Category Archives: Environment

Pickleballers: Beach Bathrooms Don’t Pass The Smell Test

By many measures (though not the weather), this has been a wonderful summer.

Parks and Recreation’s Compo Beach-calming plans minimized crowds, and maximized cleanliness. Innovations like the Mobi-Mat and reworking the entrance road drew raves.

A few more ideas are in the works. A walkway — similar to the one built last year between the pavilion and cannons — is set for South Beach. Bathrooms will replace port-o-potties nearby.

“Nearby” means close to the pickleball area. Constructed a few years ago, the courts have seen steadily increased use.

Compo Beach pickleball courts. Existing bathrooms are far in the background.

Recently, players put down their paddles, picked up pens, and protested Parks and Rec’s plans.

In letters to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Parks and Recreation Department director Jen Fava and Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh, the pickleballers cite several concerns:

  • The new bathrooms “will block both the lovely views and welcoming air flow/breeze”
  • They’ll “most likely result in unwelcoming smells (sewage related, disinfectant, etc.)”
  • “Staring at the back of a bathroom is not anyone’s idea of a good time.”

One writer argues that moving the location “just 50 feet over would make a huge difference to the 100+ pickleball players in town (with more joining the sport every day!)”

Granted, this is a first world problem. Billions of citizens around the globe have no access to sanitation of any kind — let alone pickleball courts.

But it’s a reflection of the love Westporters have for Compo Beach that the location of new bathrooms creates such a you-know-what storm.

Pics Of The Day #489

The evening sky was gorgeous last night, near the Westport buoy … (Photo/Lawrence Zlatkin)

… but this is New England, and weather changes rapidly. A few minutes earlier, this was the scene at Winslow Park. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Watering Holes

In the middle of this very rainy summer, alert — and conservation-minded — “06880” reader Pippa Bell Ader writes:

This spring, Aquarion implemented a water restriction in Westport.

The town of Westport and our Green Task Force held 2 informational workshops. Aquarion sent out postcards to residents (and I assume businesses).

The other day, I noticed this sign.

(Photo/Pippa Bell Ader)

I also noticed some Aquarion trucks driving around town, but that isn’t unusual.

My guess is that this commercial property has an automatic sprinkler system. Aquarion wants the property owner (and anyone who drives by on the Post Road) to know that the system can’t run every day.

But will the property owner notice? Or care?

Heather Grahame: ALS Triathlon Champ

If you missed your most recent issue of the Helena Independent Record, here’s a story worth noting.

The Montana paper reports that Heather Grahame is one of the top female triathletes in the nation in her age group. AT 63, she recently finished 4th in the 60-64 division at the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Denmark.

Amazingly, she’s done the very grueling event for only 6 years.

Grahame entered her first triathlon because she’s always been a competitor. Four years later her brother Tom was diagnosed with ALS. Now she uses triathlons as fundraisers.

Heather Grahame in action.

Grahame’s been an athlete all her life. As a member of Staples High School’s Class of 1973, she captained the field hockey team. She played 2 more years at Mount Holyoke College, then transferred to Stanford University.

While there, she looked for a summer job that paid well and involved adventure. She leveraged her experience as a Compo Beach lifeguard to teach swimming, water safety and first aid in rural Aleut and Eskimo villages. The state of Alaska funded the program, to combat a high drowning rate.

She’d get dropped off by a small bush plane on a gravel airstrip. She had to find a place to sleep and a pond, then start an education program. Grahame showed different degrees of burns by roasting marshmallows, and used walrus bones to demonstrate how to stabilize human injuries.

She loved the challenges, the mountains and the Bering Sea. Stanford did not start until late September, so when the program ended she worked in a cannery (earning enough money to cover much of her tuition), and backpacked in Denali National Park.

After graduating from the University of Oregon law school, Grahame moved to Anchorage. The economy was booming. Support for education, arts and trail systems were strong. Her daughters enjoyed a public school with 2 teachers per classroom, 2 Spanish immersion programs, and one in Japanese.

Grahame focused on public utility law. With so many complicated rural utility issue, she had plenty of work.

Heather Grahame (Photo courtesy of Helena Independent Record)

In 2010 she moved to Helena to become general counsel for NorthWestern Energy, a publicly traded utility serving Montana, Yellowstone National Park, Nebraska and much of South Dakota. Later, she added the title of vice president in charge of regulatory and federal government affairs.

She’s on the road a lot. But she finds time to train for triathlons. Though she began when she was 56, it’s a natural for her.

In the 1980s, Grahame competed in bicycle racing on the US Women’s Circuit. She trained at the Olympic Center, and in 1988 finished 6th at the Olympic trials.

She and her family then became competitive sled dog racers. Her top international finish — 6th — came at the 2000 Women’s World Championships.

As for triathlons — well, okay. Grahame actually did a full Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

But when she learned that Team Challenge ALS was participating in the 2017 New York City Triathlon, she signed up. She raised over $3,500 for the ALS Association.

“Racing is a completely different experience, and far more satisfying, when you can use it as a means to help others,” Grahame says.

She also raises funds by logging her workouts with her phone’s Charity App. Miles earn dollars donated by various businesses.

A typical sight, on a typical Heather Grahame training ride.

Grahame does not get back to Westport often. But she looks forward to attending the next Compo lifeguard reunion.

For one thing, her time on the Compo chair helped get her to Alaska — and paved the way for the many fulfilling athletic endeavors that followed.

For another, those long-ago Westport guards have contributed to her ALS fundraising efforts.

“The generosity of the human spirit is amazing,” Grahame says. “The support has come from many people I haven’t seen since I was 18. I cannot thank them enough.”

(To contribute to Heather Grahame’s fundraising efforts, click here. To read the full Helena Independent Record story, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #476

Driftwood at Old Mill Beach (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Sarah Gross Spreads The Organic Garden Gospel

Westporters know Sarah Gross as the owner of Cabbages & Kings Catering. For over 30 years, the 1970 Staples High School graduate has won hearts (and stomachs) throughout the tri-state area with delicious (and healthy) food.

Two years ago she introduced C&K Community Kitchen. The collaborative community incubator offers affordable, certified, organic, non-GMO commercial kitchen space, rented in 8-hour shifts. 

Sarah has always known the importance of “organic.” But as she studied where her food (and ours) comes from, she realized that’s not enough. “We need to feed our soil, in order to create bionutrient rich food using sustainable regenerative practices,” she says.

She looked around for someone to help transform her own land into a bionutrient organic food forest. “I believe we were sold a bill of goods with the promotion of pristine green lawns,” she says. “The possibility of ending world hunger is sitting right in front of us.”

Through the Westchester chapter of the Bionutrient Food Asssociation, Sarah enlarged her garden, built up her soil, and is adding fruit trees and berry bushes. She’ll feed her family, and donate the rest of her bounty to friends, neighbors, food pantries and other organizations serving people who lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sarah Gross’ garden.

She is open to sharing her garden with a restaurant or caterer needing land for nutrient-rich organic farming.

The soil in the no-till garden is fed with premium compost from a local purveyor. Worms were added to do their thing, and a drip system installed. It is covered in organic hay mulch, to build the soil for next season. It will be farmed bionutriently.

A pollinator garden on the side will be full of flowers, for bees.

A deer fence and log walls surround the property, to protect the gardens, trees and bushes.

Some of the bounty of Sarah Gross’ garden.

Meanwhile, she is speaking out against the use of harmful practices.

Sarah says that Roundup — banned in California, Canada and Europe — is “evil.” Yet, she notes, plants sold at Home Depot, Walmart and local landscape businesses are riddled with the weed killer.

As Sarah sees the decline of monarch butterflies — victims of Roundup, she says, and notices fewer hummingbirds, she makes a connection.

“With every choice we make, we are voting for thriving or our own demise.” That’s especially true, Sarah says, with food choices. It applies to restaurants as well as home gardeners.

Sarah has partnered with Vic Ziminsky of Let It Grow Landscapes and local master gardener Laura Stabell to offer organic gardening services. They plant and maintain food gardens for clients, encouraging others to make the most of their lawns by growing food that feeds themselves, wildlife and a less fortunate population.

Sarah Gross, Laura Stabel and Vic Ziminsky, in one of their gardens.

In addition, Sarah told the first selectman’s office about organic landscaping classes August 13-16 in New Haven, and November 12-15 in East Hartford. (Click here for information.) The classes are heavily discounted for Connecticut landscapers. She hopes local companies will take advantage of the opportunity — and homeowners too.

“Our choices about how we tend to our property — what we spray on our trees and put on our lawns — affect not only our own land, but the atmosphere and water aquifers of all those around us,” Sarah says.

“Now we have the opportunity to make viable different choices — individually, and as a community.”

Westport Schools Limit Plastic Straws; Student Takes Aim At Water Bottles

The campaign to lessen plastic straw use in Westport no longer sucks.

The Whelk, Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, Amis, Viva Zapata, Dunville’s and the Black Duck have all joined in. Dunkin’ Donuts is in the process of phasing them out.

Now comes news that a place that serves many more customers a day than all of these combined — well, maybe not Dunkin’ — has joined the crusade.

RTM member Andrew Colabella tells “06880” that he heard from Deborah VanCoughnett, director of dining services for Chartwells, the company that runs food services for the Westport schools.

Andrew says they’ll severely limit plastic straw use when school starts later this month.

None will be on display. However, students who need one — for example, those with physical disabilities — can simply ask a cashier.

Andrew thanks fellow RTM member Kristin Schneeman, school superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer, Bedford Middle School principal Dr. Adam Rosen and student Michael Rossi Pontoriero, and VanCoughnett for their work on this project.

It’s an important step forward. But bigger issues lie ahead.

Like plastic bottles.

Yesterday, I got an email from Samantha Henske.

Last year — as a 5th grader at Kings Highway Elementary School — she started a drive to eliminate single-use water bottles. She and her Workshop grouop sold reusable BPA-free water bottles to 400 KHS students. With the money raised, they bought a water filling station for the school.

Samantha Henske, and plastic bottles.

As she worked on the project, Sammi learned not only about environmental effects of plastic bottles (one year of manufacturing uses enough oil to fuel a million cars; a bottle in a landfill takes up to 450 years to decompose; plastics that get into fish and other sea creatures can end up as microplastics in our bodies), but that chemicals in BPA can lead to neurological difficulties and increased growth of cancer cells.

Now — as she enters Coleytown Middle School — she’s moving forward, townwide. Next month, she meets with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport’s Green Task Force.

This is a sibling effort. She’s doing the research; her sophomore brother Spencer is working on design and technology.

The result is a Change.org petition. The goal is to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles in all of Westport. To sign — or learn more — click here.

Pics Of The Day #472

Saugatuck Island resident Gene Borio sends along these photos of the approach to the newly renovated bridge on Harbor Road.

Inside the wooden bus stop, plaques honor Dean Powers and David Goldstick for their “skill and hard work beautifying our island.” An example of that beauty is found opposite the wooden structure.

(Photos/Gene Borio)

Paul Newman Hangs Out At Farmers’ Market

As previewed earlier this week, Paul Newman made a special appearance today at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

The movie star/blue-eyed idol/race car driver/food purveyor/philanthropist — and, for 50 years, our neighbor — is unfortunately no longer actually here with us.

But a life-size cutout of him stood under a tent, in the bustling market on Imperial Avenue.

Dozens of shoppers of all ages stopped by to pose for a photo. Many had stories. A camera crew from Newman’s Own Foundation — the Westport-based charity that in over 35 years has given away more than $530 million — recorded Newman-related memories.

It’s a Foundation project, for use as a video and on social media.

If you missed him today, don’t worry. Paul will be back on Thursday, August 16 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). His eyes will be as blue as ever.

BONUS STORY:  I was one of the many Farmers’ Market-goers today who shared a Paul Newman story. Here’s mine:

It was the 1970s. Early one summer evening, some friends and I were playing pick-up soccer on the front field at Coleytown Middle (then Junior High) School.

Suddenly, a helicopter hovered overhead. We scattered. It landed.

Out stepped Paul Newman. He wore shorts — and carried a briefcase.

“Hi, boys!” he said cheerily.

The helicopter whirred back into the sky. And, with a wave, one of the most famous actors in the world walked around the corner to his home.

Unsung Hero #59

Whenever Cindy Mindell stops by the transfer station, she hopes Bart “Bud” Valiante is there.

The array of trash choices — recyclables, household, electronics, metals, bulbs and batteries, etc. — is dizzying.

But, Cindy, says, “Bud is always cheerful, professional and helpful. He offers to carry stuff from my car, walks me to the correct disposal area, and explains why a particular material or item is or is not recyclable.

“He even puts my conscience at ease and expands my eco-knowledge by describing how non-recyclables are repurposed through burning at a waste-to-energy power plant.”

Bart “Bud” Valiante, helping at the transfer station as always. (Photo/Cindy Mindell)

That’s not all. The other day, Cindy told Bud that she was sleep-deprived and panicking because she was in the middle of a move.

He offered to haul items to Goodwill and the transfer station at no cost. He said he’s always happy to help a neighbor in need — and regularly does things like that before and after work.

Cindy did not take Bud up on his kind offer.

But, she says, “No matter how busy he might be when I arrive, he always stops to answer my questions and make sure that I put everything in its proper place.

“For that, for his dedication to his job and the environment, and his generosity of time and spirit, he is definitely an Unsung Hero.”