It took years of protests, high-level negotiations, and the help of the state legislature.
But on December 23, 1969, a real estate deal closed. The town of Westport bought Cockenoe Island for $200,000.
The seller — United Illuminating, a utility company
predecessor of Eversource — would no longer follow through on plans to build a 14-story nuclear power plant on the island, a mile off Compo Beach.
The next day’s Westport News carried a memorable headline: “Cockenoe Island Safe in Sound.” Life magazine called it one of the 10 most important environmental victories in America that year.
Exactly 52 years later, a group of area residents — many of whom had not been born when Westporters saved Cockenoe — commemorated the event.
Twelve canoes, kayaks and paddleboards headed out from the Compo Beach kayak launch to the island, and around it. They braved 33-degree weather and 11-knot winds.
After circumnavigating, everyone went ashore. They made a fire and sipped celebratory cider. Two bald eagles greeted the group.
Organizer Sefra Alexandra cherishes winter paddling. A leader of BOATanical Expeditions, she leads trips to raise awareness of the biodiversity and resilience of our ecoregion. Most take place on the Connecticut River.
But Alexandra — also a member of the Explorers Club — wants to popularize “backyard expeditions.”
“We all have a role to play in stewarding the re-wilding the lands and waters around us,” she says.
BOATanical Expeditions was joined as host by 2 other groups. The Readiness Collective is a social club offering emergency and daily life training. Riprour is an outdoor adventure community that leads excursions throughout Fairfield County, while raising funds for organizations like Aspetuck Land Trust and The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
Though fishin’ replaced fission long ago, Alexandra knows that keeping effluent out of the Sound is an ongoing battle. So she asked paddlers for donations from the Cockenoe paddlers. Funds go to East Norwalk Blue, a free bilge pump-out program run by Norm Bloom of Copps Island Oysters.
Bloom also provided the safety boat for the Cockenoe paddle.
Last week — half a century after its purchase by the town of Westport — Cockenoe Island was once again “safe in Sound.”