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More funding sought for Long Island Sound

Sunny, a rescued seal adopted by kindergarten students

Sunny, a rescued seal adopted by kindergarten students at Setauket Elementary School, is released back into the Long Island Sound in Port Jefferson, after a two-month rehabilitation process at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. (April 25, 2013) Credit: Heather Walsh

The Long Island Sound is one of the region's most precious resources and deserves more federal funding, according to a coalition of environmentalists and politicians.

Last year, federal funding for programs to protect and restore the Sound was about $4 million, but President Barack Obama's 2014 budget proposes to cut that spending to $2.9 million.

"The Sound generates $8.3 billion each year into our regional economy," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an advocacy group with offices in Farmingdale, upstate New York and Connecticut.

"The funding is used to restore our wetlands, shellfish production and flood protection, water quality protection work, to preserve land around the Sound and a number of other efforts that work to really protect the water," she said.

Under the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act and Long Island Sound Restoration Act, Esposito said the federal government can allocate up to $65 million a year in funding to state and local conservation programs focused on the Sound. This year, she's hoping the programs will get $10 million.

"The goal is to get adequate funding like other waterways. Ten percent of the nation's population live within 50 miles of the Long Island Sound," Esposito said. "It's about the economy and quality of life, and recreation and home values -- all of these things are impacted by the quality of the Sound."

This year is particularly challenging, she said, because of the continued impact of superstorm Sandy and the mandatory federal spending cuts that were enacted in April.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) are among the members of Congress appealing for additional funding to protect and preserve the Sound.

"With federal budgets continuing to tighten, I'm fighting to make sure Long Island Sound isn't adversely affected," Israel said in a statement. "The Sound is critical to our regional economy, our environment and our community."

Esposito said she and other environmental advocates plan to visit Washington, D.C., next week to lobby Congress.

"We're working very hard to get the [funding] numbers where they used to be," she said.

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