Cockenoe Fukushima?

Now that Hurricane Sandy is a fading memory, alert “06880” reader Nick Thiemann wonders what might have been.

Not “what if the storm was even more powerful?” Rather, “what if things turned out differently back in the 1960s?”

That’s the year United Illuminating proposed building a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island. Which they’d bought, for that very reason.

Plenty of people were aghast.

And plenty thought it was a great idea.

Cockenoe Island.

Proponents were clear. Nuclear power was seen as a clean, inexpensive source of power — the fuel of the future.

The arguments against were twofold. Some believed nuclear power was dangerous. Others simply wanted to maintain the island for camping, clamming, and picnicking. (Teenagers would add “partying” to the list.)

The Westport News — a feisty upstart, just beginning to challenge the established Town Crier — took up the cause. For 2 years, editor Jo Brosious crusaded against the nuclear power plant — and for the right of Connecticut towns having the right of eminent domain over all utilities.

The Town Crier argued that the facility would reduce local taxes.

In 1969 — helped by a New York Times editorial strongly supporting Westport’s wish to preserve Cockenoe (and, Nick Thiemann says, a casual conversation in Hartford between Governor John Dempsey and Westport State Reprsentative Ed Green) — a deal was struck. UI would sell the island to the town for $200,000, if  Westport dropped its proposed eminent domain legislation. State and federal funds covered 75 percent of the purchase price.

The RTM voted unanimously to buy the land.

In 1970, Life magazine cited the deal as a resounding conservation victory. A photo showed Jo Brosious at Compo Beach, with Cockenoe Island — pristine, not nuclear power plant-ed — in the background.

Which is how Cockenoe remains, 42 years later.

It’s still a place for camping, clamming, picnicking (and partying) (and rats).

But imagine for a moment — as Nick Thiemann does — what might have happened to a nuclear power plant during last month’s hurricane.

Can you say “Cockenoe Fukushima”?

10 responses to “Cockenoe Fukushima?

  1. I was at Staples in 1969, and some students and I took the bus up to Hartford to show support and plead our cases for saving Cockenoe Island,

  2. Alternative View

    An alternative ending might have been that UI would have provided more reliable power to Westport, the location of its power plant. Residents would not lose power with CL&P for a week after every storm.

  3. Keep the Change

    The TOP 5 Reasons we shoild have welcomed the UI Nuke Plant

    5. The power plant would have been a great visual direction point for LI sound boaters, that cooling tower would have no boater wondering where Westport was
    4. The plant would have been a great summer job source for high school kids looking for summer work (both of them)
    3 Westport would be providing power to everywhere but Westport in the true spirit of sharing
    2 The plant would add to that Holiday Glow
    1 Can you say Year round heated Compo Beach swimming !

  4. Sank T. Monious

    It seems silly in retrospect that this was even considered. A SHS ’70 classmate of mine went to the public hearing and was famously quoted in the mainstream media: “I’ve been a fisherman all my life and I prefer to cook my fish AFTER they’re caught.”

  5. If people know about the problems that the Indian Point Nuclear Plant has created over the years and the threat it poses, they might be relieved that a nuclear plant was never constructed on Cockenoe Island!

  6. I was at Staples during the campaign and helped with communications – and it was my honor to later work for Jo Brosious at Fairpress. If the plant were there today, it would NOT prevent outages – those come mainly from trees falling on wires, of course. It WOULD have meant an eyesore, danger to the environment and citizenry, and plunging property values.

  7. I remember my brother Ed (who was about 11 at the time; I was nine) got involved and had “Save Cockenoe Now” posters and bumper stickers on the wall in our bedroom. I still sometimes jokingly ask him, “Remember when you saved Cockenoe?” Our family had picnics on the island when I was a kid, and I can remember spending days with my little shovel searching for Captain Kid’s rumored buried treasure. One late night on a dare, when I was a Staples student, I swam from Compo Beach to the Island and back by myself in the dark, and had to prove I made it by bringing back some seaweed, shells and rocks I put in my pocket. I spent many nights camping on that island (with the sand fleas and rats!), and many nights with my dad fishing for striped bass around the island. I also used to dig for clams near the long, sandy bar on the northwest side of the island and hunted ducks in the marshy little bay on the north side. The long reef off the northeast corner of the island is the only place I know of where the tide runs over it in the same direction coming in and going out. It’s a good spot to catch stripers, as the fish lay behind the reef waiting for food to drift by on ingoing and outgoing tides. My brother Tim once crashed my dad’s boat into the big rock pile on the end of that reef. When my father was dying, he requested that his ashes be spread off the southwest corner of the Island, near a small patch of eel grass that was one of his favorite fishing spots. It’s a special place, and I am grateful to all the people who led the fight to “Save Cockenoe” (yes, including my brother Ed!)

  8. My save-cockenoe hand-written letter was printed in full by The Westport News which made me a celebrity (in my family) and ignited the perception among my younger siblings (impressible ages) that their older brother single-handedly saved Cockenoe, which is now called into question 42 years later by the details of Dan’s post 🙂
    Hard to even imagine that came so close to being real. Great post Dan.

  9. Kudos to the Stallings! Maybe they didn’t save the town from a nuclear disaster singlehandedly, but neither did the Westport News, Jo Brosius or anyone else. It was a community effort which paid off.with everyone’s effort. There were some very powerful interests backing the power plant.

    In today’s cynical age, we should remember that we do live in a democratic society and that people can make a difference.

  10. Still have the poster somewhere…and I was a classmate of my friend Eddie Stallings at Burr Farms. What I remember though, even at that young age was how this issue brought together some political opposites. Westport at that time was pretty polarized between the lefty anti-war crowd and the more pro-military right wingers, and this was an issue that brought at least some of them together, an issue that both could come together and agree on. As soon as the Cockenoe issue was settled the divisions were back–democrats versus republicans, freaks vs greasers and jocks, and so on, but for a moment a lot of us came together for a common cause.