Opinion: Raise the Gas Tax

By Erik Assadourian

I was shocked and outraged to read that Governor Lamont would want to raise the gas tax by 5 cents by 2023 (2/18). Not because that’s too much, but because it is far too low.

As the frightful weather across the US reminds us, climate change, aka global weirding, is here. Bayous in Louisiana are iced over, millions are snowed in in Texas, even the Middle East has snow. Meanwhile the poles are melting more quickly every year, as new research finds.

And fossil fuels are the number one contributor. Thus, why would a tiny increase in gas taxes seem excessive? Frankly it is far too timid—especially considering the low price of gas right now (lower than 2005 and that’s not even adjusting for inflation). If anything Lamont should propose a much higher increase—both to pay for roads and transportation (including increasing and better subsidizing public transit and bike lanes to support both low-income residents and to encourage the shift away from the car) and of course to disincentivize driving and incentivize people buying more fuel efficient cars. Continue reading

Espalier* & Fruit Fences for Your Back-Yard by Jim Fellows

*pronounced Es-SPAHL-Yay

I’ve often wondered about espaliered trees, and they even figured in a short piece of fiction I once wrote. Espalier is the art of training dwarf trees to grow in a flat plane along a wall, fence, or trellis.  They create an atmosphere of mystery, wonder, and an evocation of some kind of Garden of Eden. I’ve stopped to admire them at botanical gardens and occasionally at Ballek’s nursery in East Haddam. Because we see them in famous gardens, we tend to think of them as expensive or unattainable, as something no longer possible.  As you will learn, you can easily grow an espaliered fruit tree for under $20 (under $30 if you choose a tree with four different types of apple or pear bearing branches) but you’ll need some simple hardware that might cost another $15. Or, you could just use bamboo, the way growers do. You will likely have fruit much sooner. I never bought an espaliered fruit tree from a nursery, but I did buy a very tiny birch that Nancy Ballek had pruned on dwarf rootstock that was highly contorted. Sixteen years later it is still 30” tall and about 40” wide. That demonstrates the power of dwarf rootstock. And that is the secret of espalier. Continue reading

Water Chestnuts Threaten The Floating Meadows

water chestnut pull July 22The aquatic plant known as the water chestnut (trapa natans, not the kind you eat in Chinese food) showed its invasive potential in recent summers at many points along the Connecticut River and its tributaries. In our own Floating Meadows, the freshwater, tidal marshland formed where the lower Coginchaug and Mattabesset Rivers converge, the presence of these plants was first recorded in 2009.  The Jonah Center has been monitoring the area closely since 2013, pulling out a few plants each year.

The summer of 2016 marked a turning point. Since then, water chestnut plants have abounded,  forming expansive, dense patches at multiple locations.  in 2016, the Jonah Center and its partners removed approximately 48 canoes full in the course of 8 separate work parties. The pattern continued in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Then came the pandemic of 2020, when our ability to assemble large work parties became no longer feasible. Continue reading

Fight Climate Change and Plant A Tree

In the course of our campaign to increase Middletown’s tree-planting budget, some people told us they would like to donate their own money to plant trees. That’s commitment!  Then we heard about Sustainable CT’s program to match dollar for dollar any community-generated funds raised for qualified projects through IOBY (In Our Back Yards) – a crowdfunding service.For example, your $20 gift will instantly become a $40 gift.

Sites for new trees in Middletown and Portland are being considered. In Middletown, priority will be given to the North End, where the tree canopy is even sparser than in other parts of the city, and to high-visibility commercial corridors. In Portland, priority will be given to areas in the town’s central residential and commercial area where trees were removed for sidewalk replacement or due to disease. Funds will be allocated between the towns based on the residence of donors. 

 Click here to read more or donate. (100% of all donations will be used for trees; not administration.)

Middletown’s Trees Are In Danger

By Jane Harris, Middletown Arborist

Middletown, historically known as the “Forest City”, has been losing trees for many years at a faster rate than it has been planting them.  With a small fixed budget for both tree removal (Public Works) and for tree planting and forestry services (Urban Forestry Commission), Middletown generally takes down between 50 and 75 dying or diseased trees per year. In the same period, twenty to thirty young trees are planted.  In 2019, the number will be well over 100 trees taken down. And, because the Urban Forestry Commission saw a need to spend several thousand dollars on safety pruning of old and historic trees, even fewer new trees than usual have been planted. Continue reading

John Hall’s Letter To The Common Council on Environmental Specialist Position

To: Members of the Common Council

I am writing to you with great concern that the Planning & Environmental Specialist position in the Dept. of Planning, Conservation, and Development may not be funded in FY2019. I understand the revenue/expense/general fund balance situation that the City faces, but eliminating the ES position would be a serious additional setback to a PCD Department that has already been damaged and has functioned very poorly over the past few years. More important, given the services and grant receipts that come with the P&ES position, eliminating this position would be financially detrimental in the long run. Continue reading

Tim Walsh’s Testimony On Snapping Turtles

The following testimony by Tim Walsh of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich not only helped our legislative effort to protect snapping turtles, but it serves as a good summary of the science of the issue. Turtles still need protection. This bill only offers protection from commercial trapping. Habitat loss and resulting highway mortality are still threats to the majestic Snapping Turtle.

I am one of a group of citizens who have been urging legislation to protect snapping turtles from commercial trapping since 2012. This year, HB5354, A Bill Concerning Snapping Turtles and Red-Eared Slider Turtles, passed the Environment Committee 19-0, and an amended version of it passed the House of Representatives 141-0.

Please accept this letter as support for a cessation of legal harvest for the common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina in the State of Connecticut. Turtles are ancient creatures that walked the earth with the dinosaurs and today are important and visible elements in many ecosystems. Many species play key ecological roles, serving as both predators and prey, contributing to the cycling of nutrients, and acting as seed dispersers. Currently, turtles are the 2nd most endangered vertebrate group in the world. Approximately, 53% of the world’s species are threatened with extinction. We are not talking about just an endangered genus or species of animal, but an entire family. The decline of turtle species throughout their range is being fueled by habitat loss and modification, highway-related traffic mortality, and collection for the pet trade and human consumption. Continue reading

Speak Out For Trails & Bike Routes

The Jonah Center and various partners are promoting exciting, long term projects that will make a huge difference for bicyclists and walkers in our area. Completing such projects requires public awareness and support at many points along the way. Click on the links to view maps. At the bottom of this post, see how you can speak out in favor of these improvements.

The Long Lane Multi-Use Trail has been designed as a 1.4 mile, 10’ paved walking and bicycling trail from the Long Hill Road soccer fields to a point on Pine Street just south of Wesleyan University. The Jonah Center was designated the “Project Advocate” in 2011, and the trail was funded by a federal grant that year. After many route complications were resolved, the project will go “out to bid” soon for construction in 2018. The “final” route (we hope) may be viewed here: Long Lane Multi-Use Trail Route

The Landfill Trail is a hiking path on the North End Peninsula (site of Middletown’s retired landfill adjacent to the recycling center.) Funded by a CT Recreational Trails Grant, the trail will begin at the kayak and canoe launch (at 181 Johnson Street) and circle the base of the landfill, with a spur leading to the top of the landfill mound. From the top, hikers can enjoy spectacular views of the Floating Meadows. Landfill Trail 2017

The Newfield Corridor Trail will connect the Mattabesset Bike Trail in the Westfield section of Middletown to the downtown area. This project has been funded through Middletown’s 2016 Parks Bond. The Jonah Center and Middletown’s Complete Streets Committee are pushing to begin route definition and design.  View the map here: Newfield Area Bikeway Layout

Connecting the new (under construction) Air Line Trail in Portland to downtown Portland, the Arrigoni Bridge, and Middletown. This project is led by the Portland Air Line Trail Steering Committee with support from Portland’s Complete Streets Group and the Jonah Center.  Phase 2 of the trail includes property that is currently privately owned. Some property owners have indicated a willingness to negotiate trail access while others have not or need further negotiation.  Alternative routes are also being considered.  View a map of the current “Phase 1” trail route and possible routes for “Phase 2” here: Portland Air Line Trail Map.

The Air Line Trail – Farmington Canal Trail Connector Route will utilize Newfield Corridor Trail, Mattabesset Bike Trail, Quinnipiac Gorge Trail in Meriden, and other still-unnamed segments. Completing this envisioned 18 mile route from Portland to Cheshire will allow safe bicycle travel all the way from New Haven to Willimantic via Cheshire, Meriden, Middletown, and Portland. It will also provide an alternate route of the East Coast Greenway and a 125-mile loop trail around the greater Hartford area once the main East Coast Greenway route is completed. This project was initiated by the Jonah Center with support from the Lower CT River Council of Governments, engaging elected officials, staff, and volunteers from Portland, Middletown, Meriden, and Cheshire. View map here: ALT to FCT Connector Route

Middletown’s new Bike Route Master Plan sets the stage for signage, share-the-road pavement markings, and bike lanes. The plan focuses on connecting surrounding communities to downtown Middletown and facilitating safe bicycling within the downtown area. Implementation of this plan, produced and promoted by Middletown’s Complete Streets Committee, will be a key step in qualifying Middletown as a bike-friendly city. View the plan here: Bike Route & Trails Plan 2017

To show your support for any or all of these projects, sign the Speak Out For Trails & Bike Routes petition. Or, to speed up the process, you may skip the petition and go straight to the questionnaire where you can tell us which projects interest you and how you can help.  When citizen support is most needed, you will receive a “call to action” explaining in more detail how you can express your support for a particular project.

 

 

SPEAK OUT FOR TRAILS & BIKE ROUTES PETITION

Speak Out For Trails and Bike Routes

I support safe bicycling and walking facilities in Middletown and Portland through the construction of off-street multi-use trails, on-street bicycle routes, bike lanes, and signage.

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Support Portland’s Purchase of 5.28 Acres Of Riverfront Property At Feb. 28 Town Meeting

The Town of Portland has an opportunity to acquire over 5 acres of riverfront property adjacent to the Riverfront Park and across the street from the Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park. (See area outlined in yellow.)  Purchase price plus borrowing costs total about $410,000. There is a public hearing on this matter at the Library on Wed. Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.  Even more important is for residents to attend the Town Meeting on Wed. Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. when those present will vote on the purchase. A fact sheet with more detailed maps may be found here: Riverfront Property Fact Sheet & Aerial Photos

The Jonah Center has been quietly following the progress of this acquisition since August 2016, when our Board of Directors approved a statement and letter in support of the purchase. The parcels in question were contaminated by the oil depot that operated on the property until some years ago. A remediation plan has been developed and approved by the State of CT, pending municipal acquisition. A video of the consultant,  Amy Vaillancourt from  Tighe & Bond, explaining the issues of remediation and future use may be viewed hereContinue reading

A New Venture–The Air Line Trail To Farmington Canal Trail Connector Route

The Jonah Center for Earth and Art is promoting an 18-mile bike route that would allow cyclists on the Air Line Trail to reach the Farmington Canal Trail in Cheshire (part of the East Coast Greenway). The route would consist mostly of off-road trails traveling westward from the Arrigoni Bridge through Middletown, Meriden, and Cheshire. Of this 18-mile route, approximately 7 miles have already been built or planned in Meriden and Middletown. To view this entire route in detail, click here: Air Line Trail to Farmington Canal Trail connector route

Coming eastward from Cheshire, bicyclists could reach the extremely scenic Air Line Trail in Portland and continue for 25 additional miles to reach Willimantic and reconnect with the East Coast Greenway.

Most important for Middletown itself, this connector trail would also be a boon to bicycle transportation in the city, providing a continuous route from downtown Middletown to the commuter rail hub in Meriden, passing through the Westlake residential area and the Industrial Park Road commercial district.

As an early step toward this vision, the Jonah Center is working with Middletown’s Public Works Department to begin work on the Newfield Corridor Trail for which funds were allocated in the 1916 Parks Improvement Bond Referendum. This 3-mile segment (shown in blue or red on the right side of the map) would connect the existing Mattabesset Bike Trail (shown in green) with a point near downtown Middletown–either Veterans Park or the North End.  Note: The map above shows all the sections of the connector trail that would pass through Middletown. The section in green has already been built; sections in blue, red, or gold are envisioned.) Continue reading