Thursday, June 19, 2014

Another Environmental Leader in Greenwich: Lucy Man Jinishian

In the summer residents of Greenwich enjoy any number of parks and conservancies offering a variety of leisure activities. In addition there are beaches and water sports to enjoy. These well-preserved outdoor spaces and clean waterways did not come without the tireless efforts of the town’s environmental leaders.

One community leader who over the years protected the town’s shoreline and waters is Lucy Jinishian. Her work in establishing the Greenwich Environmental Action Group and her efforts to reestablish shellfishing in Greenwich after years of dormancy have had lasting impact.

There are two interviews in the Oral History Project collection with Ms. Jinishian, both helping to tell the story of her stewardship of the town’s environment. The first is “The Greenwich Environmental Action Group,” conducted in 1975, and the second is “Shellfishing in Greenwich,” conducted in 2006.

Ms. Jinishian’s environmental activism goes back to late 1970 with a letter to HELCO (Hartford Electric Light Company, later absorbed by Connecticut Light and Power) executives about plans to build an 800-megawatt power plant that because of large amounts of heated water flowing back into the Sound would create a potentially tremendous threat. The plan also included an oil-unloading platform near Tod’s Point, which, according to Ms. Jinishian, was “not to be borne without a struggle.”

Out of this struggle came GEAG, the Greenwich Environmental Action Group.

She and other volunteers spent nearly six months researching and attending meetings, gathering reports and informing the public about the proposed plant. Approximately five thousand fact sheets spelling out the air and water pollution effects on Greenwich were widely distributed throughout the town.
Photo from Friends of Greenwich Point

After repeated correspondence and meetings with company executives, plans for the plant were finally dropped. Ms. Jinishian and the volunteers did not take full credit for the change in plans, but they certainly played a major role in reversing them.

The GEAG played a significant role in many other environmental decisions in town. They were so influential that in January of 1975 the group decided to suspend activity. That may sound counterintuitive, but the reasoning behind the decision was sound. The organization was so well organized that all environmental issues found their way to the group’s doorstep, meaning that other volunteer groups supposedly active in environmental concerns were taking a back seat to GEAG. Since their aim was and had been from the start to involve the community, they believed the best way to get others involved was to take a step back themselves. Their plan was to become active again when the issues were large enough that the town would benefit from their background and extensive experience in successfully fighting battles worthy of the struggle.

Another Good Fight:

In the early 1980s, after the town’s shellfish beds had been closed to recreational shellfishing since 1960, oystermen began coming into Greenwich Cove, taking oysters out to a “mother ship” and whisking their haul away for commercial gain. According to Ms. Jinishian, “They sort of cleaned the Cove out of a lot of oysters.” This practice did not sit well with her. As a result, she and other concerned citizens, including Dan Barrett, took steps to remediate the situation. Out of this, the town of Greenwich Shellfish Commission was formed in 1986.

Photo from Shellfish Commission, Town of Greenwich

After repeated water sampling conducted in approximately thirty-five sampling stations over a period of years, the Commission was able to reopen the beds to the public in the fall of 1991. Since that time the commission has been active in overseeing the status of the beds, replenishing them as necessary after population-threatening disease and after catastrophic storms, such as Hurricane Sandy.

At the time of her interview on the Shellfish Commission in 2006, Ms. Jinishian had retired but promised to stay active in an advisory capacity, and so she has.

It is because of the commitment and involvement of community leaders like Lucy Jinisian, the residents of Greenwich can enjoy a multitude of summer activities, including visiting the Seaside Environmental Education Center at Tod’s Point to learn about the shellfish beds of the area. Then, from mid-October to mid-May, when the beds are open, for a modest fee to purchase a permit, Greenwich residents can enjoy the pleasures of recreational shellfishing.

The Greenwich Environmental Action Group, transcript with Lucy Man Jinishian, by Marian L. Phillips, July 30, 1975, and, Shellfishing in Greenwich, transcript of Interview with Lucy Man Jinishian, by Annette Baker Fox, March 21, 2006, are available through the Greenwich Library, Oral History Project, sponsored by the Friends of the Greenwich Library. The interviews are located on the first floor of the library and through the project office on the lower level.