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A Life Spent Protecting Long Island Sound

Ten-term state representative and Soundkeeper Terry Backer reflects on his career in politics and environmental activism.

State representative and Soundkeeper Terry Backer said he scoffed when he got a call urging him to attend the Stratford Town Council's meeting this month, lest its resolution to name the new Little League field house after him might be defeated.

"I didn't realize it had to get approved by the Town Council," he said.

The longtime legislator and Long Island Sound environmental activist said he almost declined the Stratford Little League's proposal for naming the field house.

His hometown’s Little League organization decided to name it for him because Backer was instrumental in getting $250,000 in state bonding funds approved for its construction.

That goes back to 2002 when he first requested the money, and 2004 when it was approved. Backer noted those were better economic times.

"In this fiscal environment, it wouldn't be possible," he said.

He didn't identify who called him, but said there were rumors floating around that some Council members might oppose the resolution, although it passed unanimously.

The field house, located at , has men's and women's restrooms, a concession stand, field maintenance equipment storage, Little League equipment storage and an area for the scorekeepers.

"Somebody said to me, 'Well, at least they didn't name a sewer plant for you,'" Backer related.

He said he protested that he had to work hard to get grants approved for upgrading Stratford's sewage treatment plant, and had to fend off an attempt by a legislator from Milford to siphon off some of Stratford's money for a similar project across the Housatonic River. So Backer said he felt naming a sewer plant for him would have been appropriate.

Soundkeeper Backer

In fact, Backer's career in politics started in the 1980s when he headed up the Connecticut Coastal Fishermen's Association and sued Bridgeport, Norwalk, Greenwich and several other coastal municipalities for violating their sewage treatment permits.

The lawsuits fell under a provision of the federal Clean Water Act, which allowed "citizen lawsuits" if state environmental authorities fail to enforce the standards for wastewater treatment permits.

The court settlements forced the municipalities to pay for the creation of a Long Island Sound environmental watchdog organization, the Soundkeeper. Backer became its executive director, with Soundkeeper as his title.

A former lobsterman and oysterman, he looks the part of a salt water sailor, his chin fringed with a white beard.

'I did something useful with my life.'

In 1992, Backer, a Democrat, was elected as the state representative for the 121st Assembly District, and is currently Assistant Majority Whip. Over the years, he has served in Hartford and on the water as a tireless advocate for the environmental cleanup of Long Island Sound.

Backer was diagnosed with brain cancer in October 2010, just before he was elected to his 10th term as state representative. He underwent eight hours of surgery and is on chemotherapy. He said his doctors told him he might only have a few years to live.

While he was recovering from the surgery, Backer said he reflected on his career as an environmental advocate and state legislator.

"I did something useful with my life," he said. "The environment is not something you can live without."

George E. Mulligan November 21, 2011 at 01:15 PM
although I'm not a fan of partisans, Terry did more than Harkins, Miller, Kelly, DeBicillio & Hoydic combined.
Robyn Greenspan November 21, 2011 at 01:17 PM
Terry exemplifies someone who is devoted to community and environmental service -- the political system is merely his vehicle for delivering on his promises to people and the earth. He was instrumental in turning a dormant field into a thriving community garden where residents grow food and learn about sustainability. It is in that environment, in the dirt and hot sun, and side-by-side with the other "farmers" that you can see where Terry's love lies. I'm proud to call him a friend.

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