NY groups, municipalities receiving millions to combat Long Island Sound pollution
The Long Island Sound — where every summer excess nitrogen pushes oxygen levels below critical thresholds — will benefit from 41 new antipollution projects, with nearly half of them earmarked for New York, according to federal, state and wildlife officials.
By awarding these Long Island Sound Futures Fund grants to local groups and localities, officials hope to improve individual sites and encourage new stewards of Mother Nature.
"Perhaps the most important metric is really people are empowered," Mark Tedesco, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Long Island Sound office director, told reporters on a conference call Monday.
Approximately 10% of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the Sound, and countering climate change is another imperative of the grants, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Long Island Sound Study, the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Long Island Sound Futures Fund grants have been awarded for 41 new antipollution projects. There's a total of $16.1 million in funding.
- North Shore projects on Long Island include endeavors in Sea Cliff, the Town of Southold, Manhasset, Baiting Hollow, Smithtown and elsewhere.
- Approximately 10% of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the Sound, and countering climate change is another imperative of the grants.
The 41 grants total $10.3 million. Adding in $5.8 million in matching dollars contributed by grant winners produces a total of $16.1 million for education and improving water quality in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
"The Long Island Sound is a critical natural resource that supports a diverse ecosystem and provides advantages to millions of people along its coast," the EPA's regional administrator for Region 2, Lisa F. Garcia, said in a statement.
The Sound also gained $106 million in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which set aside $50 billion for the nation's drinking and wastewater systems, added Garcia, who highlighted progress she has witnessed.
"When I was growing up in the Bronx, the Bronx River was a parkway; people had no idea there was actually a river," she told reporters. "It's really great to continue to elevate that work."
Vast amounts of raw sewage
Around 8,000 pounds of debris, mainly plastics, will be hauled from the Sound's shores in an American Littoral Society program that won a total of $174,000. It focuses on education, as does a National Wildlife Fund "Plastic Avengers" initiative totaling $314,500 in the Bronx.
The new projects are geared toward preventing 5.3 million gallons of polluted stormwater from reaching the Sound.
That is only a modest reduction in the vast amounts of raw sewage that pour in when wastewater systems are overwhelmed in heavy rainstorms; the amount estimated for the largest impaired section, the East River/Western Long Island Sound, is more than 5 billion gallons, according to the nonprofit Save the Sound.
For years, New York City has clashed with environmental regulators on possible solutions, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pointing to the city’s consent orders with the state. The city has pledged to cut the overflow for that area by 1.7%, and the state has sought revisions, Save the Sound said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation did not respond to questions about the consent agreement on Monday and the city Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to a request for comment.
Tedesco said that while "expensive and long-term projects" were underway to slice these enormous volumes of raw sewage, much smaller solutions also are valuable.
"There are also the effects of stormwater occurring every day in every town that also cumulatively have a large impact," he said.
One of the largest sums, a total of $1,749,400, was secured by The Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco, California-based nonprofit. The funds will improve the schoolyard at the Joseph Pulitzer School in Jackson Heights, Queens and trap 980,000 gallons of polluted stormwater a year.
LI projects across the North Shore
Similarly, Manhasset's Science Museum of Long Island will gain a total of $379,000 to turn its parking lot and driveway into permeable surfaces to "set the stage to capture and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff."
Another undertaking, totaling $546,200, will restore marshes at Smithtown's Sunken Meadow State Park “to support breeding, feeding and shelter for salt marsh sparrow, an iconic species of Long Island Sound, and buffer the park and nearby community from storms and sea-level rise,” officials said.
New York's flocks of salt marsh sparrows, which the DEC calls a "nonterritorial and promiscuous" species, have been declining for 75 years, with high spring tides one of the worst risks for nests. The likelihood that fledglings survived ranged from 10.42% to 26.39% in 2012-2013, it says.
Educational efforts include the National Audubon Society's "Be a Good Egg" program, totaling $324,200, "to engage people in actions that help shorebirds thrive in important coastal habitats of Long Island Sound."
Last summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered rewards for information about the "intentional destruction of shore eggs and nests in New York," from Southampton to Queens.
A total of $574,000 will be spent surveying “stream barriers to fish passage” to prioritize which migratory routes to restore, from Westchester County to the downstream Long Island Sound.
Kyla Hastie, acting northeast regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, citing what's been learned since Superstorm Sandy in 2012, said "we are testing these things and they are working — we've been able to restore marshes and remove barriers to fish passages that were causing flooding behind the dams."
The Baiting Hollow Boy Scout camp won a total of $163,100 to bring river herring and American eel from the Sound to the Kyle Keeler Memorial Lake.
And a total of $320,400 was won by the Village of Sea Cliff to monitor Hempstead Harbor’s water quality.
The Town of Southold will gain a total of $103,000 to weed out invasive common reed plants from 3.1 acres of public and private land around the 32-acre Great Pond freshwater wetland.
A total of $294,000 was won by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Farmingdale-based nonprofit, which will help pupils devise an action plan for the Sound.
The complete list of projects can be found here.