The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center

The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center

Advocacy at the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center

Federal railroad decision is a victory for conservation in southeastern Connecticut

On July 12, 2017, we released a statement about the decision by the Federal Railroad Administration to abandon plans to run a high-speed rail line under the Connecticut River and Old Lyme:

The decision by the Federal Railroad Administration to abandon the proposed Connecticut-Rhode Island bypass of its Northeast Corridor project in favor of having state officials study an alternative route is a considerable victory for conservation and environmental protection in southeastern Connecticut.
In comments opposing this proposal, the Connecticut Audubon Society pointed out that the FRA’s Preferred Alternative ignored the impact on four endangered or threatened species: Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, Roseate Terns, and Piping Plover.

Based on that flaw, Connecticut Audubon called for further study of the route through southeastern Connecticut, and for greater involvement by local officials and residents.

The Hartford Courant, CT Mirror, and New Haven Register included excerpts of our statement in their breaking news stories about the decision.
The decision has taken into account the opposition of residents of the area and the concerns of the Town of Old Lyme, which issued an 82-page report on the proposal that included an environmental assessment prepared by the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center.

Old Lyme’s First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder deserves credit for her dogged work and foresight in putting together a strategy team to assess this issue.

The Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement was flawed in that it failed to recognize the impact on historic, cultural and environmental resources that would have been adversely affected by the construction of a tunnel under the ecologically sensitive Connecticut River Estuary and the Town of Old Lyme.

It was our conclusion that the infrastructure project posed a substantial threat to the estuary and would have created displacement and destruction of habitats as well as reduced the estuary’s ability to defend from storm surges.

We are gratified that the FRA took our concerns seriously and has placed the decision as to the best route in the hands of state authorities. We expect that further study will continue to receive local input and input from environmental organizations. – Claudia Weicker, chair of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center

Read Connecticut Audubon’s news release and letter to the FRA, from February 2017, here.

Identifying Environmental Impacts of High Speed Rail Tunnel/Bypass

Co-chairman of the RTPEC board, Claudia Weicker, speaks at Town Hall.

On December 16, 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released its Preferred Alternative for improving passenger rail travel along the Northeast Corridor.

This proposal would create a new 50-mile segment bypassing coastal southeastern Connecticut via an inland route between Old Saybrook and Kenyon, Rhode Island.

The  proposal calls for a multi-billion dollar tunnel under the environmentally sensitive Connecticut River Estuary, the Lieutenant River, and the Historic District of the Town of Old Lyme.

The new rail line would require the acquisition or condemnation of hundreds of acres of undeveloped land and conversion to transportation use. Two members of the RTPEC Board worked on the Old Lyme Selectwoman’s strategy team crafting an 82-page response to the FRA in January of 2017.

Recognized as an estuary and wetlands complex of global importance under the Ramsar Convention (1993) and designated as one of the “last great places in the western hemisphere” by The Nature Conservancy (1994), the Connecticut River Estuary constitutes an environmentally sensitive ecosystem that provides breeding grounds, habitats, and support for hundreds of species, including many that are considered endangered such as the federally listed King Rail and Piping Plover and the State listed Great Egret.

The wetlands have been designated as a critical habitat for the Atlantic Sturgeon, until recently considered extirpated in Connecticut River waters.

Performing important ecosystem functions such as carbon sequestration and acting a natural barrier to rising sea levels and the increasing frequency of storm surge, the estuary and its wetlands depend upon the combination of unusually strong tidal flows which deposit nutrient rich sediment throughout the wetlands and into Long Island Sound.

Prior to issuing its preference for a new rail segment, the FRA failed to examine the environmental impact of the proposed tunnel on the estuary, its wetlands and habitats leading to the CAS conclusion that the tunnel/bypass should be removed as an option.

 

 

 

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