Grants awarded for efforts to protect LI Sound

On Tuesday, officials announced $2.57 million in federal and state grant money to improve the health and ecosystem of the Long Island Sound. The funding will go toward 36 projects to be completed by organizations in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. 

New York State has received a total of $1.5 million to fund 14 projects. The Long Island Sound Study Futures Fund is providing $586,000 for the projects, while matching grant money accounts for the remaining $998,000. Six of the projects involve the North Fork.

The Long Island Sound Study Futures Fund, which combines grant money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, was formed in 2005. To date, it has invested $19.6 million in 416 projects. This year’s grants will reach more than 1.7 million residents through education programs and conservation projects.

“Fourteen years in, it has only grown, and it’s been able to demonstrate, really, the energy and capacity that exists on a local level,” said Mark Tedesco, director of the EPA’s Long Island Sound Office. “They do some really incredible work to improve the health and quality of Long Island Sound.” 

Group for the East End in Southold was awarded $67,542 to improve the area surrounding the 225-acre Hallock State Park Preserve in Riverhead. The project includes educational programs, environmental stewardship activities and removal of invasive plants. Aaron Virgin, the group’s vice president, said the grant will enable them to teach visitors about invasive plants in a “hands-on” way.

“We’ll have people working to get rid of invasive species,” he said. 

Another $41,009 state project, called “Be a Good Egg III — Share the Shore with Shorebirds,” will include parts of the Hallock State Park Preserve, Mattituck State Tidal Wetlands, Plum Island and Gull Island. It will implement an educational program through Audubon New York to teach people how to reduce threats to local shorebirds. 

Grants for two cleanup projects affecting the East End were also announced. A $45,000 grant from the Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment will engage 200 volunteers in coastal cleanups and educate people on the dangers of plastic pollution. And the American Littoral Society, which received $10,000, will conduct beach cleanups along 191 miles of shoreline at over 58 sites, including roughly 15 on the North Fork. 

Judy Drabicki, interim deputy commissioner of natural resources at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the shoreline cleanup projects would engage 5,000 people.

“It will help their efforts, as we struggle with a lot of these environmental issues,” she said. “It’s really important that the younger generation be there to fight and keep this momentum going forward.”

Two Connecticut-based projects will affect the North Fork. The Nature Conservancy received a $44,986 grant to finalize the Long Island Sound Blue Plan, a community-based effort intended to protect marine life in the Sound and communities that border the Sound. 

The Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut was awarded a $44,587 grant and will offer educational opportunities related to the impact of marine debris on aquatic species. 

“These community projects will allow us to make a real difference in continuing our progress toward cleaning up Long Island Sound,” Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said. “The partnerships funded by today’s grants show our commitment to the health of the Sound and to ensuring that our children and grandchildren can enjoy it for generations to come.”

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Photo caption: Congressman Lee Zeldin stands with the grantees and some members of the EPA in the Port Jeff Village Center during Tuesday’s announcement. (Kate Nalepinski photo)