By Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper
Talk to Kaye Williams, founder of Captain’s Cove Seaport at Black Rock Harbor in Bridgeport, CT, and you’ll soon learn a few history lessons. Black Rock was the port used by George Washington’s spies as they rowed across Long Island Sound to Setauket, New York and back, bringing information on British troop movements. (This story was popularized by the Netflix series Turn.) Black Rock is an ideal harbor, long and narrow, protecting much of the channel from the wind and waves of the Sound.
But the same geography that makes for ideal boat moorage is also the harbor’s Achilles heel. While water moves in and out with the tide, overall there is little flushing action so nutrients and pollution build up. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Bridgeport Waste Water Treatment Plant West discharges directly into the harbor.
Back to the history lesson. Kaye’s father worked on the construction of that plant in 1948. The original plan called for the sewer outflow pipe to extend under the harbor and the peninsula known as Fayerweather Island, and out into Long Island Sound proper. Most communities in the area have discharge pipes far from the shore that allow waste to mix in the open Sound, diluting it and keeping it far from swimmers and onshore fishermen. Bridgeport’s mayor at the time, Jasper McLevy*, however, felt that it was a waste of money to extend the pipe and cancelled that portion of the project, ending the pipe at the shoreline halfway down the harbor.
Last spring, Kaye’s son, Bruce Williams, offered me a free slip at Captain’s Cove Seaport. It is an ideal spot, located at the halfway mark of the Sound’s Connecticut coastline and a quick trip across to Port Jefferson on Long Island. My slip is 40 feet from the sewage outflow pipe, so I have become intimately familiar with Black Rock Harbor water quality. The buildup of nutrients from combined sewer overflows and sewage bypasses into the harbor is reaching a critical point, and everyone who uses the harbor has noticed.
In response, a group of active residents has formed to clean up the harbor in cooperation with the Ash Creek Watershed Association (ashcreekassoc.org). They include local business owners (from a dive operator and marina owner to a fuel distributor), area activists, and City Councilman Pete Spain. Starting this spring, the group is sponsoring a water quality monitoring effort as part of the Unified Water Study, which monitors the health of bays and harbors around Long Island Sound. To date the Unified Water Study, overseen by Save the Sound’s water quality team based in Mamaroneck, NY, includes 36 sites monitored by 20 groups.
The program will collect data on baseline water quality conditions in Black Rock Harbor, including water clarity and dissolved oxygen. The Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School, adjacent to Captain’s Cove Seaport, also has students ready join the effort. These intrepid young people will be out collecting data aboard the school’s research vessel Catherine Moore**…at 6:00 am!
The Bridgeport City Council has begun to pay greater attention to this problem, and the new data will help us keep up the pressure. Last summer, the Council approved bonding at $200 million for upgrading the wastewater plants, sewer collection pipes, and remedies to combined sewer overflows. Save the Sound supports their efforts at garnering state assistance from the CT Clean Water Fund, and I’m speaking with legislators to ensure the Fund has enough dollars to assist cash-strapped municipalities with critical projects like this one.
Black Rock Harbor is the doorway to what was historically the largest shellfish reef in Long Island Sound and lots of cultural history, too. It’s time to bring back clean, abundant marine life to these iconic waters!
Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey is a fish and wildlife biologist with more than two decades of experience studying and conserving marine life. He is also an experienced commercial fisherman and environmental educator. As your on-the-water watchdog, Lucey upholds Save the Sound’s mission to protect and restore Long Island Sound, patrolling bays and harbors to find, report and fix water quality problems, and speaking out on behalf of the many marine species that depend on a healthy Sound for survival.
This article originally appeared in Green Cities, Blue Waters, the blog of Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its bi-state program Save the Sound, and is reprinted with permission. Special thanks to Laura McMillan, the New Haven, CT-based organization’s Director of Communications.
* Bridgeport’s longest serving mayor, Jasper McLevy (1878-1962) was a lifelong City resident who held that office from 1933 to 1957. A founding member of the Socialist Party of Bridgeport, he was referred to by many as a “sewer socialist.” – Ed.
** Catherine Moore served as the lighthouse keeper at Black Rock Harbor Light on Fayerweather Island for over half a century. She is credited with saving 21 lives. – Ed.