Solar Scuffle at Seaside Park

Today at National Geographic’s Energy Blog, I have a story about Bridgeport’s environmentalist-on-environmentalist dog pile over a plan to situate a 9,000-panel solar array atop the landfill in Seaside Park:

Torres believes the solar project should be sited elsewhere in the city. “It does not belong in a park. It belongs on any of the countless, countless unused or massively underutilized land owned by the city.”

According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Bridgeport has 17 brownfield sites totaling more than 185 acres. This doesn’t include any number of non-polluted but abandoned lots and buildings in Bridgeport, a phenomenon so ubiquitous that Connecticut Yankee Seth MacFarlane once used it to zing the city on Family Guy.

Anybody who’s ever driven through Little-Detroit-on-the-Sound knows the city does not lack space for projects such as this. The real issue, of course, is that Bport doesn’t own any of those brownfields or derelict factories, so they’d have to lay some currency on the countertop before they could even think about siting the array anywhere but on park land. UIL sure as hell isn’t going to buy real estate for renewables.

I’m surprised Finch doesn’t want to put the panels on Pleasure Beach — it’s not like citizens will ever see a return on the $1.9 million appropriation to run ferries out there.

That Inestimable Blessing, Freedom

In May 1779, two slaves named Prime and Prince dictated, or at least cowrote, a petition for emancipation, which was submitted to the Connecticut Assembly.

Your Honours who are nobly contending, in the Cause of Liberty, whose Conduct excites the Admiration, and Reverence, of all the great Empires of the World, will not resent our thus freely animadverting, on this detestable Practice; altho our Skins are different in Colour, from those who we serve, yet Reason & Revelation join to declare, that we are the Creatures of that God who made of one Blood, and Kindred, all the Nations of the Earth; we perceive by our own Reflection, that we are endowed, with the same Faculties, with our Masters, and there is nothing, that leads us to a Belief, or Suspicion, that we are any more obliged to serve them, than they us, and the more we Consider of this Matter, the more we are Convinced, of our Right (by the Law’s of Nature and by the whole Tenor, of the Christian Religion, so far as we have been taught) to be free.

The petition is as heartbreaking as it is poetic, and is worth reading in its entirety. Both the Lower and the Upper Houses rejected the petition; however, the following year, laws were passed freeing slaves younger than 7 (or born in the state after the law’s passage) when they reached 25, and prohibiting the sale of Connecticut slaves outside the state.

The petition was transcribed by Jonathan Sturges, a justice and judge of probate who was very active in Fairfield’s defense and management during the Revolution; later he was a member of the state delegation to the ratification of the Constitution and a member of the first U.S. Congress. And while there is suspicion about the true authorship of the petition, as historian Vincent Rosivach has pointed out, the language echoes that of other slave petitions of the period, such that the 1779 document is not likely the product of Sturges’s quill alone.

What’s more interesting is the petitioner Prime was owned by Samuel Sturges, Jonathan’s younger brother. This is a strange scenario, in which victory would have resulted in diminishing the estate of the proponent’s close family. Perhaps emancipation was never a goal of Jonathan’s and the action was simply a ploy to demonstrate the impossibility of abolition, to cool the tempers of disgruntled slaves before they boiled over — to obscure the obvious contradiction between freedom from king and parliament and bondage to Yankee fat cats. Hey, we tried. It didn’t happen. Now get back to work.

Or maybe that’s too cynical. I’ve read the Rosivach article, and if I recall correctly, his characterization of Samuel Sturges as “undistinguished” is verbatim. This is some minor ignorance on his part (in his defense, Rosivach probably referenced Donald Jacobus’s History and Genealogy of the Families of Old Fairfield, which lists only the public offices and military honors held by an individual, not the private accomplishments). Actually, Samuel Sturges was a prosperous businessman who co-owned “a suitable store for receiving goods & provisions” with Samuel Smedley along Black Rock Harbor. Smedley himself manumitted two slaves — York, and his son Boston (who may or may not have fallen under the 1780 freedom-at-25 law) — and left each of them money in his will. These actions, along with Jonathan’s penmanship and Samuel Sturges’s seeming acquiescence in Prime’s role, suggest some of Fairfield’s elite shared the sentiments expressed in the two men’s poignant request for liberty.

Rebel Fort

Historian and Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer cover artist Bill Lee is very excited about his latest project:

[Lee] has been certain that a fort once stood in Black Rock Harbor in front of what is now known as St. Mary’s by the Sea in Bridgeport, based on maps created in 1779 by the British who were planning their invasion. …

Lee’s theory about the fort took a big leap forward recently when his friend, aviator and photographer Morgan Kaolian, snapped some aerial shots of the point at dead-low tide.

There, in the photographs, is the outline of what appears to be the same fort depicted in a map by for a Lt. Lawru of the British Army on July 7, 1779. Labeled “Rebel Fort” on the map, the shape of the fort mirrors that which appears in Kaolian’s photographs.

Nothing raises Bill’s dander more than dismissal of the fort, something both he and Kaolian have apparently encountered — although it’s never been clear to me if critics are denying the existence of the fort or merely bickering about its precise location. Certainly there was a Revolutionary era battery at St. Mary’s. The Public Records are full of orders sending men and munitions to the fortification “at Battery Point in Fairfield” (The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, vol. 2, 199), and Andrew Eliot, reverend of the Congregational church and an eyewitness to the July 1779 burning of the town, wrote that the eastward progress of the British along the shore was halted “by the cannon which played from Grover’s Hill” (Eliot’s letter is reprinted in Hurd, D. Hamilton, ed. History of Fairfield County, Connecticut, 283-284). Eliot also added:

Our fort yet stands. The enemy sent a row-galley to silence it, and there was constant firing between them all night. One or two attempts were made to take it by parties of troops, but it was most bravely and obstinately defended by Lieut. Isaac Jarvis, of this town, who had but twenty-three men besides himself.

This is why only a handful of houses survived in downtown Fairfield but Black Rock Harbor was untouched. The fort must have been placed close to the mouth of the Ash Creek — allowing the defenders to fire west across the creek at the marching troops — while still positioned to prevent the enemy from entering the harbor. The site of Bill’s ruin fulfills both requirements.

There’s been a great deal of development in that area, so it’s possible this particular ruin is not the fort. But I’m with Bill: now the burden of proof is on the skeptics.

Unfortunately, [Conservation Director Thomas Steinke] said, there’s been so much coastal erosion at the point by St. Mary’s by the Sea that it is unlikely that any other evidence such as cannonballs can be found. “That would have been washed away,” he said.

What an uninformed opinion. Cannonballs — even relatively small six-pound shot — don’t wash away; they sink and bury. Even if no shot is found, other artifacts and features can date the ruin. A simple Phase I investigation by the state archaeologist’s office or a CRM company would go a long way toward answering whether the rocks are a naturally occurring phenomenon, an old jetty, some other man-made structure — or the historic salvation of Black Rock Harbor.

Nutmeg News

Coyotes. According to biologists who are doing a better job than the Connecticut DEP, western coyotes have successfully penetrated New England — and picked up wolf genes along the way, making them larger and more capable of dropping bigger prey. Meanwhile, the telephone poles in my town resemble those of Santa Carla in The Lost Boys, papered with “lost dog” fliers. Not all of them ran away or were hit by cars…

Easton raid. Daniel Tepfer at the Connecticut Post has a solid update on the fatal police raid four years ago this month. It’s such a thorough piece — compensating for the Post’s previously shallow reporting on the event — that I’m tempted to go through it line-by-line, but I’ll confine my remarks to “Chandra Parker,” the informant. If, like me, you’re obsessed with discovering the counter-narrative of what really happened that day, then she is the crux of the whole matter. Why did an obvious liar and drug addict willingly walk into a police station to rat and/or lie about Terebesi? One attorney involved in the case suggested to me that Terebesi had a habit of disobeying the first law of engaging prostitutes and this was her revenge (the shotgun shooting of the house less than two weeks earlier may have been related or evidence of similar bad judgment). From Tepfer’s rendition, it sounds like the officers who took her statement were confused by Parker/Pankov’s presence but Solomon seized upon it as the wedge he wanted. So was it serendipitous (for him) — or prearranged?

Radley Balko on the raid here. My story for the Fairfield County Weekly is no longer online, but I’ve written about it on the blog here.

Sunday sales. You won’t hear me say many good things about Governor “Tax” Malloy, yet I have to admit he accomplished something none of his predecessors could — albeit still in the name of taxes. Here’s a post from the co-owner of Mrs. Kuhl’s wine shop, who specifically entered the business so he could have a guaranteed Sunday off from work. I see his point but protectionism is protectionism; there was a time when all Connecticut shops were closed on Sundays, and nobody is nostalgic for that.