Category Archives: Environment

Finally, A Parking Job At Fresh Market We Can All Enjoy

(Photo/Ellen Meehan Jent)

(Photo/Ellen Meehan Jent)

Sam Vail, Fukushima, And Why Westporters Should Be Very, Very Worried

For better or worse, Westporters are experts at the NIMBY game. Cell towers, group homes, a new synagogue — there are tons of good reasons those things should go in your back yard, not mine.

In 1967, we thought we took care of the NIMBY nuclear power issue for good. A utility company’s plan to build a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island — a mile from Compo Beach — was defeated (despite many Westport proponents). We now own the rocky isle.

So — as tragic as the 2011 failures at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were — they generated little concern here. After all, Westport is 6,578 miles — one vast ocean, one large continent — away.

Of course, as “60 Minutes” made clear last Sunday, the disaster is far from over. The crippled plant still releases high levels of radiation daily. It seeps into ground soil, evaporates into the air, and leaks into the Pacific.

Children are particularly vulnerable to radiation. And — because wind and ocean currents know no borders — even affluent, suburban Americans may be at risk.

Sam Vail knows the dangers well. A native Westporter, his career took him to the very same Fukushima plant that continues to spew poisons today.

He is very, very worried.

After graduating from Staples in 1982, Sam learned commercial diving at the Florida Institute of Technology. He joined an Essex, Connecticut company that cut and welded dams and other underwater structures — including power plants.

In 1989 he became certified to work on nuclear reactors. Soon, he was sent to Fukushima. He returned a couple more times. It was lucrative work — but the more Sam saw, the more worried he became about the safety of nuclear power.

Watching news coverage of the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent power plant disaster was “mind-blowing,” Sam said last week. He was about to leave for Costa Rica — he’s now a solar power consultant — but he wanted to talked about what he’s seen.

The start of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

The start of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

“The first reactor that blew up was the first one I’d worked on over there,” Sam noted. “I knew how bad things would be.”

The more he’s learned over the past 3 years, the more worried he’s grown.

“This is the worst man-made industrial accident in the history of the planet — hands down,” Sam said. “I’m not a physicist. I just helped fix the reactors. But I don’t think they can entomb this. It’s an incredibly serious situation.”

Sam is surprised that — notwithstanding the “60 Minutes” report (which focused on the life of one displaced farmer) — scant media attention has been paid to the ongoing Fukushima crisis.

On Tuesday, April 29 (6:15 p.m., Westport Library), he’ll do his part to raise local awareness. The World Network for Saving Children from Radiation is showing “A2-B-C,” a documentary about the aftermath of radiation exposures.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

Immediately after the film, Sam will join a Q-and-A session. Other panelists include Mariko Bender (a Fukushima native now living in Connecticut), and Dr. David Brown, a Westporter and Fairfield University professor who is an expert in environmental ethics and toxicology.

“This isn’t about politics,” Sam said. “It’s about the health of our planet. The particulates are already here.

“Five years after Chernobyl, there was a spike in thyroid cancer and other thyroid abnormalities.

“Well, Fukushima will make Chernobyl look like a tea party.”

Sam applauds environmental organizations that are trying to educate people about nuclear power (including the dangers of not-very-far-away Indian Point).

His library appearance is another way to do that. Sam Vail will be in his home town, half a world away from the Fukushima nuclear reactors he worked on.

But in many ways, Fukushima is also in our back yard.




Renee Hooper’s Specialty Foods Hit The Spot

The white oak is Connecticut’s state tree. It is handsome and strong.

White Oak is also the name of the nearly 3-year-old gourmet and specialty foods company created by Renee DuMarr Hooper. Mixing her passions — fresh food and local farmers — she has cooked up a flavorful, all-natural line of fruit spreads, mustards, grilling and finishing sauces, salad dressings and marinades that is drawing raves, and winning awards, throughout the Northeast.

Christie's Country Store, where Renee and John Hooper make magic happen.

Christie’s Country Store, where Renee and John Hooper make magic happen.

White Oak Farm and Table is based at Christie’s Country Store. Her husband John Hooper owns it, and the combination — a neighborhood market/ gathering spot offering high-quality, locally grown and produced food — is a grand slam.

Renee — who spent years as a Manhattan clothing designer — started cooking fruit spreads in the back of Christie’s. She got tired of “seeing water and sugar listed as the first ingredients” on every label.

She and John created recipes together. Renee’s 1st jams — blueberry basil, strawberry rhubarb, raspberry and mixed berry — drew raves from customers.

Barbecue sauces were next. The rest is history.

John and Renee Hooper, in a cozy Christie's corner with a few of their White Oak products

John and Renee Hooper, in a cozy Christie’s corner with a few of their White Oak products

Production has moved out of Christie’s — it now takes place in New Haven and Maine — but the “secret sauce” remains. Small batches. The best, farmers market-type ingredients. Surprising combinations. Renee’s “borderline obsessiveness” about remaining “stubbornly artisinal” and all-natural.

Earlier this month, the Connecticut Specialty Food Association held its 13th annual competition. Nearly 200 items were entered, in 36 categories. White Oak products won 4 awards. Grabbing gold were Marple Hall ketchup (“Connecticut Grown” category), Champagne Dill Wasabi mustard (“Savory Condiment”) and Black Olive tapenade (“Tapenade”). Tuscan Vegetable sauce placed 3rd in “Connecticut Grown.”

And Yankee Magazine named Wild Blueberry Basil the Best Fruit Spread in all of New England.

White Oak foods — did I mention the Cajun Peach grilling sauce, artichoke Parmesan salad dressing or savory Sun-Dried Tomato tapinade? — are sold far beyond Christie’s. They’re at 37 Whole Foods stores in the Northeast; Mrs. Green’s; the Chelsea Market, and specialty stores all the way into Canada.

Recently, Renee shipped an order to Taiwan.

White Oak Farm

Next up: White Oak represents Connecticut’s natural foods at a Congressional luncheon, with 350 guests.

“I’d rather you eat a little bit of something awesome than a lot of something mediocre,” Renee says.

When you bite into, spread or taste a White Oak product, though you may eat a lot of something awesome.

From Town Hall To The Transfer Station…

…trees are coming down all over Westport.

Here’s the scene this morning, when an alert “06880″ reader dropped off some recycling:

Transfer station

No word on whether the trees were dead. They sure were not going to fall on any power lines.

The next focus may be the beach. As a planning committee looks at reconfiguring Compo, some trees — perhaps near the drop-off and Soundview lot, on the grassy field or along the median between the shore and parking lots — may be reconfigured. As in, removed.

Nothing has been decided yet. Keep watching. This story has legs — and roots.

Terrorizing Turkey

Today is Animal Day on “06880.”

Hot on the heels of an albino squirrel, we’ve got a wild turkey terrorizing Westport drivers.

Alert “06880″ reader Mark Jacobs took this photo this morning, near Birchwood Country Club:


Mark says he (the turkey) attacked half a dozen vehicles, pecking at tires.

It’s the same animal Mark saw (and photographed) earlier this month:

Turkey 2

Mark writes:

I contacted Westport Animal Control. They said the state has been informed, and will (eventually) relocate the bird. Unless someone runs him over first.

Apparently he is a regular highwayman. I’m curious what set him off.

Maybe a discourteous, entitled Westport driver flipped him the bird.

CL&P: Trim We Must

Down here in our little corner of Connecticut, we don’t always pay attention to Hartford. But decisions in the state capital can have big effects on us — for better or worse.

CL&P, at work.

CL&P, at work.

Earlier this month, Connecticut Light & Power participated in a public hearing in New Britain. The subject was tree trimming. It’s an important subject, following weather events like hurricanes and snowstorms that caused widespread power outages.

Under the utility company’s “Enhanced Tree Trimming” plan, it would trim or remove trees — including healthy ones — that could fall on their poles or wires. Trees on private property were included, within 8 feet of power lines.

Not many Fairfield County residents trekked up to New Britain. But plenty of citizens throughout the state spoke up. They were not pleased with CL&P’s plan.

Citing environmental and property rights concerns, the speakers vehemently opposed the CL&P plan (and a similar one proposed by United Illuminating).

Speakers (and those sending written comments) noted there was no commitment to plant lower-growing trees to replace healthy ones that had been cut down. Nor was there any plan to grind tree stumps, or remove potential tripping hazards.

Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority took note. On Tuesday, the agency asked CL&P to voluntarily curtail its “Enhanced” program, pending a final ruling.


“We need a timeout to balance competing needs,” said PURA chairman Arthur H. House.

“One — as established by law — is Connecticut’s demonstrated need for more aggressive tree trimming to secure the reliability of vital utility services. The 2nd need … is to avoid unnecessary eradication of trees and instead proceed with selective trimming.”

CL&P said it would “of course comply” with the request to cut back the tree cutting.

On Thursday, though, the utility told PURA it has 65 local tree crews, with 170 employees, currently trimming trees. CL&P is concerned that a suspension of the program may cause  contractors to leave the state, “adversely impacting the Company’s ability to respond to a major weather event.”

Late Friday, PURA allowed CL&P to continue its tree work.

In related news, this weekend marks the 4th anniversary of a windstorm that knocked out power to thousands of Westporters — some for over a week.

One of the many power lines brought down by trees during the March 2010 windstorm.

One of the many power lines brought down by trees during the March 2010 windstorm.

Contrails Or Chemtrails?

After reading this post, you may never look at the Westport sky the same way again.

A Westporter who asked to be called Emma sent me a link to GeoEngineeringWatch. At first glance, the website seems a bit tinfoil hat-ish.

While everyone* understands that our planet is under assault in an astonishing number of man-made ways, this goes further.

The site claims that because of geo-engineering — the artificial modification of earth’s climate systems — “there is virtually NO NATURAL WEATHER” anymore. It describes engineered snowstorms that contain elements of “entomological warfare,” and the like.

A long, dry video picks up the doomsday theme.

If your browser does not take you directly to the video, click here.

But part of the video — you have to be patient to find it — dealt with “chemtrailing.” In Emma’s words, “they” (she does not say “who”) “are spraying our sky with aluminum, barium and other chemicals to change the weather.”

There’s pages of technical stuff on the website, but one photo caught Emma’s eye:


She realized she’d seen the same “artificial” cloud formations right here in Westport.

Emma sent me photos she took in early March. Here’s a shot near the Toyota dealer, on the Post Road:

Chemtrails 1 - by Toyota

This one, Emma says, shows the aftermath of spraying:

Chemtrails 2 - after spraying

The days started out with “a gorgeous clear blue sky,” Emma writes. “Then the spraying begins.” After 4-5 hours, the sky turns to “this murky, translucent cover. Not a normal cloud formation, but a hazy glow.”

Now, Emma notes, “I see these grid-like chemtrails on a regular basis.”

She encourages Westporters to “see and judge for yourselves.” Online, she says, you can find similar photos from all over the world. Just google “Geoengineering,” “Chemtrailing” and “Solar Radiation Management.”

If you’d like to contact Emma directly, her email is

PS: In between the time I wrote this story, and the time I posted it, I saw what may be chemtrails myself. Yesterday afternoon around 1:30, I happened to glance at the sky. It looked like this:

Chemtrails 3 - DW 3-11-14

Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.

*with an ounce of intelligence

Literary Fox

In most towns, foxes hang out wherever.

Westport is not “most towns.”

Our foxes pay sly homage to our literary heritage.

Alert “06880″ reader Jeff Giannone snapped this photo the other day. As every Westporter knows, it shows the South Compo Road home where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent the summer of 1920.

Literary fox

Pretty wild.

Trains Suck, But Transit District Ridership Soars

It’s one bit of good news on the commuter front: Though Westporters suffer daily woes on Metro-North trains, many more folks ride Westport Transit District buses to board them.

Combined with after-school increases, the WTD projects a near 11% rise in riders this year. After a decade of dwindling numbers — both a cause and effect of funding and service cuts — that’s impressive news indeed.

From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, the WTD carried 63,000 riders. This year, it’s on track for 70,000. And that includes 3 weeks when Metro-North’s worst woes kept nearly everyone off the rails.

The ridership increases work out to 8.5% for fixed-route commuter buses, and 40% in after-school riders. One of the key after-school routes is to Earthplace, where several dozen students have internships.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

Jim Ross — chair of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee — ties much of the increase to the “huge efforts” of unpaid transit directors Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cedarbaum.

“They’ve single-handedly upped the WTD’s game by tirelessly working with state, town and business communities to raise awareness and support,” Ross says.

He also cites a “smart, cost-effective marketing effort” that includes internet and social media efforts, new route and schedule brochures, train station signage, and community outreach programs.

Today, for example, the WTD is handing out brochures — and free coffee — at Westport’s train stations.

The Westport bus shuttle map.

The Westport bus shuttle map.

Early next month, they’ll unveil a “transit info kiosk” at the Senior Center. It will contain brochures and information about all Westport transportation options, from WTD buses to shared-ride services and taxis.

“We haven’t reinvented the wheel,” Ross says. (It’s unclear whether his pun was intentional or not.)

“But this is a bit of proof that if we get information out to people, they realize there’s a need. This isn’t the Friends of the Library. It’s not a charity. It’s public transportation, which is as un-sexy as it gets. But it is a service. Citizens are showing that they want it.

“If town officials really commit to this — if they move from a discussion of ‘Should we have it?’ to ‘This is a town gem’ — we can really move forward.”

As budget season begins, the wheels on Westport’s bus service are clearly on a roll.

Saugatuck River Winds Up In Town Hall

Most people go to Town Hall for one reason: to do their business. They pay their taxes, pick up a clamming permit, complain about their neighbor’s swing set.

Now there’s another reason to go. And linger.

Clarinda “Rindy” Higgins has just created — from scratch, and virtually alone — a fascinating poster series about the Saugatuck River. Hanging on the 2nd floor (front entrance level), just to the right when you walk in, it’s educational, entertaining and eye-opening.

The 2nd floor exhibit in Town Hall.

The 2nd floor exhibit in Town Hall.

Rindy — a longtime environmental educator  – provides Town Hall visitors with a comprehensive history, and behind-the-scenes (okay, “below the surface”) look at this important artery which, since the time of the earliest settlers, has shaped how our town looks, feels and acts.

As the exhibit points out, the Saugatuck River is such a vital part of Westport that we sometimes ignore it.

Rindy’s posters — which (despite her protests that “I’m no Miggs Burroughs” and “I have limited computer skills”) she designed and printed herself, each one taking 30 hours — highlight its significance. Along with the river’s history, beauty and fragility.

Rindy - 2An introductory panel describes the Saugatuck’s name (“pouring out” of the “tidal river,” from the Paugussett tribe), and notes that it “meanders 23 miles from its headwaters in Danbury.”

Westporters cross the river several times a day, without really looking or thinking about it. The next poster notes the importance of our bridges; they unite the 2 sides of 1 town. Back in the days of ferries, the Saugatuck divided 2 towns.

Panels 3 and 4 — “Bustling Maritime Trade” and “Industry” — show the enormous  impact of wharves, vessels, onions and riverside factories.

The next poster shows the USS Saugatuck — a Navy ship named after the river. I’ve lived here my entire life, but this one’s news to me.

The USS Saugatuck

The USS Saugatuck

“Changing Riverscape” details the effects man and nature have on the water. Whether we fill in the river to create a parking lot behind Main Street, or the tides work their magic, the Saugatuck changes as constantly as any living thing.

Rindy - 5“River Quality = Quality of Life” reminds us that “how we choose to use the land and the water affects not only Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound but also our own properties, livelihoods and quality of life.” Our river is part of a watershed stretching all the way to Quebec, as a we’re-all-in-this-together map vividly shows.

The penultimate panel says “Each of Us Can Make a Difference.” Calling each property a “micro-watershed,” Rindy offers suggestions for making sure that river and coastal water quality begin at home. From our kitchens, bathrooms, laundry and garage to our basements, gutters, driveways and gardens, everything we do can ensure the health of the Saugatuck River (and thus Long Island Sound) for decades to come.

Or it can help destroy it.

This Saugatuck River exhibition was Rindy’s labor of love. Gault Energy, Jim Marpe and Eileen Flug gave donations, but she paid for everything else out of pocket. She even bought the frames (from Walmart.)

Rindy’s posters are well worth a trip to Town Hall.

And as you leave — catching a glimpse of the Saugatuck River in the distance — you realize you will never again think of it in the same way.

Rindy - 3