connecticut River deposits at Old Saybrook.
Putting the Blue Plan into effect has little to no fiscal impact on state spending. The foundational documentation is already done and will need only periodic updates. That contrasts nicely with the multi-year costs of starting afresh with each proposed project to figure out what's germane and what needs investigating.
The University of Connecticut, state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut Sea Grant and nonprofits such as Connecticut Audubon will continue to contribute research findings. Parts of the Sound from the Connecticut River are expected soon to benefit from becoming part of NOAA's National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which will become another partner in Sound science.
Governor Lamont's signature on the Blue Plan legislation will make it official that the state knows what a legacy it has in Long Island Sound, and will protect this precious asset.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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