February 20, 2017
For immediate release
Old Lyme, Conn. – The final environmental study of the proposed Northeast Corridor rail project inadequately analyzes the risk to at least four federally endangered or threatened fish and birds in Connecticut. As a result, the study fails to assess the true impact the rail line would have on southeastern Connecticut and the Connecticut River Estuary.
In a four-page letter to the Federal Railroad Administration, the Connecticut Audubon Society noted that in the year between the release of the draft environmental review and the final environmental review, in December 2016, the FRA revised the rail proposal to include a tunnel under the Connecticut River and Old Lyme.
|Read the Connecticut Audubon Society’s letter to the Federal Railroad Administration|
The Connecticut section of the rail line is part of a proposal for $120 billion in rail improvements from Washington D.C. to Boston.
The final environmental review fails to take a hard look at the tunnel proposal and instead raises new and substantial questions.
The letter, signed by Connecticut Audubon Executive Director Nelson North, states: “It is impossible to say with certainty what will be affected. What we can say is that the Connecticut River Estuary and the supporting environments all constitute one of the richest, and biologically diverse environments in North America for flora and fauna and mankind.”
At least four species listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act inhabit the estuary: Atlantic Sturgeon and Shortnose Sturgeon, which spawn in the Connecticut River; Roseate Tern, a fish-eating bird that feeds in the lower river; and Piping Plover, which nests near the mouth of the river.
The lower river is particularly important for sturgeon, which feed in its open water and extensive marshes.
“This is so important to the sturgeon,” the letter states, “that the National Marine Fisheries Service has designated the Lower Connecticut River a ‘critical habitat’ for Atlantic Sturgeon.”
The NEC environmental study, by contrast, says Atlantic Sturgeon “were not identified” as being within the railroad’s route.
In addition, Connecticut Audubon’s letter points out that the estuary serves as an essential feeding and breeding ground for hundreds of species of micro- and macro-invertebrates, fish and birds. The lower river has also become in recent years essential habitat for two bird species that have recovered from population declines and are no longer on the federal endangered and threatened lists, Bald Eagle and Osprey.
Connecticut Audubon called on the FRA to meet with communities and organizations on the lower Connecticut River to get a better idea of local concerns, and to revise the final environmental review accordingly.
The letter states: “Given the complexity of the river’s hydrology, and the fact that the FRA has failed to study the environmental impact of a tunnel on the estuary, its habitats, and the vital functions of its wetlands, the Connecticut Audubon Society opposes the bypass presented in the Preferred Alternative. …
“We suspect that the additional review we are calling for, along with the increased engagement with local stakeholders, will show that the route under the Connecticut River and through Old Lyme is fatally flawed and must be abandoned.”
Although the Connecticut Audubon Society’s mission is the conservation of the state’s birds and their habitats, the letter also recognizes the important and obvious connection between the state’s communities and its ecosystems. In particular, the letter notes that the rail line will disrupt “the historically and culturally important town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, a Preserve America Community with an extensive Historic District that is home to the National Historic Landmark Florence Griswold Museum.”
Connecticut Audubon’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center is based in Old Lyme. The organization’s letter was researched and drafted by two Old Lyme resident – Claudia Weicker, a member of Connecticut Audubon’s state Board of Directors, and John L. Forbis, a member of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center’s regional board.
Based in Fairfield, the Connecticut Audubon Society is the state’s original and independent Audubon organization. It manages five nature centers and 19 wildlife sanctuaries covering over 2,600 acres within the state. These include two programs based on the lower Connecticut River – the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center in Old Lyme and an EcoTravel office in Essex.