Section of Burma Road (Route 113) through the Great Salt Marsh named in honor of former State Representative/Soundkeeper Terry Backer
Sources: Wikipedia, Connecticut Post, Connecticut Mirror, New York Times
Terry Backer (August 3, 1954 – December 14, 2015), was a politician who served in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1993 until his death in 2015. He was first elected to represent the 121st Connecticut General Assembly District of the Connecticut House of Representatives,in 1992, defeating Kevin C. Kelly 4,470 votes to 3,981. He was re-elected on November 4, 2014 and served continuously until his passing during his 12th term on December 14, 2015.
Backer was a third generation fisherman and engaged in lobster and shell fishing with his father in the Long Island Sound for many years. He was a licensed Merchant Marine Officer from the United States Coast Guard Examining Unit at New York City, and he also received an Arborist license from the Connecticut Tree Examining Board, certifying him as an expert in the care of trees.
As a State Representative Backer served in numerous positions in the legislature, including; Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee, Assistant Majority Leader and Assistant Majority Whip.
He also served as House Chairman of the Appropriation subcommittee on Conservation and Development, where he chaired the subcommittee from 1993 to 2008 and again for the 2009-10 term.
The subcommittee is tasked with crafting the budget for the Department of Environmental Protection, the state Labor Department, the Department of Economic Development and Housing and the Culture and the Tourism Board and the Department of Agriculture, as well as other state agencies.
During his tenure as Chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee (2002–2003), Backer, oversaw and wrote the cleanup legislation to the State of Connecticut’s 1998 Electric Deregulation and Restructuring law. He added improvements to the environmental and renewable energy components to the law; expanded the Renewable Portfolio Standards, created Project 100, a renewable energy program design to implement renewable generation in the state, and passed the Energy Efficiency Standards of Commercial Appliances bill.
Backer’s Committee assignments for the 2009-10 legislative session were the Appropriations Committee, the Environment Committee and the Energy and Technology Committee. Backer focused his activities in the Environment Committee on water quality improvements and reduction of pollution from storm water. His activities in the Energy and Technology Committee focused on renewable energy and energy security with a special interest in Peak oil concerns. House Speaker for the 2009-10 legislative session, Chris Donovan (D-Meriden) appointed Representative Backer to chair a newly created sub-committee on Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency.
In February 2005, while serving as vice chairman of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Energy Committee, Backer wrote an article for State Legislatures Magazine, a publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Freedom From Fossil Fuel, where he criticized the federal government and past administrations for their failure to prepare the nation’s infrastructure for a contraction of the conventional fossil fuel supply and the resulting impact on the nation. He also proposed that the states take the lead rather than relying on Congress or the administration.
In 2007, Backer and State Rep. Bob Duff co-founded the Connecticut General Assembly’s Peak Oil and Natural Gas Caucus. The Caucus was formed to investigate the status of world petroleum based fuel supply, the impact of escalating cost on the society and the economy, and post carbon fuel implications for the current government planning process.
In November 2007, the Legislative Peak Oil and Natural Gas Caucus, with Backer as the lead author, released a report to the Connecticut General Assembly and the Governor titled “Peak Oil Production and the Implications to the State of Connecticut.” During the 2008 legislative session, Representative Backer authored the Energy Scarcity and Security Act which was passed into law The Energy Scarcity and Security Task Force was formed to make recommendation regarding the findings of a report that will investigate the impact of rising energy cost and both major and short term supply disruptions on the state’s ability to provide services and the impact on the state’s economy and cost to citizens.
Connecticut Coastal Fishermen’s Association
In 1984, after witnessing degrading water quality in Long Island Sound, Backer, along with Chris Staplefelt, another local fisherman, co-founded the Connecticut Coastal Fishermen’s Association.
Staplefelt and Backer had been buying Buck Shad in the spring of the year for lobster bait from Bob Gabrielson, a Nyack, shad fisherman. After hearing complaints of continued pollution problems in Long Island Sound, Gabrielson, introduced Backer and Staplefelt to John Cronin, then the Hudson Riverkeeper, who then with Backer and Staplefelt, established the Connecticut Coastal Fishermen’s Association.
Once established, Backer, Cronin and Staplefelt laid out an aggressive plan to track down municipal and corporate polluters of the Sound, and bring them to court to abate the pollution of the Sound.
Backer became the group’s president, investigator and public point man. The Fishermen’s Association, under Backer, brought federal Clean Water Act lawsuits against several Connecticut municipalities for violations of their National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems Permits. The suits included; Norwalk, Bridgeport, Stratford and Milford, as well as other cities in Connecticut. The Fishermen’s Association’s set the tone for the hardnosed legal defense of the Long Island Sound.
With pollution fouling harbors and beaches with dead fish in 1987, Backer joined with John Cronin, the full-time Hudson Riverkeeper for the environmental group Riverkeeper, and that group’s lawyer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., to sue several shoreline municipalities for violating the 1972 Clean Water Act by illegally disposing sewage in the Sound.
That same year, Backer became the first Soundkeeper for Long Island Sound and executive director of the not for profit environmental protection organization based in Norwalk. the Long Island Soundkeeper Fund, Inc. a non-profit dedicated to protecting waterways through litigation and political action.
The Soundkeeper’s mission was to monitor the Sound’s biological integrity, pursue polluters and reduce contamination; restore salt marshes, educate the public and generate popular support.
The Long Island Soundkeeper Fund, was the second “Keeper” based organization and was preceded only by the Hudson Riverkeeper Fund. Long Island Soundkeeper was started by using a portion of stipulated penalties of $87,000.00 from a settlement based on a Clean Water Act lawsuit with the City of Norwalk.
With Backer as Executive Director/Soundkeeper, Soundkeeper Inc. brought many Clean Water Act lawsuits against polluters of Long Island Sound including New York City, as well as, a federal lawsuit challenging the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s rule making regarding cooling water intakes from power plants.
Backer called the Northport Power Station plant, which draws and discharges a billion gallons of Long Island Sound water daily, a “giant fish-killing machine.”Its water-pollution discharge permit expired in 2011, but the plant can operate without improvements while its permit is reviewed.”
In 2016 the Northport Power Station was required by the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation, to follow a new State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit that demands greater regulations to protect aquatic life in Long Island Sound, which was expected to reduce harm to aquatic life by 85%.
New upgrades expected for the Northport Power Station will provide protection to the surrounding marine ecosystem of Long Island, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
“National Grid will modernize the Northport Power Station in order to significantly reduce impacts to aquatic life while producing the power needed to keep Suffolk County running,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement. “DEC worked hard to strike the right balance for the people, businesses and marine ecosystems of Long Island.”
The permit which expired in 2011 allowed the Northport Power Station to withdraw more than 900 million gallons of cooling water from the Long Island Sound each day. This caused fish and other aquatic life to be harmed or killed when they are drawn into the cooling system or caught on water intake screens.
In addition, to its legal activities Soundkeeper Inc., under Backer’s leadership, restored salt marshes in the Bronx and pioneered the use of catch basin filters to clean polluted storm water of bacteria, metals, and hydrocarbons before it enters Long Island Sound, as well as numerous other projects.
“If we move more citizens to realize the value of Long Island Sound as a natural resource,” Backer told The New York Times in 1988, “government will have no choice but to follow their lead.”
In 1994, prodded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, New York and Connecticut approved a comprehensive cleanup plan. As part of the effort, significant strides have been made in reducing the amount of nitrogen reaching the Sound from waste treatment plants.
The Founding of a Movement – Waterkeeper Alliance
Many “Waterkeeper” organizations formed at the grassroots. The concept of protecting the environment as defined by the work of Cronin and Backer, was spreading quickly. John Cronin, the Hudson Riverkeeper introduced the vision of a national alliance of “Keepers” and after several experiments the Waterkeeper Alliance emerged in 1999. Backer played a leading role in forming the Waterkeeper Alliance in its formative years along with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Backer helped guide and grow the Waterkeeper Alliance. Today there are over 350 Waterkeeper groups protecting more than 2.75 million square miles of rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways on six continents.
Other Significant Environmental Acts for Connecticut
He played a role in the 2015 legislative session in convincing leaders to include an environmental protection measure in a budget implementer bill: A law requiring cosmetic companies to phase out the use of plastic microbeads that end up in the food chain of the Sound.
He did not mince words in what would be one of his last public acts as Soundkeeper: He blamed New York’s state Department of Environmental Conservation for taking a “lackadaisical, dilatory and laissez-faire” approach to the Sound.
His final public appearance for an environmental cause may have been in October, when he joined United States Senator Chris Murphy at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven to back the senator’s call for a federal ban on plastic microbeads.
“It’s one of those issues that I might not care about if it wasn’t for him,” Murphy said. Murphy said Backer was obviously ill, but he still came.
“Despite being so ill, he was there, shivering, standing with me on a beach on Long Island Sound, making one final pitch to preserve the waters that defined his life and career,” Murphy said. “And though I’m so sad he’s gone, I’m glad that’s the last time I saw him – standing on the shores of Long Island Sound, urging us all on to preserve his legacy. To his very last breath, the Soundkeeper.”
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection credited Backer with helping to establish no-discharge zones where boats were barred from dumping sewage. With a state grant, Soundkeeper offers to this day, free pump-out service from May to October for recreational boaters.
Soundkeeper sued to force improvements in sewage treatment in Bridgeport, Greenwich, Norwalk and Stratford.
Backer died during his 12th term as State Representative on December 14, 2015, in Bridgeport from complications related to the treatment of brain cancer
At Tuesday’s dedication State Representative Joe Gresko, was master of ceremonies. Rep. Gresko was elected to serve the 121st Connecticut General Assembly District of the Connecticut House of Representatives following Backer’s passing. Several members of Terry Backer’s family were also in attendance.
Dignitaries in attendance included: United State Senator Richard Blumenthal, State Representative Phil Young, Fifth District Councilman Greg Cann, Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper, James Albis, DEEP Senior Advisor to the Commissioner at Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance, Vinny Chase, and John Harkins.