Saturday, May 23, 2015

Slow Saturday Special: Day at the Beach

It's where I will be headed once I finish this post:

"Report gives Boston-area beaches high marks; Says Boston region’s waters are cleaner than Waikiki’s" by Michael Levenson Globe Staff  May 23, 2015

Boston’s beaches, once synonymous with sewage and sludge, boast some of the cleanest waters of any urban beach in America — cleaner even than the iconic sun-splashed tourist meccas of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu and South Beach in Miami, according to a new report by a local environmental group.

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The findings came as something of a shock to sun worshipers in South Boston on Friday. Even on hot days, many assumed it was better to bake on the sand with a paperback than risk their health by plunging into the frigid, green-brown waves lapping the shores.

“I just didn’t think the beaches around here were clean,” said Maureen Sullivan, a 49-year-old South Boston resident who was sunning herself at M Street Beach. “A lot of times there’s this brown film on the shore — it almost looks like dirty suds.”

The report, by Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, a Boston-based environmental advocacy group, analyzed thousands of bacteria samples from 15 public beaches in nine communities.


Bruce Berman, director of strategy, communications and programs at Save the Harbor/Save the Bay attributed results to the cleanup of Boston Harbor, a decades-long project that Save the Harbor/Save the Bay strongly supported. The harbor was for years a national punchline, branded “the filthiest harbor in America” by Vice President George H.W. Bush during his 1988 campaign against Governor Michael S. Dukakis.

Acting on a judge’s orders, the government spent more than $4 billion modernizing the Deer Island sewage treatment plant in the 1990s and building a 9.5-mile tunnel that carries treated sewage away from the shore and discharges it into the deep waters of Massachusetts Bay.

In 2011, facing another court order to clean up the harbor, the state opened a separate 2-mile-long, $225 million tunnel under Day Boulevard in South Boston to carry sewage and stormwater away from city beaches and to a new pumping station at Conley Terminal in South Boston.

Despite the massive pricetags, the projects had a significant impact, said Frederick Laskey, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

“It’s great for the folks who live in the city and may not have the means to go to the Cape or the Maine shore to find a clean beach,” he said. “Well, they can find it right here.”

Still, even clean beaches can be forced to close when it rains, flushing bacteria and contaminants from sewers and drains into the ocean, Berman said. Last year, 51 “red flags” were flown on Boston-area beaches, signifying dangerously high levels of bacteria, compared to 109 in 2013, the report said.

The drop was due to a decrease in rainfall in the Boston area, from 13 inches on average in previous summers to just 7 inches last summer, according to the report.

“The big lesson is that you can swim on most of these beaches in any weather, but you should be cautious,” and as for the brown, soapy film that Sullivan, the South Boston beach-goer, complained about, it’s probably a harmless bloom of algae, Berman said. “It smells sweet,” he said, “and, trust me, sewage doesn’t smell sweet.”

But even clean water may not be enough to persuade some residents to dive into ocean. It’s just too cold, said Michael Guarnieri, 55, and then there was Alex Barbolla, 26, who said she would never take a dip, no matter how clean the ocean....

That's odd because I was told the oceans were heating up.


Maybe you should just go the the water park instead.

So you see anything else at the beach?

"US pipeline accidents surge along with oil production boom" Associated Press  May 22, 2015

WASHINGTON — The oil pipeline leak that fouled a stretch of California coastline this week reflects a trend of large increases in both US oil production and the number of pipeline accidents.

Since 2009, the annual number of significant accidents on oil and petroleum pipelines has shot up by almost 60 percent, roughly matching the rise in US crude oil production, according to an analysis of federal data by the Associated Press.

Who could have seen that coming?

Nearly two-thirds of the leaks during that time have been linked to corrosion or failures of material, welding, or equipment failures, which are often associated with older pipelines, but can occur in newer ones, too.

Other leaks were blamed on natural disasters or human error.

No cause has yet been determined for this week’s pipeline failure northwest of Santa Barbara. Up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled, making it among the largest spills in the US over the past two decades.

Must be why it did not initially make print.

The leak covered sand and rocks with a thick, tar-like goo and forced two state beaches to close. About a fifth of the oil reached the Pacific Ocean. Federal regulators on Friday prohibited the pipeline from reopening until corrective actions are taken.

Plains All American Pipeline LP, which operates the pipeline, and its subsidiaries have reported 223 accidents along their lines since 2006. Those accidents resulted in a combined 864,300 gallons of spilled hazardous liquids, damages topping $32 million, and 25 federal enforcement actions.

The pipe in California had no previous problems and was thoroughly inspected in 2012, according to the company. It underwent similar tests about two weeks ago, although the results had not been analyzed....



"An estimated 21,000 gallons of crude oil was dumped into the ocean from a broken pipeline just off the central California coast before it was shut off Tuesday, creating a spill stretching about 4 miles along the beach, the Coast Guard said. The scenic stretch of coastline about 20 miles northwest of the pricey real estate of Santa Barbara is dotted with state-run beaches that are popular with campers, and the spill comes a few days before the Memorial Day weekend and subsequent summer camping season begin."

That $tinks!

I'm told "environmental damage was anticipated, but dead fish and oily birds had not been found in the calm seas or rocky coast by late morning," in print with this photograph on page A2 (and never you mind the approval of Arctic drilling, ugh!).

As for the radioactive spew that has fouled the Pacific for more than four years.... maybe those pipelines do need a rethink!

"Oil spill spreads across 9 miles of California coast" by Christopher Weber and Brian Melley Associated Press  May 21, 2015

GOLETA, Calif. — An oil spill that fouled beaches and threatened wildlife along a scenic stretch of the California coast spread across 9 miles of ocean Wednesday as cleanup efforts began and federal regulators investigated how the pipeline leaked.

Workers in protective suits raked and shoveled smelly black goo off the beaches, and boats towed booms into place to corral the two slicks off the Santa Barbara coast.

Up to 105,000 gallons spilled from an onshore pipe and a fifth of that — 21,000 gallons — reached the sea, according to estimates provided by officials.

The chief executive of the company that runs the pipeline, Plains All American Pipeline LP, was at the site of the spill Wednesday and apologized.

‘‘We apologize for the damage that it’s done to the wildlife and to the environment and we’re very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that it’s caused on the citizens and the visitors to this area,’’ Greg L. Armstrong said at a news conference.

Crude was flowing through the pipe at 84,000 gallons an hour when the leak was detected. It took three hours to shut down, although company officials didn’t say how long it leaked before it was discovered.

Federal regulators from the Department of Transportation, which oversees oil pipeline safety, investigated the leak’s cause, the pipe’s condition, and potential regulatory violations.

The 24-inch pipe built in 1991 had no previous problems and was thoroughly inspected in 2012, according to Plains All American Pipeline LP. The pipe underwent similar tests about two weeks ago, though the results had not been analyzed yet.

There was no estimate on the cost of the cleanup or how long it might take.

A combination of soiled beaches and the pungent stench of petroleum caused state parks officials to close Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach, both popular campgrounds west of Santa Barbara, over the Memorial Day weekend.

The early toll on wildlife included two oil-covered pelicans, said spokeswoman Melinda Greene. Biologists were seen counting dead fish and crustaceans along sandy beaches and rocky shores.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife closed fishing and shellfish harvesting for a mile east and west of Refugio beach and it deployed booms to protect the nesting and foraging habitat of the snowy plover and the least tern, both endangered shore birds, a spokeswoman said.

The area is habitat for seals, sea lions, and whales, which are now migrating north.

Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday night declared a state of emergency, a move that frees up additional state funding and resources to help in the cleanup efforts.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said her office, along with the state attorney general, is investigating the pipeline spill for possible criminal prosecution.


And California was already having water problems:

"Calif. farmers volunteer cuts in water usage; Record drought shaking system" by Jennifer Medina New York Times  May 23, 2015

LOS ANGELES — Ever since the Gold Rush, California farmers have staked their claim to water and ferociously protected their rights to use it to irrigate the crops that have made the state the greengrocer for the nation.

But on Friday, in a sign of how the record-setting drought is shaking up established ways here, state officials accepted an offer from farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to give up a quarter of their water this season, either by leaving part of their land unplanted or finding other ways to reduce their water use.

In return, the state has assured them that it will not seek further cuts in the growing season.

The deal is an important concession from a relatively small number of growers that officials hope will prompt similar agreements throughout the state’s agricultural industry, which uses 80 percent of the water consumed in the state in a normal year.

“We’re in an unprecedented drought, and we have to exercise the state’s water rights in an unprecedented way,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board.

“This is a breakthrough in what has long been a rhetorical battle,’’ Marcus said. “It’s a significant turning point to have people say, ‘We know this is complicated. We want to do something early in good faith that is a pragmatic solution for everyone.’ ”

In the weeks since Governor Jerry Brown announced across-the-board cutbacks for urban water systems, the state’s farmers have become something of a scapegoat. Residents who are expected to time their showers and let their lawns turn brown have angrily accused the agricultural industry of not doing enough to curb its use of water, although many growers have faced dramatic cuts for the last two years.

Farmers up and down the state feel besieged, and they have fought back with public relations campaigns to emphasize their conservation efforts and explain how their produce feeds much of the country. 

Public relations will solve any problem.

While the deal made Friday is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on food prices or the water supply, the concession by the farmers in the delta — who collectively own about 10 percent of the state’s agricultural land — was a preemptive effort to limit potentially steeper cuts. Under the agreement, farmers who want to take part will have until June 1 to submit a plan to the state for how they intend to achieve the cutbacks.

The deal applies only to delta farmers who own property next to a river or stream and have rights to divert water to be used there, or what are known as riparian rights. If farmers with such rights do not participate in the program they could face even deeper cuts later this year, officials said.

“There’s going to be a great deal of peer pressure to do the right thing,” said Michael George, the delta water master, who is responsible for administering water rights in the region and helped craft the deal. 

Doesn't it seem like the right thing would be $elf-explanatory? Why the pressure then?

The state has not moved to restrict water use for growers with the oldest, most established water rights since the 1970s, but it seems inevitable that those growers will be limited this year. For many farmers, a fear that the worst is yet to come convinced them that they would be better off giving up water before they began planting for the season.

“There is a threat that the state might try the unthinkable and tell us that we cannot use any of the water,” said Dennis Gardemeyer, a delta farmer who helped spur the deal. “I and almost everyone in the delta think that will result in all manner of lawsuits and they will not prevail, but there’s always that threat.”

I feel like I've seen this before.

Gardemeyer, who owns land that has been used for farming in the central part of the delta for roughly a century, said he began thinking about making the state an offer late last year, after hearing repeated talk of draconian cuts.

“You have people in the state who haven’t a clue of what it’s really like in the delta — we’re not the ogres we’ve been portrayed to be,” he said, citing water conservation efforts the region has long used. “We need to start to educate people and make everyone understand we’re doing everything we can to provide water for the rest of the state that’s in dire need.”

Gardemeyer said he expected many of the delta’s roughly 4,000 farmers to sign on to the proposal, largely by forgoing crops like corn that use a lot of water.

Because the delta farmers represent only around 5 percent of the state’s growers, it is unlikely that this deal will have a big effect on the overall water supply, said Jonas Minton, a former deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources.

Then why all the print?

Minton called the deal both “symbolic and potentially precedent-setting.”


“California’s water rights system does not work well with this little water,” Minton said. “The question is really whether other elements of agriculture, in particular the large corporate farms, will follow suit. If agriculture as a whole came anywhere close to matching the kinds of urban cuts that have been implemented, we would have sufficient water for this year and next.”

Oh, they still have their exemptions, huh?


You know who has good beaches?

"Lawsuit says Fla. dentist ran ‘house of horrors,’ mistreated children" Associated Press  May 23, 2015

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — A children’s dentist accused of performing unneeded tooth extractions and surgical procedures without anesthetic has agreed to stop practicing dentistry in Florida.

The state Department of Health said Friday that Dr. Howard Schneider of Jacksonville had relinquished his license to practice.

Schneider faces multiple lawsuits and his office has been picketed in recent weeks by parents carrying signs as a growing number of ex-patients complain about his practices.

In the lawsuits, parents allege their children would go into Schneider’s office to get one tooth pulled, and come out with neck bruises and multiple teeth removed.

In addition to the lawsuits, Florida officials have launched an investigation. Schneider did not return a call seeking comment.

Schneider is the only pediatric dentist in Jacksonville who took Medicaid, so his practice attracted poorer clients, according to the lawsuit.

Schneider is also accused of wearing scary costumes and threatening the children with statements like ‘‘your mom will die if you tell her what happened,’’ according to statements from the plaintiffs.


It could be worse, kids:

"After week in jail, Florida mom agrees to son’s circumcision" Associated Press  May 23, 2015

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — A Florida woman’s years-long battle against her child’s father over the boy’s circumcision ended Friday with her agreeing to the procedure in exchange for her release from jail.

In a remarkable turnaround after a week behind bars for contempt and an initial hearing in which she was ordered to remain jailed, court reconvened and a sobbing Heather Hironimus signed paperwork giving approval for the 4-year-old boy’s surgery.

She recoiled in tears and clasped her shackled hands after it was done.

The shift, though under duress, threatened the hero status given to Hironimus by a national movement of people opposed to circumcision, who have followed every turn of her case.

I'm uncomfortable with the Jewish ritual.

Attorneys for both Hironimus and the boy’s father, Dennis Nebus, declined to comment, citing an ongoing gag order in the case.

Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America, which advocates against circumcision, said Hironimus had been ‘‘bullied’’ into signing, calling it the ‘‘saddest commentary on the court.’’

‘‘I don’t know what’s in his head,’’ she said of Judge Jeffrey Gillen, who presided over the case. ‘‘I don’t know how he can sleep at night.’’

Hironimus and Nebus had initially agreed to the circumcision in a parenting agreement filed in court, but the mother changed her mind.


Time to head up the coast and home:

"Three years after Sandy, Jersey shore struggles to recover" by Wayne Parry Associated Press  May 21, 2015

TOMS RIVER, N.J. — In the months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey shore, Governor Chris Christie warned residents the damage would not be quickly undone.

Things would only look moderately better in the first summer after the storm, he said, and would be closer to normal in the second one.

But with the third summer after Sandy nearly here, the Jersey shore is still recovering despite the substantial progress that has been made in the 2½ years since the October 2012 storm. Beaches have been restored, roads rebuilt, infrastructure hardened, and many homes have been repaired.

Sorry to get stuck in the muck.

But thousands of others still have not, and only now is the state getting to the last of thousands of applicants who had been on a waiting list for New Jersey’s main rebuilding grant program. The federal government has awarded New Jersey $4.1 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds for disaster recovery; $1.64 billion has been given to homeowners so far. The state says it is handing out money as fast as it can while guarding against theft or fraud.

‘‘I want to go home, I want my kids to go home, and everybody else to go back home,’’ said Joe Karcz, whose home in Stafford Township had to be demolished. ‘‘Two and a half years later, my home is still a dirt lot. I’ve moved 12 times since the storm. The home I’m in now just got sold, and I’ll be moving a 13th time. It’s a travesty.’’

Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said the administration expected the final phase of recovery to be the most difficult.

‘‘New Jersey continues to see remarkable progress in recovering from the worst natural disaster in our state’s history,’’ he said. ‘‘We know there is still more work to be done.’’

Beach replenishment projects have widened beaches in many parts of the state’s 127-mile coastline, but some vulnerable spots remain, largely because oceanfront homeowners refuse to sign easements allowing the work to take place. Christie has vowed to use eminent domain to acquire the strips of land needed for the project but still hasn’t done so.

Wouldn't look good for a guy running for president.


Did you get your letter from FEMA yet?

"Seacoast vacation homes hit by higher insurance; Vacation homes face $250 surcharge" by Deirdre Fernandes Globe Staff  May 20, 2015

A vacation home on the seacoast used to be a retreat. Now, it can be more like a money pit.

Owners of summer homes on the coast not only are getting hit with higher flood-insurance premiums, but also a $250 annual surcharge. The fee, which took effect last month, affects only owners of second homes in flood-prone areas.

The surcharge is $25 for primary residences.

Nationwide, more than a quarter of the 5 million homeowners who use the National Flood Insurance Program are insuring vacation homes, according to a 2013 federal government estimate. While its unclear how many of the 60,000 policyholders in Massachusetts are covering secondary homes, flood insurance experts say it could affect thousands, from those who have cottages on Scituate’s Humarock Beach to owners of clapboard capes in Dennis.

“It’s exorbitant,” Jack Gleason, a 72-year-old retired teacher from Andover, said of the surcharge. Gleason, who has owned a cottage in Plymouth for more than 40 years, was notified this week that he has to pay the $250 on top of the hundreds he spends annually for flood insurance.

Gleason said he bought flood insurance a few years ago, after watching the extensive water damage caused by storms such as Hurricane Sandy. Flood insurance is a separate coverage from homeowners insurance.

“After this, I might have secondary thoughts,” he said about the costs. “It might force people out of flood insurance.”

Peter Ruffini, a managing broker for Coldwell Banker in Scituate and Cohasset, said coastal homeowners have to accept that flood insurance prices are going to increase substantially every year. The increases are cooling the real estate market in some coastal communities, Ruffini said.

“A lot of folks are rethinking the value proposition” of living near the ocean, he said. “When the first question is ‘Is it a flood zone or does it have flood insurance?’ most people don’t want to see it.”

The average annual premium for flood insurance — for both primary and secondary homes nationwide — is rising 19 percent in 2015 to $638, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The figure does not include the surcharges.

Recent hurricanes and tropical storms have triggered a need for the premium increases and surcharges. Federal flood insurance covers homeowners that private insurers refuse to cover because the risk of loss is too high, too expensive, and too frequent. The program, which is subsidized by taxpayers, is more than $24 billion in debt, hobbled by payments on claims after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

You will be doing a lot of digging in the sand.

The price increases are designed to make the program more self-sufficient, said Susan Hendrick, a FEMA spokeswoman.

“Providing flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program is an important way communities can protect themselves from one of the most common and costly disasters we face,” she said.

Congress in 2012 tried to do more to change the federal flood program and reduce the taxpayer subsidy, so the insurance would better reflect the costs and risks of living near the water. But the changes, including higher premiums, came as a separate effort that expanded flood zones. The two factors increased the cost of insurance for some by thousands of dollars annually, provoking a nationwide outcry from coastal homeowners.

Last year, Congress approved a scaled-back version of the reforms that included smaller, capped, premium increases. But the surcharge was one of the ways for the program to recoup its expenses, according to FEMA. And it remains unlikely to change.

US Representative William Keating, a Bourne Democrat, said homeowners got some relief with last year’s legislation, though more has to be done “to accomplish the difficult balance of ensuring our coastal homeowners are paying for affordable flood insurance while also maintaining the solvency of the program.”


You should be happy they didn't seize it

As for the vacation this year:

Boston-bound cruise ship runs aground in Bermuda.... A Boston-bound cruise ship that was forced to return to Bermuda after striking a coral reef resumed its journey to Boston Wednesday afternoon, officials said."

The cruise was canceled due to the ship needing restoration

Maybe we should just go to the zoo:

"North of Boston, Stone Zoo’s accreditation is at risk; Aging facility cited for maintenance lag, funding issues" by Sacha Pfeiffer Globe Staff  May 19, 2015

This should be a celebratory time for Zoo New England.

The chronically underfunded organization, which runs the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, recently completed its largest-ever fund-raiser, surpassing its $6.6 million goal, and received the first seven-figure gift in its history. It has beefed up its board and has a modern new children’s exhibit in the works.

But now it is facing a new woe: The 110-year-old Stone Zoo is at risk of losing its accreditation, due to overdue maintenance and insufficient funding, and has until September to resolve those concerns.

The tenuous status of the two zoos is not new; for years they have struggled financially, raising questions about why it is so hard for the Boston area to manage facilities that thrive in other cities.

Both the Franklin Park and Stone zoos are saddled with aging campuses they inherited when they transitioned from state-run entities to a nonprofit structure in the early 1990s. Modernizing them would likely require more money than Zoo New England’s ambitious capital campaign just raised.

The Stone Zoo, 10 miles north of Boston near Spot Pond, uses an old trailer for a bathroom. Zoo New England’s chief executive, John Linehan, noted that it is difficult to raise money to replace it because donors aren’t clamoring to put their names on a facility that houses toilets.

On the fund-raising side, Zoo New England has numerous challenges. It’s competing for dollars in a crowded cultural marketplace. It must address some people’s fundamental opposition to keeping animals in captivity. And its zoos are not easily accessible by public transportation, often causing them to be overlooked.

Zoo officials also face longstanding questions about whether the Boston area needs and can support two zoos.


Zoo officials said they believe the new gubernatorial administration offers an opportunity, considering their tense relationship with former governor Deval Patrick.

He hated animals, and what a total wreck was his administration!

That was due to a 2009 public relations debacle in which they warned that Patrick’s zoo budget cuts could result in animals being put to death. No animals were killed, but the political damage was done.

“The change of administration is what we’re hoping for,” said Zoo New England’s new board chairman, David Porter, the owner of Boston’s Baystate Financial.

What an indictment of Deval!

In what zoo officials take as positive signs, Governor Charlie Baker spoke at Zoo New England’s annual gala this month, and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash has had several conversations with them to discuss the accreditation issue and bond funding.

I think just about everyone is seeing it that way now.

A spokesman for Ash, Paul McMorrow, said: “We are trying to figure out how to make the zoos the most effective public-private partnership we can have, but as far as getting a number on a piece of paper, we’re not there yet.”

Last year, Zoo New England had a $14 million budget, of which $5.6 million was provided by the state, and ran a $342,000 operating deficit, according to its most recent tax filing. In prior years it has toggled between deficits and surpluses. “Every year we’re right on the line,” Linehan said....


RelatedTwo new lions to debut at Franklin Park Zoo

I will be going silent for the rest of the day. Sorry.