New Name, New Leadership, Expanding Projects, Same Strong CommitmentThe new Stonington Harbor pumpout boat dock and emptying station were commissioned last May. © Charles Harding

Last year was a dynamic one for the Southeastern Connecticut-based environmental group CUSH, Inc., marked by a growing mission, leadership succession, and a number of new or expanding programs. The acronym CUSH now stands for “Clean up Sound and Harbors” and the group’s mission statement now reads:

CUSH is the only non-profit environmental group in Southeastern Connecticut with a mission to clean up and protect Fishers Island Sound and its coves, inlets, bays, rivers, and harbors.

CUSH has developed three core programs: 1) water monitoring, led by Professor Claire Gavin, to identify sources of pollution so scientists, policy makers, and other stakeholders can respond effectively; 2) collaborating with public and private entities to implement projects that improve the quality of water and the marine environment; and 3) developing and executing educational programs that foster a stewardship ethic among residents and visitors.

CUSH’s proudest achievement in 2011 was helping to establish a new pumpout station in Stonington Harbor. In past years, two pumpout boats served vessels with holding tanks in Stonington and Watch Hill harbors and along the Pawcatuck River. The boats had to empty into the Westerly, RI sewage system. The new $55,000 dock and emptying station was completed, and a new pumpout boat was launched in Westerly in May. These improvements demanded cooperative commitments from the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, the towns of Stonington and Westerly, and CUSH. The two boats kept 43,000 gallons of sewage out of local waters in 2010. The new goal is to double that number.

Other projects included a Mystic River Cleanup sponsored by Clean the Bay, Save the Bay and CUSH, and a presentation by Jeff Carlson, Superintendent of the (Martha’s) Vineyard Golf Club about treating gardens and lawns with organic techniques to protect against toxic runoff. CUSH volunteers have also conducted collaborative projects such as “Harbor Friendly Yards,” protective plantings along Stonington Harbor embankments, brochures for clean boating practices, and more.

CUSH’s water-quality monitoring program, with its 21-member volunteer team led by Professor Claire Gavin, added four new locations in 2011. CUSH joined academic researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to examine bottom sediments, University of Connecticut for pesticide detection, and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies for differentiating sources of bacteria. Sampling also established “before” data so that impacts of the removal of the dam on Anguilla Brook by the Avalonia Land Conservancy, installation of sediment filters on storm drains in Dodson Boatyard, and railroad bridge construction in Lambert’s Cove could be measured.

Gracelyn Guyol of Stonington founded CUSH in 2007, leading the organization with boundless energy. Succeeding her as president is Dr. Frances Hoffman of Mystic. Hoffman has focused on brownfields cleanup and redevelopment and community planning throughout her career, with experience at national, state and local levels. She has helped guide national brownfields policy, crafted award-winning state support for brownfields redevelopment and in the private sector has worked on major brownfields projects. She has chaired her town’s environmental commission and served as a board director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.

CUSH has received a Sea Grant award of $4,800 and a grant of $24,481 from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund for its water-quality monitoring program. The group was honored to receive the Humanitarian Assistance Award of the New England Water Environment Association, the United Crystal Award, given to member Scott Gager for his volunteer work on CUSH’s behalf, and Aquarion Water Company’s Environmental Champion Award for Stewards of the Environment.

CUSH is reaching farther east and west, and inviting other organizations engaged in water sampling to participate. Coastal cleanup programs will increase through partnerships with Clean the Bay and joint efforts with other groups. Planning for further expansion of the pumpout program will begin. In short, CUSH will continue to reach out to organizations and individuals who share a love of the waters of Fishers Sound, and, together, learn more about and do more to improve the quality of those waters and the life in and around them.