By Toni Waterman | Tuesday, July 17, 2012
July 17, 2012
SOUTH BOSTON, Mass. — If you’re the type of person who associates lobster with big, celebratory events, then you’re in luck. With prices lower than they’ve been in decades, something as simple as — well, a Tuesday night can be reason to celebrate.
It’s 6 a.m. at Medeiros Dock in South Boston. The sun is just coming up as lobsterman Steven Holler gets his boat, the November Gale, ready for a day at sea. He steps into his bright orange bib pants, slips on his galoshes and then effortlessly glides his boat to the bait dock.
He loads $700 worth of fish on to the deck. And by 6:15, Holler and his crew of one set off to haul lobster traps in the waters off Boston’s Harbor Islands.
Lobsters, lobsters everywhere
In 35 years in the business, Holler says he’s never seen a lobster season quite like this one. It all started this spring.
“We came out to haul that gear expecting to get 30 or 40 pounds and what we saw was just totally off the charts. Something we’ve never seen before. There were just lobsters everywhere,” he says.
Plentiful catches came early, flooding the lobster market up the East Coast. And since it was May, there weren’t enough tourists to eat them up.
And if there’s one thing we all learned in economics class: Surpluses make prices plummet.
Lobstermen in the Boston area are getting $3 - $3.50 a pound right now. Retail prices are a bit higher at around $5, which means that the price is running pretty equal to a bologna sandwich.
“I looked at a slip from last year and it was anywhere between $4.50 - $4.75 per pound,” says Holler. "The price we’re getting is something like you’d get in the '80s — mid-'80s. And we’re paying 2012 fuel prices, bait prices and labor prices.”
The problem in a
nut lobster shell
Lobster is even cheaper further north: The Wall Street Journal reports that some lobstermen in Maine are getting as low as $1.25 a pound. And it doesn’t seem to be going up anytime soon, because now there’s another factor dragging prices down: soft-shells. Those are lobsters that have just shed their shells and are growing into new, bigger ones.
The shedding process usually doesn’t start until mid-July, but lobstermen this year have been catching soft-shells since May.
“A soft-shell lobster is veal in the lobster world,” says Holler. “It is tender. It is sweet.”
Sweet, but fragile — too fragile to ship long distances, which puts even more lobsters in the Northeast supply chain.
A solution: Eat up
“The public has to know: there’s a lot of lobsters out there,” says Holler. “So the more lobster people buy, hopefully it will be better for the industry and hopefully that trickles down to the fisherman.”
There’s one more big factor playing in this perfect storm: Canadian processing plants, which usually buy up any extra lobsters, aren’t. They had strong catches this season too and already have their own backlog of lobsters.
Still, Holler says he will keep setting his traps, even if it means catching too much of a good thing.
By WGBH News | Tuesday, July 10, 2012
July 10, 2012
BOSTON — Maybe you've seen the photo or video: a kayaker just 100 feet off the shore of Orleans, Mass. … followed by a fin. And yet the recent shark sighting appears to be triggering more excitement than fear. We asked some experts to explain the phenomenon.
The business perspective
Paul Pronovost, editor-in-chief of The Cape Cod Times, said the tourism industry was doing its best to capitalize on the interest.
"A lot of merchants have T-shirts and hats and books and little souvenirs — all shark-related because that's what people are coming in and looking for," he said. "It's been fascinating, people coming down to the shorelines, some even brave enough to put their toe in the water, some putting even more than their toes in the water, and really being into this phenomenon — it's created quite a buzz on the Cape."
He didn't see any unusual rise in Cape tourism due to the fascination with sharks but he did think vacationers already there were heading to beaches where sightings have occurred.
The science perspective
While the shark sightings are fascinating to beach bums, they're even more exciting for marine scientists. Technology like acoustic and satellite tags are helping scientists track sharks and better understand the animals' behavior.
"Historically, all we really knew about white sharks was based on sightings," said John Mandelman, a researcher at the New England Aquarium. "But now with this new technology we're starting to learn a lot more about where these sharks are going … and that's very exciting, because [for] the Atlantic there's been an absence of information on white sharks, whereas other areas around the world have been able to gain a lot of information about their population."
Does climate change have anything to do with sharks swimming close to our shore?
"Theoretically, climate change will have an effect on various levels, not just on the sharks … I think in this case, though, sharks are still coming up here based on water temperature," Mandelman said. "I don't think anything is going to happen in a 4- or 5-year period that could be attributable to climate change."
Marine scientists think the warmer water temperature is why we have more seals appearing on our beaches and it's those seals … not kayakers … that are attracting the hungry sharks looking for their next meal.
The shark's perspective
We've heard what the experts say. But what does the shark think? What drove him to pursue that particular kayak? Well, the shark — and June's Massachusetts celebrity animal, the black bear — has taken to social media to explain what he's all about ... without the intermediaries. Here's a rundown.
By Sarah Birnbaum & Kristina Finn | Thursday, June 7, 2012
June 7, 2012
BOSTON — Advocates rallied in Post Office Square outside a hearing of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the morning of June 7 to protest the relicensing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant.
Janet Domenitz, executive director of liberal-leaning think-tank Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, was among the protesters.
"Pilgrim is not safe. Nuclear power is expensive, it is unsafe to the public health and to the environment and we need to find alternatives," she said. "The idea that the NRC has just given this aging plant another 20 years of life shows that they are not paying attention. And we are. And we are calling for a reconsideration of that decision."
Meanwhile, Pilgrim is embroiled in a labor dispute that has resulted in a lockout. Unionized plant workers were also at the rally to protest Entergy management.
Kelly O’Brien, a locked-out engineer at Pilgrim, said the replacement workers weren't qualified to run the plant, potentially compromising public safety.
"The fact of the matter is, you look at the people here, the majority of us have anywhere from 20 to 40 years of experience in that plant," he said. "The workers that are coming in would not be familiar as well as we are with respect to the intricacies of what that plant is and how it's operated."
As for the safety question, he said, "The safety of the plant — well, when we're there we're keeping an eye on it."
About 20 protesters attended the rally.
By Cristina Quinn & Sean Corcoran | Friday, May 25, 2012
May 25, 2012
BOSTON — Advocates are objecting to the relicensing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Mass.
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced on Friday that it had voted to renew Pilgrim’s license for another 20 years. The license was set to expire on June 8.
Mary Lampert, director of the anti-nuclear group Pilgrim Watch, said the NRC is not doing its job.
"One likes to think that especially after Fukushima, that NRC would have taken it seriously and decided to regulate, decided to listen to serious concerns, but apparently not. All that matters is rubber-stamp the license, get it over with and see what happens," she said.
Pine DuBois of the Jones River Watershed Association in Kingston, Mass., said the nuclear plant should be shuttered.
“You know, I didn’t get into this area until 1975. But when I came here, there was a certain expectation, and that expectation was that this nuclear facility had a 20-year operating license and it might get another 20 years. Well you know what? That 40 years is up. The Pilgrim plant has been operating long enough and it is time to decommission it,” she said.
Attorney General Martha Coakley had sought additional hearings, citing unaddressed safety concerns about the facility.
"Essentially the commission was satisfied that all the appropriate reviews had been conducted," said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan. "All told, the NRC license renewal staff devoted about 14,600 hours of review to this application. So, the bottom line is this application has received an enormous amount of scrutiny form the NRC during the 6 1/2 years it's been under review."
Lampert said Pilgrim Watch will appeal the vote and pursue legal action in other areas as well.
The five-member commission voted 3-1 in favor of relicensing, with outgoing chairman Gregory Jaczko as the sole dissenter. The NRC has never rejected a license renewal application of a nuclear plant.
By Sean Corcoran | Thursday, May 24, 2012
May 24, 2012
BARNSTABLE, Mass. — State energy regulators visited Barnstable the evening of May 23 to hear Cape Codders — and others — talk about NStar's proposal to buy and sell more than a quarter of the electricity anticipated from the Cape Wind project — the 130-turbine wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound.
More than 125 people attended the public hearing about the merits of a 15-year contract that would have NStar buy nearly 28 percent of Cape Wind's power.
NStar would pay about 19 cents per kilowatt hour — more than double the current market price. The utility says the increase works out to about $1.08 more per month for the average residential customer.
The wind farm supporters
Falmouth resident Bill Eddy said it's a price he's willing to pay for renewable energy.
"Every single one of my living costs has increased dramatically over the years," Eddy said. "I'm paying more for food, for gas, for just the insurance on my home. Paying $12 more a year for changing how America looks at its energy future seems to be a small price to pay."
Falmouth resident and Boston College student Annie Myer, 19, said she's been hearing about Cape Wind since she was 10 years old, and she's ready to see the turbines in the water.
"I will look at the turbines and smile," Myer said, "because though they are man-made, they harness renewable resources, and that's where our brighter future lies."
The opposing view
While supporters testified that Cape Wind would provide emissions-free electricity and reduce America's reliance on fossil fuels, opponents such as David Moriarty said it would jeopardize the Cape's two primary industries: fishing and tourism.
"This is no joke," he said. "This is our economic engine. This is the only thing we have to support our families. Do you understand that? This is our livelihood. This is everything. That is why we fight so hard for this."
Cape Wind received federal approval in April 2010, but it's had some setbacks. Last year a federal judge tossed out a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration, ordering regulators to take another look at the project's potential impact on air traffic. The project also failed to receive a federal loan guarantee, which could make it more difficult to attract investors.
Still, Cape Wind officials expect construction to begin by early next year, and they say having NStar and National Grid both on board to buy Cape Wind power is a significant step toward having turbines spinning in Nantucket Sound.
By Sean Corcoran | Monday, May 21, 2012
May 22, 2012
NANTUCKET, Mass. — Nantucket is getting ready for summer — a busy time not just for vacationers but for the island's labor force. But there's a serious side to island living, especially for those residents who aren't employed all year round: a gap in health insurance that leaves some people without crucial coverage.
A $500 gap
The refrigerator in John Clarkson's small, one-bedroom apartment is adorned with magnets and to-do lists, while the cupboard above it is a virtual medicine cabinet.
"I got five different pill medications; my insulin, which is Atlantis; and another one for high sugar level; it lowers it real quick," Clarkson said. "That I don't have to take very often. I can't pronounce these names of the pills, but there are five different ones."
Even if he can't pronounce the names, Clarkson knows how much they cost — just under $500 a month. And that's a lot of money for a man who was out of work for nearly 2 years. When he got a job last December, Clarkson paid for his medicines out-of-pocket as he moved off unemployment insurance and on to the state's Commonwealth Care program.
"My biggest concern was my medication," he said. "I need my medication to stay alive."
Clarkson is 56 years old, and he grew up on Nantucket. He worked as a nurse's aide and then 5 years at a lumberyard before being laid off when construction slowed down. Clarkson put aside some money for retirement when he was making 19 dollars an hour at the lumberyard. But he said he can't afford too many more $500-a-month gaps in insurance coverage.
"As I said, I was a year and 10 months looking for a job and I couldn't find one. I couldn't find one. I finally had to settle for working at Stop and Shop. Which is, it's work I guess. But I still don't have enough to pay rent. I still have to fall back on my savings," he said.
On Nantucket, where the labor force more than doubles from winter to summer, folks are going several weeks — and in some cases months — without health insurance as they switch from one government program to another.
The application process — and delay
Kathy Butterworth and Alex Rosenberg are health care advocates at Nantucket Cottage Hospital. They assist islanders as they navigate the various state and federally sponsored health insurance programs. They say the state is failing to live up to its goal of "health care for all," as coverage gaps of weeks or even months are common when people move from unemployment insurance to the state's Commonwealth Care programs.
"Oftentimes what happens is, people who are on unemployment, say they get a job. That unemployment insurance, that medical employment insurance plan, runs out like that. Snap. It just is gone," Butterworth said. "And suddenly the person is like, 'oh my goodness, I have no health insurance.' They come in to do an application. Those applications have taken as many as 68 days this year to be processed. They're a little bit quicker now, but over the winter, the time frame was somewhere between 60 and 68 days for many of our applications."
If coverage is approved, applicants like Clarkson must then meet strict deadlines or face more weeks of delay.
"Now you have to make a phone call that says, 'Yes, I do want that insurance.' You have to send in a payment. That takes another month, maybe two, depending upon how quickly you do that," Butterworth said.
The government perspective
Stephanie Chrobak is the director of program management at the Health Connector, the agency responsible for state-sponsored health insurance programs. Chrobak said she isn't surprised there are gaps in coverage. What surprised Chrobak was the length of time Nantucketers reportedly are without coverage.
"To me, the times you quoted seem to be much, much longer than I expect," she said. "Have I heard in general that there are these times when a member may be caught with a gap? Yes, I have. And certainly we currently try to minimize that, and I think the most important thing to know, as we move forward with federal reform — as we plan for federal reform in 2014 — there's a lot of work there to eliminate those gaps."
It's hard to say just how many Nantucket residents are experiencing month-long delays in insurance coverage. Unemployment ebbs and flows with the seasons on Nantucket, swinging from a low of about 3.4 percent in July to nearly 15 percent in the winter. Butterworth said it's often the same clients experiencing the same types of delays over and over again.
"This week we've probably both gotten at least 60 phone calls so far," she said. "At least. And we're busy. And part of the reason we're so busy is because we live in a community where people's jobs come and go constantly."
Months on insurance, months off
Miriam Lemus is a Nantucket mother of two young children, and she works 8 months of the year at a landscape company. She said she is constantly submitting pay stubs and paperwork, making phone calls and waiting for coverage to start.
"In December, I had to fight with them that they don't take it off, but they took it off," she said. "And now I have to do it again. I have to fight again for them to give it back to me. It's kind of hard for me, you know. Right now I think it's like 3 months already without insurance."
Rosenberg said she was helpless as she watched Lemus and other clients follow the state's procedures and do everything they can to get back on the Commonwealth Care program, but still experience months of costly delay.
"I sort of describe it as like they are both pointing at each other — so that when you're receiving benefits from one place to the other, they are both saying, 'Oh, no, sorry, I can't cover you. There are other federal or government or state-based funds that are supposed to cover you at this time period,'" Rosenberg said. "It seems to me you could combine them into one area that is health insurance and cover people who don't have other options for health care."
State officials said short coverage gaps as people move from unemployment insurance to the Commonwealth Care plan was a problem across the Commonwealth. But federal changes coming in 2014, they said, offer another opportunity to address coverage gaps and ensure continuous health care for all.