July 23, 2014

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy Tours ‘The Preserve’ in Old Saybrook

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Old Saybrook — U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joined representatives from the Trust for Public Land and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and about 40 other environmentalists and town officials on Thursday afternoon on a short guided tour of the Preserve in Old Saybrook.  The Trust for Public Land is currently working with the towns of Old Saybrook, Essex and Westbrook  to acquire the 1,000-acre forest for public enjoyment and to prevent it from further development.

“I’m thrilled to be here with you today,” said Murphy, “My family, for as long as I’ve been alive, has had a little tiny summer house in Old Lyme so this part of the world is like a second home to me.”

Sen. Murphy took off his office shoes and replaced them with hiking footwear as he joined the rest of the group on the hike through to the middle of the Preserve.

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Senator Murphy joins the group on the short hike through the Preserve

After a short hike, the group reached the center of the 1,000 acre property, overlooking Pequot Swamp.  Chris Cryder, Special Projects Coordinator for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, described the swamp as an area of particular environmental significance.  “Pequot Swamp is a 113-acre wetland area that feeds two tributaries of the Connecticut River and is an important resting site for migratory birds”, said Cryder.

Chris Cryder, Special Projects Coordinator for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, explains the environmental significance of Pequot Swmap to Senator Chris Murphy

Chris Cryder, Special Projects Coordinator for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, explains the environmental significance of Pequot Swamp to Senator Chris Murphy

The Trust for Public Land has been working with the towns of Old Saybrook, Westbrook and Essex, Land Trusts for the three towns, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Audubon Connecticut, The Nature Conservancy and the State of Connecticut to raise the necessary funds to purchase the property.  The Trust hopes to raise $2 million to $3 million in private donations towards the re-negotiated  price of $8.1 million.  The remaining funds could potentially come from the state and from the town of Old Saybrook, who will be holding a referendum in June when town voters will be asked to vote on the issue.  If successful, the land would be owned by the town and would be kept open to the public for hiking and recreation purposes.

“In our office, we eat, sleep and breathe land conservation,” said Murphy, “so this is really exciting when we have a big piece of iconic property like this that, hopefully with a little bit of luck and some good partnership, we can preserve for the ages.”

After returning to the trailhead, the group posed for a photo with Senator Murphy.

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Enjoy an Exciting, Educational ‘Eagle Watch’ Cruise with CT River Museum

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The view east into Hamburg Cove from the Connecticut river

Last Friday was the perfect winter weather for a boat trip on the lower Connecticut River to view the wildlife and enjoy the experience of being one of the very few boats on the river during mid-February.  I was a guest aboard the 65 ft. Project Oceanology vessel Enviro-Lab III  for one of the “Eagle Watch” boat trips offered by Connecticut River Museum in partnership with Project Oceanology during February and March each year.  This is the fourth season the Connecticut River Museum has teamed up with the Groton-based marine science and environmental education organization, Project Oceanology, to provide a dynamic on-water experience.

The 65 ft Enviro-Lab III owned by Project Oceanology who have partnered with Connecticut River Museum to offer the Eagle Watch trips

The 65 ft Enviro-Lab III owned by Project Oceanology who have partnered with Connecticut River Museum to offer the Eagle Watch trips

Although visitors to the river in winter can see many interesting avian species, the bald eagle is the one most visitors hope to see.   Declared an endangered species in 1973 with the passage of the federal Endangered Species Act, populations began to recover following the ban on DDT, and by 2007,  the bald eagle populations had recovered to the extent that they have now been removed from the endangered species list.  They are, however, still protected on the federal level by the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Every winter a number of bald eagles migrate south looking for open water to feed as the lakes and rivers in Canada and northern New England  freeze.  Many of these birds stop in Connecticut and winter along major rivers and large reservoirs, and can been seen feeding and occasionally nesting on the banks of the Connecticut river.

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A juvenile bald eagle in flight over the Connecticut river

Although a sighting is not guaranteed, eagles are spotted on most trips.  On the first trip of the season, six adult eagles and eight juveniles were spotted.  On this trip, we were fortunate to spot our first young eagle soaring high above the boat minutes after casting off from the town dock as the boat headed north up river and then we saw several more eagles throughout the trip, some roosting in riverside trees and some gracefully circling above the river.

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A juvenile bald eagle perched on a tree along the river bank

Eagles nesting on Nott Island

One of the highlights of the trip was to observe, from a distance, the rare sight of an eagle on her nest on the eastern side on Nott island, just across the river from Essex harbor.  In the 1950s the bald eagle was no longer a nesting species in Connecticut but, according to the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, in 1992 the state documented its first successful nesting of bald eagles since the 1950s when a pair raised two young birds in Litchfield County.  Since then, the nesting population has increased gradually and, in 2010, 18 pairs of bald eagles made nesting attempts in the state.

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Female bald eagle on nest on Nott Island, CT

One such nesting pair is seen here on Nott Island.  The female was about to lay her eggs a week or so ago but was temporarily disrupted by Winter Storm Charlotte.  Hopefully, now that she is back on her nest, the eggs have been successfully produced.

“Let’s go out on the river and have some fun!”

The Eagle Watch boat trips are led by local expert naturalist and lecturer Bill Yule, who is an educator at the Connecticut River Museum.  He is not only an expert on most wildlife species found along the Connecticut River but also a renowned expert on local mushrooms and fungi.  Yule welcomed visitors aboard the trip with the invitation, “Let’s go out on the river and have some fun,” and throughout the trip he helped locate and identify birds, related historical stories about life along the river and made sure all the passengers were warm and comfortable with plenty of hot coffee.

Naturalist and lecturer Bill Yule provides interesting and informative information on all wildlife species seen along the river throughout the cruise

Naturalist and lecturer Bill Yule provides interesting and informative information on all wildlife species seen along the river throughout the cruise

Yule was accompanied by two educators from Project Oceanology, Chris Dodge and Danielle Banco, who cheerfully helped identify interesting birds and assisted the boat captain with docking and navigating up and down the river between the ice flows.

Bald eagles are certainly not the only avian species guests can enjoy on the trip and on this particular voyage, we enjoyed numerous sightings of  cormorants, black-backed gulls, red-tailed hawks and common merganser ducks.

We returned to the town dock some 90 minutes after departure excited by all the birds we had seen and moreover, educated about them, and, despite the cold, I am confident I am not the only traveler on that voyage who will be taking another trip later in the season.  All in all, it was an awesome experience!

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The common merganser duck in full flight along the river

February Vacation Week Programs

The Connecticut River Museum is also offering a week-long program of vacation week activity for the February school break starting tomorrow, Feb. 19.  In addition to an Eagle Watch adventure on Friday, Feb. 22, the program will also include a day exploring the many galleries in the museum, an outdoor exploration day including a nature hike and animal tracking, and an arts and crafts day building models boats, learning knot tying and other maritime arts.

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Avian wildlife exhibit in the Connecticut River Museum

To make reservations for the vacation week program or for more information about Connecticut River Museum educational programs or Eagle Watch Tours, visit www.ctrivermuseum.org or contact Jennifer White Dobbs in the Education Department at jwhitedobbs@ctrivermuseum.org or Bill Yule, also in the Education Department, at byule@ctrivermuseum.org.

Project Oceanology in Groton also offers Winter Seal Watch trips during weekends in February and March.  These two and a half hour trips travel out into Fishers Island Sound to view these playful creatures, which are abundant in this area.  The ticket price of $25 (adults) and $20 (children) also includes a 20-minute slide presentation.

 

Video Clips of Essex Selectmen Candidate Debate at the Town Hall

A large crowd turned out for the Nov. 1 debate at Essex Town Hall between the two candidates for First Selectman of Essex, Republican Bruce MacMillian and Democrat Norman Needleman, and the Republican and Democratic candidates for Selectman, Republican Joel Marzi and Democrat Stacia Rice-Libby.

Richard Conroy, director of the Essex Library posed questions submitted to the library by Essex town residents prior to the debate.  Question included topics such as how they would handle the blighted property issue,  what their business development plan would be for the town, what their views are on supporting non-profit organizations and whether the town should hire a Town Manager.  Each candidate responded to each question alternately and each was given the opportunity to offer some concluding remarks.

The selectmen candidates Marzi and Rice-Libby also gave short introductory comments and short concluding remarks.

Videos clips of opening statements, responses to questions and closing comments are provided below.

Estuary Transit District Celebrates Launch of New Hybrid Electric Bus

Richard Cabral, Chairman of ETD, cuts the ribbon to celebrate the launch of two new hybrid electric minibuses.

A small group of elected officials, Estuary Transit District (ETD) Board members and community partners gathered in Old Lyme this morning to take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the launch of 9 Town Transit’s two, new hybrid electric minibuses.  These are the first hybrid minibuses of their size in New England and were purchased with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Connecticut Clean Fuels Grant Program.

The ribbon was cut by ETD Chairman Richard Cabral and the ceremony was attended by several local First Selectmen and by State Senator Andrea Stillman (D-20th) whose district includes East Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, New London, Montville, Salem and Waterford,  and by State Representative Phil Miller (D-36th), whose district includes Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam.  Miller also currently serves as Essex First Selectman.

The new minibuses are 22 feet long and hold 14 passengers in a comfortable, air-conditioned environment and are fully accessible to persons with disabilities, safely accommodating two wheelchairs.  They also have on-board security cameras for passenger safety and GPS tracking technology to improve on-time performance.

The vehicles are powered by smaller than usual gasoline engines supplemented by an electric motor.  Below 15 mph the vehicle is powered fully by electricity.  Above 15 mph an on-board computer blends gas and electric power to optimize efficiency.  The result is cleaner emissions, a quieter ride, and a 20% reduction in gas consumption.  “That’s significant,” said John Forbis, ETD Board Member, “since our overall annual gasoline bill for running the fleet is around $250,000.”

Each new bus cost $123,706, part of which was funded by the ARRA ($67,924)  and the remainder funded by the Connecticut Clean Fuels Program ($55,780).  “We have funds for three new hybrid buses next year” said Joe Comerford, Executive Director, ETD, “ I am excited that we at ETD are at the forefront of technology.”  When the entire fleet is converted to hybrid vehicles ETD expects to save more than $60,000/year in operating expenses.

Chairman Cabral paid tribute to Comerford’s contribution to the project saying, “All that has happened with 9 Town Transit is due directly to Joe Comerford – he has brought us eons ahead.”

 

 

 

Shoreline Bike and Pedestrian Coalition Holds Inaugural Meeting

Representatives from more than a dozen local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups and regional planning representatives, met in Old Saybrook on Tuesday 15 March in a first-ever attempt to bring multiple stakeholders together in a single room to discuss the topic of shoreline regional planning for non-motorized travel.

Kathy Connolly, leader of new Shoreline Bike/Pedestrian Coalition

The new group, called the Shoreline Bike and Pedestrian Coalition, is lead by Kathy Connolly who was the previous chair of the Old Saybrook Bikeways Committee.  The new coalition’s objective will be to develop a high level, regional vision and strategies for bicycle and pedestrian resources over the next 5-10 years.  “We want to see what it would take to develop end-to-end connectivity across the eastern Connecticut shoreline without a car,” said Connolly.

The meeting was attended by cycling advocacy group representatives from most shoreline towns between the Rhode Island line and New Haven, including Stonington, Mystic, Groton, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Clinton, Madison, Branford and East Haven, and Haddam from the CT River Valley.  Also attending were Jim Butler from the South Eastern Regional Council of Governments, Jean Davis from CREPA, Meg Parulis, Town Planner from Westbrook and Katherine Rattan, CT DOT Non-motorized Transportation Coordinator.

The coalition is being formed in the hope that having a regional forum in which bike and pedestrian plans from individual towns can be shared and coordinated will increase the liklihood of securing support and funding.

Some of the early initiatives the group hopes to address will include developing an inventory of on-the-road assets and challenges that currently exist in the region, looking at interconnectivity with trains and buses, and participating in the national bike/pedestrian count days in September.

Anyone interested in getting more information about the coalition should contact Kathy Connolly at kathy.connolly@snet.net.

Ivoryton Opera Series Opens With Success

James Kuslan and Joyce Fideor During Ivoryton Library Opera Series on Macbeth

The Ivoryton Library opera series, Great Works of Literature and Opera, had an enthusiastic launch of the first of its series at the Ivoryton Congregational Church on Thursday with a study of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

A large audience at the Congregational Church listened with interest to an introduction from international opera singer Susan von Reichenbach followed by a fascinating lecture from guide and main speaker James Kuslan, who discussed the ways in which Shakespeare and his interpreters make choices that affect our understanding of the meaning of play. Kuslan, who is a respected expert in his field, reviews operas in New York City publications and writes introductions for Deutsche Grammophone, whose business is largely opera recordings.

Kuslan’s message was exemplified in an extraordinary performance by actress Joyce Fideor, who rendered a speech by Lady Macbeth in three different ways to illustrate the influence of actor interpretation.  Fideor concluded her performed with two emotionally charged soliloquies from Lady Macbeth which left the audience in awe.

Joyce Fideor performs an emotional soliloquy by Lady Macbeth

Fideor has played Lady Macbeth in Nicole Williamson’s production of the play at New York’s Circle-in-the-Square Theater.

The nine part series, entitled “Great Works of Literature and Music: Read, Hear, See” is funded by a grant from the Middlesex County Community Foundation, and will continue through May, 2011.

The next performance in the series will be on March 24, at the Ivoryton Congregational Church, when Kuslan will discuss how Verdi and his librettist, Piave, adapted the play Macbeth so that its elements might be amplified by music.

Commenting Capability Suspended Indefinitely

The mission of ValleyNewsNow is to offer an independent, objective community news source for Chester, Deep River and Essex.  The ability to comment on articles is not integral to that mission, but we offered it to readers in the belief that it would enrich the site. 

However the escalating number of offensive comments and personal attacks that are appearing on the site is not only contrary to our commenting policy but also offending many of our readers and we no longer deem it to be aligned with our vision for the publication.

We are therefore closing down the comments section for all articles effective immediately and would suggest that those who wish to comment publicly on a matter send a letter to the editor, which will be published at our sole discretion, in accordance with our letters policy.

Nigel & Olwen Logan,
Shoreline Web News LLC.

Deep River Bookstore Creates Green, Book Buy-Back Web Business

Hanna Cook, Owner of MyBookCart.com

MediaBuster Books of Deep River have been selling used books since 2003, and they care passionately about the environmental impact of discarding used books, so much so that they have now created an online web business which encourages people to sell back their used books instead of throwing them into landfills.

“Many people have books they have finished reading, and they wonder what to do with them”, says Hanna Cook, owner of MediaBuster Books.  “Most people don’t want to throw them out, but sadly, many used books end up in landfills” Cook continues.

So in early 2009  Cook  formed MyBookCart.com, which gives people an easy option of selling back their used books instead of throwing them out when they are finished using them.

MyBookCart.com gives instant offers for used books by typing in the book’s ISBN number. Shipping is free to mail in books, and payment is made by check or PayPal.

MyBookCart.com also has a popular textbook buyback option for college students at the end of each semester.  Students have found that they can receive higher offer quotes for their textbooks compared to the college bookstore, and MyBookCart.com, in most instances, buys back textbooks that the college bookstore isn’t buying. 

“We also have a referral program” Cook says, “where every customer who makes an account with us receives their own referral code.  When a new customer uses their referral code and mails in their books, they get paid 10% of the buyback offer.  This also works well for college students, as we provide college students free flyers and bookmarks that contain their referral code upon request.  College students can request free flyers by e-mailing support@mybookcart.com.  They can hang the flyers around campus and receive the 10% commission payment when fellow students mail in their books/textbooks.”

“Throughout our years of selling used books, we understand what customers want: Fair price quotes, fast payment, good communication, excellent customer service, and an easy to use website. Each day we strive try to find new ways to exceed your expectations” says Cook.

Early Childhood Council Celebrates Success

Nearly 60 guests and celebrities from the local community attended the Early Childhood Council celebration on Friday evening, which took place at the Meeting House in Centerbrook.  The group met to recognize the achievements of the Early Childhood Council to date, and to increase awareness of the mission of the group within the community, both for families in financial need of support and for potential donors.  The ECC, which was founded by Marjorie Schofield more than 20 years ago, provides financial scholarships to local families to allow preschool children to receive schooling prior to beginning kindergarten.  

Guests at the event included State Senator Eileen Daily and State Representative James Spallone, as well as Region 4 Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Levy. Dr. Levy’s presentation gave full support and backing of the Preschool Scholarship Fund and it’s ability “to start all children on an equal footing as they begin their journey of learning through the school system.” 

Generous donors contributed $850, which is equivalent to a one semester scholarship for one child from the community, plus an additional $100 toward a second child having this same gift of preschool before entering kindergarten.  Since its inception in 2000, the Preschool Scholarship Fund has now provided scholarships to seventy children.

“Our hope is that through broadening the base of our outreach, that we will be able to reach new donors and new worthy receipients of our Region 4 Preschool Scholarship Fund” says Director of the Program, Marjorie Schofield.

Further information about the program, testimonials from its previous recipients, and opportunites to donate can be found at their newly launched website www.earlychildhoodcouncil.com.

New Website to Increase Awareness of Preschool Scholarship Fund for the Tri-Town Area

Marge Schofield, Preschool Scholarship Fund Founder

Under the leadership of Essex resident Marge Schofield and with the support of numerous talented and caring members of the community, a new website will be launched Friday to increase awareness of a local, Tri-Town program, The Preschool Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to families in need for preschool education.  The new site, www.earlychildhoodcouncil.com, will be formally unveiled by Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ruth Levy, on Friday Oct. 15, at a reception at the Centerbrook Meeting House between 5-7 p.m. to recognize the recent achievements of the group.

Schofield, long-time educator, has been passionate about the importance of preschool education for young children in the Tri-Town area for more than 30 years, and was founder and director of two preschool facilities for local children in the 1980’s and 90’s.  “Giving each child an equal opportunity to start early learning is just the most important gift we can give a child” says Schofield.

Most educators in the community agree about the benefits of some preschool education prior to starting kindergarten. “These kids know their letters, they know their sounds, and they are so much more confident and that just jump starts their entire school year, and really, their entire academic success in the future, too” notes Danielle Rettig, a kindergarten teacher from Essex Elementary.

In the mid 1980′s Schofield and other community members founded the Early Childhood Council whose mission was to facilitate a smooth transition for local children through preschool and into elementary school.   A large part of this mission included the provision of financial support to families in financial need.  Schofield pointed out, “We had so many calls from families who really wanted their children to go to preschool before kindergarten but they just simply couldn’t afford it.” 

In 2000, the Preschool Scholarship Fund was created with the support of local benefactors and several local institutions including the local Rotary group, United Way and the Middlesex County Community Foundation.  Since its creation, the fund has provided over 70 scholarships to local families to allow preschool children from families in need to enjoy the benefits of attending a local preschool.
 
In a recent effort to increase awareness of the program, both to potential donors and scholarship recipients, Schofield rallied support from the community to develop a website explaining the program.  With the support from many, including Essex resident Sarah Cody, preschool teacher Katherine Campbell and web developer Chris McGary the site has been completed and will be formally unveiled on Oct. 15.

Schofield and other community members describe the program in the video clip below:

Public Tells Bikeways Committee of Road Cycling Hazards

Several members of the public described the hazards of cycling in the town from personal experience at the Special Meeting of the Old Saybrook Bikeways Committee.

During the first of two Special Meetings of the ad hoc Old Saybrook Bikeways Committee on Thursday evening, members of the public listed problem areas of which they were aware that cause hazards and impact the safety of cyclists and pedestrians on town roads. 

About 20 residents turned out for the meeting, which was chaired by Kathy Connolly, who gave a short presentation on the history of the committee before seeking input from the members of the public on specific cycling and pedestrian hazards they had encountered on and around the roadways of Old Saybrook.

The Bikeways Committee, which was formed in September 2008 by the Old Saybrook Board of Selectmen, is developing a list of recommended infrastructure changes and other investments that will require funding from the 2011-12 budget, which it will then take to the board of selectmen later in the year.

Committee member Julie D’Ambrosio described a survey she is conducting with members of Girl Scout troops to collect traffic, pedestrian and cyclist data at the middle school as part of the “Safe Routes to School” project.  Connolly hopes that funding for infrastructure improvements may be available through a grant from the program.  The Town of Essex has already received a $400,000 grant for physical improvements and Clinton is reportedly working on a similar grant application.

Several members of the public provided personal examples of dangerous situations they had experienced while cycling locally.  One of the most hazardous areas identified was The Causeway between Saybrook Point and Fenwick, which several residents reported as being particularly dangerous for cyclists.

Great Hammock Road, Elm Street under the Amtrak bridge, and Route 1 over the railway bridge between CVS and Pat’s Kountry Kitchen were also identified as areas of concern.  Proposed solutions included widening roadways where possible, changing road markings and reducing speed limits.

Connolly noted all comments and will incorporate them into her recommendations to the board of selectmen.

A second special public meeting will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at the Town Hall.