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Historic East End farms get funds for Sandy damage

Prudence Heston of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue

Prudence Heston of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue looks at Tide Gates by her farm. Credit: Randee Daddona

At least four historic East End farms, flooded in superstorm Sandy when salt water broke through or washed over their protective berms, will collectively get more than $2 million in state and federal funding to help repair the damage.

The Oct. 29 storm damaged 4.5 miles of earthen dikes, flooding 800 acres of the historic farms in Cutchogue and Orient. All date back more than 200 years, and one farm, Wickham's Fruit Stand, has been in operation since 1680.

"We're just incredibly grateful," said Prudence Heston, owner of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue. "It's the best news."

Salt water damages crops and soil. With the dikes in disrepair, high tides and storms kept re-flooding the farms.

"The main thing is to get the dikes fixed and the breaches fixed so if we get another hurricane or high tide, [the water] can't come in," said Fred Terry, of Fred Terry Farms in Orient.

The fourth farm participating is Latham Farm. It was unclear whether a fifth, Driftwood Farms, will sign on. Both are in Orient.

When the farmers, Long Island Farm Bureau and Suffolk County Soil Conservation district looked for financial assistance, they found few options. They were not eligible for any Federal Emergency Management Administration disaster recovery programs.

Then they discovered an emergency watershed protection program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that had been granted $180 million as part of federal Sandy aid. They enlisted Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for help.

The USDA had never worked on coastal levees before. But because the dikes ringing the properties were mostly inland and used for agriculture, the agency could grant funding, said Don Pettit, state conservationist for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"The agency determined they were eligible," Pettit said. "Initially, it was a gray area."

Schumer applauded the news: "I'm glad we could break the logjam and get Sandy aid flowing to these necessary projects to protect homes, farmland, the environment and part of Long Island's heritage."

The USDA program covers 75 percent of total costs, and a local government must sponsor it. Southold town agreed to do so.

The state will cover the remaining 25 percent of the repair costs, using Community Development Block Grant funds, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office said.

New York received $1.7 billion in block-grant disaster recovery money through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to cope with damage from Sandy and Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.

"The extent of salt-water inundation suffered by these five farms in Suffolk County at the hands of Hurricane Sandy was severe," Cuomo said in a news release. "Suffolk County is one of New York's most prolific agricultural counties, and with this funding we will help ensure the long-term productivity of these lands."

The number of governments involved makes the funding a unique success, said Southold Supervisor Scott Russell.

"It is what I would say, in my years of public service, an unprecedented level of cooperation," he said. "I wish it could have been faster, because the season is upon us."

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