NORWALK, Conn. — Family, friends and colleagues came together for calling hours Thursday evening to honor state Rep. Terry Backer of Stratford, also known as The Soundkeeper, at the Hoyt-Cognetta Funeral Home in Norwalk.
Backer won fame as the state's first and only Soundkeeper. He died early Tuesday morning in Bridgeport Hospital after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 61.
A Mass of Christian Burial for Backer will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 18, at St. Matthew’s Church, 216 Scribner Ave., Norwalk. Interment will be private.
Backer, a Democrat from Stratford, rose to prominence for his decades of work to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound.
Backer was born in Stamford and raised in Norwalk, where he went to school. He was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1992 and re-elected 11 times, representing the 121st District.
He worked in lobstering and shellfishing with his father, Henry, in the Sound for many years.
In 1984, after witnessing degrading water quality in the Sound, Backer and Chris Staplefelt co-founded the Connecticut Coastal Fishermen's Association with a plan to track down municipal and corporate polluters and take them to court.
Backer became the group's president, investigator and public point man. The association brought federal Clean Water Act lawsuits against several Connecticut municipalities, including Norwalk, Bridgeport, Greenwich and Stratford, for violations of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems Permits.
In 1987, Backer — with Hudson Riverkeeper John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – founded the Long Island Soundkeeper Fund Inc. That year, Backer became the first Soundkeeper and executive director of the not-for-profit environmental protection organization.
The Long Island Soundkeeper Fund was started by using a portion of penalties of $87,000 from a settlement based on a Clean Water Act lawsuit with Norwalk. With Backer as executive director, Soundkeeper brought many Clean Water Act lawsuits against polluters of the Sound, including New York City.
This fall, the Long Island Soundkeeper organization joined Connecticut-based Save the Sound in suing Westchester County and 11 New York towns in federal court over ongoing sewage overflows. They "threaten public health and degrade Long Island Sound" by allowing raw sewage to overflow onto streets and into streams.
“Pollution entering the Sound from sewage leaks and overflows has gone on too long and needs to be stopped,” Backer said at the time.
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