Environmentalists cry fowl over nest removal

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A male osprey sits atop a utility pole Monday in Beacon Falls in the act of rebuilding a nest taken down by Connecticut Light & Power. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is investigating whether there were eggs in the nest when the utility company removed it, which would constitute a violation of state and federal law. –CONTRIBUTED

BEACON FALLS — On his way to an Audubon Society fundraiser called “Return of the Osprey” on Saturday, Keith Thomas noticed that a prominent osprey nest, visible from Route 8, had disappeared.

“Boy, was I upset,” said Thomas, 45, of Naugatuck.

Local environmentalists had been observing the nest, atop a high utility pole overlooking the Naugatuck River near the Cold Springs Road substation, for at least a year. Thomas said its inhabitants, a pair of the large, distinctive birds, migrated back north about five weeks ago, and the female appeared to be sitting on eggs every morning and evening as Thomas commuted to his Milford job.

Connecticut Light & Power received permission from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection last month to take the nest down, said DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain. The nest could pose a fire hazard, the electric company said, or the birds could cause a outage.

“We gave them permission to remove it, but we encouraged them to do so immediately, before there was any nesting activity or any eggs hatched,” Schain said. “The nests do create a safety hazard, and also, it’s not a great location for the birds.”

The utility company, however, did not take the nest down until Friday night, and now state wildlife officials are investigating whether any eggs, protected under state and federal law, were inside.

Mitch Gross, a CL&P spokesman, said the nest was checked for eggs before it was removed.

“We never touch a nest that has eggs in it,” Gross said. “We always work with DEEP on these.”

Kevin Zak and Sondra Harman, who head the Naugatuck River Revival Group, said they found shell fragments from osprey eggs Sunday below the pole and turned them over to the DEEP.

The state agency is working to determine whether the fragments were left over from eggs hatched last year, or whether they were broken more recently, Schain said. It is too early in the season for the eggs to have hatched this year, experts said.

“Nobody knows, except the guys who went up there,” Zak said. “That’s why it’s such a tragedy.”

Undeterred, the pair of osprey were seen late Monday afternoon rebuilding their nest atop the pole, which is now crowned by a spiked strip, designed to deter nesting.

Gross said he was not aware of the spikes on top of the pole. CL&P is exploring the possibility of building a nearby platform to relocate the nest, Gross said.

Osprey, a type of hawk with a white underbelly and curved wings, have made a nationwide comeback since they were declared endangered in the 1970s. They are no longer considered threatened, but remain protected species.

There are four osprey nests along the Naugatuck River — two in Beacon Falls, one in Naugatuck and one in Ansonia, Zak said.

Osprey build near water so they can catch fish, which is almost the only thing they eat. Their nests can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and are often made partially from plastic and other trash. Thomas said he fell in love with osprey after watching a pair carry a teddy bear, a flip-flop and a tiki idol into their nest.

“CL&P must be held accountable for what they did,” Thomas said. “It’s just downright wrong.”