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Soundkeeper Seeks Grant To Save Millions of Fish

Millions of fish, crab and lobster are killed each year in Long Island Sound by aging cooling and netting systems at seven power plants along Connecticut and New York's coasts. But Soundkeeper Terry Backer is fighting to force those plant operators to comply with federal regulations in an effort to save that sea life.

A challenge matching grant awarded by the Bunting Family Foundation Inc. of Timonium, Md., could help raise up to $75,000 for legal costs in the battle, said Backer, who is also executive director of the Norwalk-based Soundkeeper group.

The power plants that operate on the Sound – including one in Norwalk owned by NRG Energy Inc. and three others in Connecticut and three in New York — draw in 5.2 billion gallons of cooling water a year and discharge it back into the Sound.

"The problem is that at the older power plants, once-through cooling systems kill marine life by sucking in small fish and their eggs through screens that protect the plant from debris in the cooling water," said Backer. "The plant's heat is transferred to the water, killing the fish, larvae and eggs. This lifeless soup is then dumped back into the Sound, which also adds to environmental pollution."

Larger fish and crustaceans are also pinned and killed on the protective screens.

"The number of fish being killed is staggering," Backer said. His office calculates the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford draws in 2.2 billion gallons of water a day, killing 154 billion fish of seven species in the three decades ending in 2002. The Norwalk power plant uses 298 million gallons of water a day and kills millions of fish each year.

The federal Clean Water Act mandates that the Environmental Protection Agency issue regulations requiring power plants to use the best technology available for their cooling systems. New power plants must use closed-cycle cooling, but the EPA has been slow to require changes to existing plants, he said.

The Bunting Foundation issued a $35,000 "one-to-one challenge grant," which means the Soundkeeper must raise $35,000 as well. If it does, the foundation will match it and contribute an additional $5,000, bringing the total amount raised to $75,000. Backer said his goal is to raise the funds by the end of the year.

"This grant will allow our office to continue its legal fight and have even more success in changing the way electric power generators do business," he said.

Richard Weizel can be reached at .

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