Two actions supported by State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, that have local ecological implications may soon be heard in the General Assembly.
Pending legislation to help protect and develop eelgrass could be called in the state legislature within the next three weeks, while Somers plans to propose an amendment to an environmental bill that would require that a mitigation fund be included in any future wind energy contract entered into by the state.
Bill Lucey, Long Island Sound Keeper of Somers and Save the Sound, noted that eelgrass beds have declined precipitously, urging the introduction of Senate Bill 242, an act to create a group of work on seagrass restoration.
The bill was passed by the Environment Committee last month with a joint favorable report. The report says the bill aims to “create a task force to develop eelgrass restoration strategies along the state’s coastline. Eelgrass is an important fish habitat that has been significantly diminished.” .
“Eelgrass provides perfect litter for small organisms and fish, but there are very few eelgrass beds left,” Somers said. “We need to dedicate resources and study what Connecticut can do to bring it back.”
Lucey said Thursday that in the area there is currently eelgrass around Fisher Island and the Little Dumpling Islands off Groton.
“There are patches of it around Plum Island all the way to Stonington and Mystic, and all the way to Niantic as well,” Lucey added. He also echoed Somers’ comments, saying the eelgrass needs “more than nurturing…it needs to be replaced.”
“We have about 10 years left, researchers believe, to do something drastic to save eelgrass in Long Island Sound,” Lucey said. “What keeps eelgrass holding on is the regular flushing of colder ocean water, but that water is getting warmer.”
Lucey said the state also needs to keep the water in the strait clean to allow light to penetrate and reach the eelgrass.
“As the Sound gets warmer, we need to step up our efforts to keep it clean. Once the water warms up, this pollution can have a compounded effect from the heat,” Lucey said.
Somers and Lucey would like local scientists and experts to come together, look at funding opportunities, try new methods, “so maybe we can save this problem,” Lucey said.
One idea he heard, Lucey said, would involve planting eelgrass seeds from warmer water areas that would be resistant to successful use in Long Island Sound, although that idea did not yet been approved.
The Legislature enters its last three weeks of the short session with a list of bills still on its wish list, as well as ongoing budget negotiations, and it is of course possible that some bills will be overlooked.
This is the fourth year that Somers has put in place legislation that would include a mitigation fund in any future wind power contract with the state.
“It would be a certain amount of dollars set aside in case these wind farms displace our commercial fishermen or if we find that it affects certain mammals or birds, that the migratory routes of the birds change or that the wind turbines cut them off, or that the wind turbines change the pattern of how whales move along the coast, there would be money set aside to compensate for that,” Somers said. “The fund could be used to create habitats or nesting areas for the birds, or, if you had fishermen who could no longer fish in the area, or if their equipment was taken, they could draw from this fund.”
Local fishermen have had difficulty convincing wind developers to listen to their concerns in the past. For more than three decades, fishermen at Stonington Town Dock and their northeast counterparts have struggled to stay afloat in the face of strict regulations designed to replenish depleted stocks of cod, plaice and other species. Offshore wind presented another challenge.
The offshore wind industry was launched by the Biden administration with a plan to have offshore wind farms producing 30 gigawatts of energy – enough to power 10 million homes – by 2030. The Vineyard Wind I project of 62 Turbines planned off Martha’s Vineyard received federal approval last year.
Somers’ amendment would mimic a bill introduced in 2020 that would “compensate commercial fishers for loss of revenue associated with the effects of certain offshore wind energy projects and require disclosure of the contract and associated documents for such a project” , according to the summary of the bill.
Somers noted that other states have similar mitigation funds. She said fishermen’s concerns are being ignored by federal officials who are scrambling to lease huge swaths of ocean floor off the northeast coast to wind energy companies. Some of these bottom areas are also in areas where fishing boats land their catches and transit.
Lucey said Save the Sound is also in favor of a mitigation fund.
“Other states have developed mitigation plans with wind companies and Connecticut has yet to do that,” he said. “We’re all for wind farms coming in and replacing fossil fuels for climate change and jobs created in Connecticut, but we really want to make sure the benefits and wildlife impact that may occur are properly taken into account. account.”