12/02/2005
Officials defer to feds on parakeets
Struggle brings arrest for parakeet protester
KEN DIXON

A monk parakeet in West Haven is carried in a cage to a truck after it, along with one other, were captured from a nest on a telephone pole with a transformer. The birds were given to the department of agriculture which will euthanize them using carbon dioxide as a way to inhibit future nest construction by the green birds. (John Henninger/Connecticut Post)

Julie Cook, a nursing student arrested this week while trying to protect monk parakeets from United Illuminating Co. crews on her West Haven street, said Thursday that she'll do the same again even if it means another evening in jail.

"I can't live with myself if I see this in front of my eyes," she said. "I'm as guilty as them if I stand by and don't do anything. This is our neighborhood."

Cook, who confronted UI and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel on Ocean Avenue, was booked on breach of peace charges Wednesday at 9 p.m. in the first physical confrontation between bird lovers and the crews that are exterminating more than 100 bird colonies in southwestern Connecticut.

A witness to the arrest, Marc Johnson, a Massachusetts parrot expert who filmed the scene, said that Cook was loud, but not violent.

Monte Chandler, from the department of agriculture, walks with monk parakeets which United Illuminating crews removed from telephone poles in West Haven Wednesday night. The birds will be euthanized to inhibit future nest construction which are dangers to UI crews and the public.

Cook, Johnson and other animal-rights activists said Thursday that UI's bird slaughter is the end result of years of deferred maintenance, in which bird nests grew for eight years or more, before the utility brought in the federal government for a taxpayer-financed eradication campaign.

A USDA spokeswoman said Thursday that the number of parrots euthanized with carbon dioxide gas by department employees, at the request of UI, has reached about 154.

And John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, whose union members are employed as UI line crews, said it's no secret that companies postpone maintenance to prop up sagging bottom lines and understaffed, aging workforces.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, in her first public statement about the bird roundup, said Thursday it's a federal case dictated by a 1999 law requiring captive non-native species to be killed.

Meanwhile as the third week of the UI program continued, the Darien-based Friends of Animals Inc. on Thursday called for a two-prong attempt to hit UI in its bottom line.

Priscilla Feral, president of the group, asked for UI customers to show support for the birds by not turning on holiday lights on their lawns and homes.

She also said Friends of Animals, which will stage a protest tonight in West Haven, is asking UI customers to pay their bills as late as possible, so UI cannot invest the money or draw interest on it.

A UI spokesman, Albert Carbone, said Thursday that the utility respects the rights of consumers to demonstrate their opinions, but the eradication campaign will continue.

He denied that the utility had purposely postponed maintenance on the utility poles.

But Cook, 37, said in an interview that the nest in a utility pole in front of her and her husband's Ocean Avenue home near the Milford border had not been touched during the eight years or so they've lived there.

"We had just gotten home and I saw them there and I ran and put myself under the nest, then they moved out and I followed them three, four houses down the block," Cook said. "I had written to UI and said, 'If I see you guys in my neighborhood, I'll try to stop it because this is not right.' "

West Haven police, who accompany UI crews, warned Cook to leave or they would arrest her. She ended up handcuffed, fingerprinted, photographed and held in jail until almost midnight, after her husband turned over the $100 bail.

West Haven police did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Cook, a nursing student at Southern Connecticut State University, said she doesn't recall seeing UI deal with any of the nests in her neighborhood and they haven't had any bird-related power outages.

Johnson, a parrot expert who captured the arrest on videotape, said that residents canvassed in West Haven neighborhoods agree that UI has let the nests grow unabated for years.

Carbone, in a phone interview Thursday, said police always accompany UI crews and that over the last few days e-mails supporting the eradication program have increased.

He said that the sheer number of the 79 targeted nests in West Haven made it hard to keep up with the monk parakeet colonies and that the company made a sincere effort to find other ways to get rid of the nests without killing birds.

On the issue of a potential boycott of UI, Carbone said ratepayers are free to express themselves.

"We encourage our customers to use conservation methods in terms of electricity," he said.

More than 1,200 of the gregarious birds live in thatched-stick colonies in trees and utility poles along the coast. The company targeted 103 nests between West Haven and Fairfield during a planned six-week capture and nest-destruction program. Carbone stressed that it's not UI, but the USDA, killing the birds.

Rep. Richard F. Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the Legislature's Environment Committee, said Thursday he will ask U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, to help find a remedy to the controversy. He said that a 1999 federal law seems to be the chief hurdle in attempts to stop UI's program.

Rell agreed. "It isn't something that we have control over and I know that the individuals have been talking with legislators, but as you know it is regulated by the Department of Agriculture on a federal level," Rell said.

Feral, the FOA president, said a rally and candlelight vigil will be held tonight in West Haven, starting at 7 p.m.

Ken Dixon, who covers the Capitol, can be reached at (860) 549-4670.