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Suffolk to repair 500 acres of tidal wetlands

A file photo taken January 7, 2013 shows

A file photo taken January 7, 2013 shows members of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, Division of Vector Control removing debris from Hurricane Sandy from the marsh and wetlands in Mastic Beach. Credit: newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Suffolk County will begin rehabilitating more than 500 acres of tidal wetlands under an executive order signed Tuesday by County Executive Steve Bellone.

The order adopting a new Wetlands Stewardship Strategy is expected in the long term to obtain increased federal and state aid to allow the county to restore more than 2,500 acres of damaged wetlands. The aim is to make Suffolk's shoreline more resilient to increasingly severe seasonal storms and higher waters caused by climate change.

The county has received approvals for $7.4 million in state and federal funding for work at nine initial sites totaling more than 500 acres, with Suffolk contributing $385,000 of the cost.

"What we're targeting are the areas where we can get the best bang for the buck," said Dominick Ninivaggi, director of vector control, which combats mosquitoes.

Officials estimate it will take two to three years to complete the initial restoration projects. They said they would develop long-range plans to protect all 17,000 acres of publicly owned wetlands across the county.

The initiative involves county agencies including planning, public works and economic development.

The effort will focus on improving water circulation in marshes; encouraging marine life and healthy vegetative growth; building up natural sediment to make saltwater marshes better able to absorb wave energy, and ridding areas of destructive invasive species such as phragmites. The wetlands rehabilitation also is expected to help better control mosquitoes.

Funding so far includes:

$107,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop plans and obtain permits to restore 50 wetland acres near the marina at Smith Point County Park.

$1.3 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore 430 acres of wetlands at Gardiner County Park in West Bay Shore, Pepperidge Hall Tidal Wetland Area in Oakdale, Timber Point Tidal Wetlands in Great River and Babylon barrier island marshes at Gilgo and Gilgo West.

An estimated $5 million to $6 million from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to acquire and restore 50 flood-prone acres in Mastic Beach near Sheep Pen Creek that were inundated in superstorm Sandy.

$275,000 from New York Department of State to restore 13 acres on Beaverdam Creek in Brookhaven hamlet, formerly productive tidal wetlands that were damaged by dumping of dredge spoils. The county share of funding will be $85,000.

$788,000 from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to restore seven acres of wetlands at Indian Island destroyed by dredge spoils. The county share is $300,000.

Officials say the research that led to the new holistic strategy began with an 80-acre pilot project at the 1,000-acre federal Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley. Federal and state approval of restoration methods developed in that project led to increased funding.

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