City Reels In A Big Green Fish

Melissa Bailey PhotoLet’s fix that pier—and give the fisherman who climbed around that chain-link fence more places to catch snapper.

The state’s top green official, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Robert Klee, made those suggestions after a three-hour bus tour around the city.

City officials took him on the tour Friday to highlight places where New Haven needs the state’s help protecting against the rising sea and violent storms. The tour also highlighted ways in which the city and state can work together to reduce waste and protect the environment.

Klee, who just moved to Woodbridge after spending years in New Haven, began his tour at City Hall, where he had lunch with Mayor Toni Harp and her staff. Harp said she and her staff outlined some $20 million in upgrades the city would like the state to pay for to address flooding problems.

At about 1:40 p.m., Klee boarded a yellow First Student school bus along with three members of his own staff and eight city officials. The first point of interest on the tour was the Route 34 corridor. City Economic Development Chief Matthew Nemerson pointed out where Route 34 goes under College Street. City staff recently waded through water there after heavy rain, Nemerson said. It doesn’t help that some 40 acres of the Hill neighborhood is covered with surface parking, added Economic Development Officer Mike Piscitelli.

Klee listened and snapped a picture.

Officials stepped off the bus at Union Avenue, another notorious flooding spot. All of the water that drains off of Hill streets pours down toward Union Avenue, officials told Klee.

Giovanni Zinn, of the city’s engineering department, also pointed out an LED streetlight, one of 2,000 the city has started putting in around town. Klee made a mental note of the new streetlights.

Klee discussed possible solutions to the bottleneck of storm water that rushes onto Union Avenue. There are two types of solutions, he said: You can fix up existing infrastructure, such as enlarging stormwater pipes so they don’t overflow through manholes. Or you can add green infrastructure, such as bioswales, or contoured landscaping.

City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg took over the tour as it approached Long Wharf Park, a skinny stretch of waterfront open space created in the 1970s to ensure the public could still access the water, despite major development and infilling that has brought the harbor’s edge from Water Street all the way out to where it is today. The city has landed a $1.8 million federal Community Development Block Grant to plan to halt erosion and flooding in places like Long Wharf.

Gilvarg gestured to a combined sewer overflow spot, where water from the 600-acre Hill/downtown drainage basin comes rushing out into the New Haven Harbor during storms. Gilvarg explained to Klee that during big, violent storms—which have become more frequent with climate change—waves crash over the overflow valves, eroding the land around them.

Klee repeated what he had learned from Gilvarg to a TV reporter.

Then he hopped back on the bus, which headed to the East Shore. Along the way, Gilvarg pointed out the spot near the Fusco Building on Long Wharf Drive where the city plans to build a boathouse.

For Yale? asked Klee, who earned a Ph.D. from Yale’s forestry school and also a J.D. from its law school.

No, not for Yale, Gilvarg replied. The boathouse will be for the public.

On the way, passengers spotted a person fishing off the Tomlinson Bridge.

At Fort Hale Park, acting city parks chief Becky Bombero pointed out how Hurricane Sandy pummeled a long fishing pier, making it unusable.

Actually, a man was using the pier Friday, noted Klee. The man had managed to find his way around a chain-link fence and was fishing on the pier, which is missing many of the boards that people used to stand on. Klee snapped a photo. He called that pier a great example of how the state can help the city. The pier is actually owned by the state, he said. He said the state plans to fix it up.

The tour continued to Cove Street, where Zinn pointed out more LED streetlights. Zinn also pointed out a bunch of palm trees by Anthony’s Ocean View restaurant—trees which the restaurant takes in in the winter, he said. There, on the beach, Klee met Alder Sal DeCola (at left in photo). DeCola escorted him through the sand.

He pointed down the shoreline to a row of houses on Townsend Avenue that routinely get pummeled by waves and rising tides during storms. DeCola knows that stretch of houses well: He lives there. Neighbors there have long sought state help building better barriers against the water.

The tour then looped through Fair Haven’s River Street. The bus parked under the spinning wind turbine at Phoenix Press. Again, not far from where the bus parked, two guys sat fishing off of the side of Criscuolo Park.

The printing press has given over a quarter-acre of land to New Haven Farms, which has turned it into a vegetable garden.

Farm manager Jacqueline Maisonpierre (at right in photo) took Klee through the basil plants and the cherry tomatoes. The farm this summer will provide food for 63 families, who help grow the food and take cooking lessons, Maisonpierre said. Last year, New Haven Farms’ seven farms produced 7,000 pounds of produce, she said.

Klee asked her about the “bike guy.” That’s Domingo Medina. Klee’s agency just gave Medina a state permit to start collecting plant waste from people’s homes and pedal it to the garden, where it will be used for compost. He called Medina’s composting operation a perfect example of how the state can support green initiatives in cities.

“That’s the kind of innovation and creativity we’re excited about,” he said. Medina will help the state with its goal of reducing waste, so that 60 percent of waste is either recycled, reused, or diverted from landfills and incinerators, Klee said.

Doug Arndt, the city’s public works chief, said he likes the bike guy, too: Every ton of waste that’s diverted from the trash stream saves the city $65, he said.

The final stop of the tour was the juncture where the Mill River crosses Grand Avenue. There, the city is looking for solutions to stop storm surges from disrupting nearby businesses.

The school bus returned its passengers to City Hall shortly before 5 p.m. Klee ticked off several next steps his agency would take. He said he’d work to help New Haven build resiliency against storms. That will be done in conjunction with the new Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation, a joint project of the DEEP, UConn, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he said. The institute is tasked with coming up with and sharing best practices for how to adapt to climate change.

Klee said New Haven could serve as a pilot site for some climate-change-battling solutions.

Klee said on his tour, he picked up some pointers—such as the LED lights—that would be good to replicate in other cities.

Last, Klee pledged to help all of those fishermen he saw around his tour.

“Urban fishing is alive and well,” he said. “We’re trying to find ways to promote it” around the state.

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posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on July 28, 2014  8:41am

There is hope. Or at least a ray of sunshine. That’s what came to mind when I saw the photo of the city farm at the base of the windmill.

I grew up in Fair Haven, and spent many days in Chapel Park. As children in the sixties and seventies we grew to accept the industrialization of our neighborhoods, and pollution of the water, particularly the Mill River, which was the color of pea soup, and stunk to high heaven at low tide.

Thank God for the young activists who are out there every day taking back the environment.

Another part of the article was pier in Fort Hale Park. It’s a shame that’s it is closed. One of the escapes from Fair Haven we had in our early teen years was to ride bicycles down to the Park, and then the pier, to spend a day, on the pier, in the sunlight, with the ocean, trying to catch a fish. It was safe, open to the public, and opened up many kids thoughts about their futures, and a bigger world. Yes, when you have very little resources, these were the exotic places to escape to during summer vacation.

Hard to believe.