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Soundkeeper Terry Backer, 61, Stratford Legislator, Environmentalist

Stratford resident Terry Backer died Monday at the age of 61 after a battle with brain cancer.
Stratford resident Terry Backer died Monday at the age of 61 after a battle with brain cancer. Photo Credit: File

STRATFORD, Conn. – State Rep. Terry Backer, a Democrat from Stratford who rose to prominence for his decades of work to improve Long Island Sound, died Monday night from complications of brain cancer, the Connecticut Mirror reported. He was 61.

Backer had surgery and radiation for a brain tumor in 2010, but he was diagnosed with another tumor three months ago, CTMirror reported. He died at Bridgeport Hospital, a spokesman for House Democrats announced at midnight, CTMirror said.

Backer was born in Stamford and raised in Norwalk. He was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1992 and re-elected 11 times, representing the 121st District.

Backer worked in lobstering and shellfishing with his father, Henry, in the Sound for many years. 

In 1984, after witnessing degrading water quality in the Sound, Backer and Chris Staplefelt co-founded the Connecticut Coastal Fishermen's Association with a plan to track down municipal and corporate polluters of the Sound and bring them to court.

Backer became the group's president, investigator and public point man. The association brought federal Clean Water Act lawsuits against several Connecticut municipalities, including Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stratford, for violations of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems Permits.

In 1987, Backer — with Hudson Riverkeeper John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – founded the Long Island Soundkeeper Fund Inc. That year, Backer became the first Soundkeeper and executive director of the not-for-profit environmental protection organization. 

The Long Island Soundkeeper Fund was started by using a portion of penalties of $87,000 from a settlement based on a Clean Water Act lawsuit with the City of Norwalk. With Backer as executive director, Soundkeeper brought many Clean Water Act lawsuits against polluters of the Sound, including New York City.

Soundkeeper sued to force improvements in sewage treatment in Bridgeport, Greenwich, Norwalk and Stratford. 

This fall, the Long Island Soundkeeper organization joined Connecticut-based Save the Sound in suing Westchester County and 11 New York towns in federal court over ongoing sewage overflows. They "threaten public health and degrade Long Island Sound" by allowing raw sewage to overflow onto streets and into streams before reaching treatment plants, Save the Sound said.

“Pollution entering the Sound from sewage leaks and overflows has gone on too long and needs to be stopped,” said Backer.

Click here to read the Connecticut Mirror story.

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