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Groups line up for L.I. Sound grants

Waterford - Water testing in the Mystic and Pawcatuck Rivers, education programs about Long Island Sound for urban youth and education of Niantic River Watershed homeowners about pollutants and protection of river buffers are among local projects that will receive grant funds from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund this year.

The local projects were among 33 grants to groups in Long Island and Connecticut that will receive a total of $1.01 million in grants. The grants will be matched with $1.92 million in funds from the receiving organizations.

The grant program is a partnership of the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. In its five years of existence, the program has provided $4.5 million to 138 projects that have restored habitat, improved water quality and promoted conservation of the Sound.

The grants were announced during a ceremony at Harkness Memorial State Park Thursday attended by several of the grant recipients. Nineteen of the grants will go to groups based on the Connecticut side of the Sound, and the remainder to groups on the New York side.

"These projects will build on our efforts to protect and improve Long Island Sound by focusing on everything from water quality, habitat restoration and coastal cleanups to public awareness and education," Amey Marrella, commissioner of the Connecticut DEP, said.

Ira Leighton, action regional administrator for the EPA, said making people aware of the relationship between their actions and the health of the Sound, and building connections between people and the Sound - especially for those who don't live near the estuary- is the grant program's most important function.

Among local groups to receive funding is Clean Up Stonington Harbors. Its $12,000 grant, with $17,000 in matching funds, will fund an expansion of water testing in the Mystic and Pawcatuck rivers and the creation of a database that will be used to identify pollution sources from businesses, storm drains, sewage-treatment plants and other facilities, and work with those sources to correct problems.

Another recipient is the parent of Mystic Aquarium, the Sea Research Foundation. It will use a $29,000 grant, matched with $27,790, for educational programs about the Sound for urban youth, and another $5,420 grant with an equal match for an Estuary Celebration Day weekend event to raise public awareness about the threats facing the Sound and its natural resources.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, based in Oxford, will use a $17,251 grant matched with $28,000 to teach homeowners in mainly central and south-central Connecticut about landscaping methods that benefit the Sound by using organic fertilizer, native plants and planting and irrigation techniques that reduce runoff. Some of the properties that receive assistance may also be in southeastern Connecticut, Bill Deusing, the group's executive director, said.

The project will mostly be directed at landscaping, though some vegetable gardening and farming projects may also be included, he said.

Two other grants will go to projects aimed at improving the Niantic River watershed. Save the River-Save the Hills, an eight-year-old organization, will receive $6,000, to be matched with $7,250, to start a series of radio programs called "Sound Decisions" that would air on two AM stations serving central and southeastern Connecticut. Podcasts to Mitchell College's new Internet station, a Facebook page and newspaper articles would also deliver messages to homeowners about reducing runoff that pollutes the watershed, restoring beach habitat, controlling invasive species and building appreciation for the Sound's ecosystem.

The other Niantic River watershed grant will go to the Connecticut Sea Grant, based at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus in Groton, to promote the protection and restoration of natural buffers along the watershed that help filter pollutants. The grant totals $39,600.

One of the largest Connecticut grants will go to the Trust for Public Land to remove 41 dilapidated cottages on Long Beach, a sensitive barrier beach in Stratford, and restore dunes there. The $50,000 grant will also pay for the crushing and filling in of antiquated septic systems and sewage discharge pipes, said Lisa Bassani, a trust official. The cottages, built in the 1930s to 1950s, have been abandoned for many years. The 35-acre beach is owned by the town.

Ultimately the property would be added to the Steward B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge, Bassani said, and remain available for bird-watching, hiking and other passive recreation.

"It's a highly sensitive coastal site, with nesting areas for piping plovers," she said.

j.benson@theday.com

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