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Federal, Connecticut and New York officials tout $106 million in funding for Long Island Sound

State and federal politicians all agreed on the importance of the Long Island Sound on Wednesday, praising $106 million in federal funding to restore and preserve the Sound.

Calling it Connecticut’s own national treasure, Democrats U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, along with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and Jahana Hayes, EPA officials and New York State officials, touted the investment.

The funds, which come from a bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, will supplement the Long Island Sound Geographic Program, which supports the Long Island Sound Study. The study is funded by federal and state dollars through a joint effort from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Connecticut Sea Grant and New York Sea Grant, and it focuses on improving water quality and restoring the Sound’s ecological balance, among other initiatives. In addition, the money will go toward preventing flooding and protecting wildlife in light of the effects of climate change.

Lamont said the $106 million will help with flood resiliency. “Flooding is more severe, flooding is coastal. ... What can we do to raise up and create marshes, create swamps, create natural drainage?” he said, adding, “What’s that going to mean with rising sea levels?”

Blumenthal mentioned New London’s stormwater authority in his remarks Wednesday: “A special shoutout to New London, which is a city that has decided to adopt a strong water utility, which is to be commended. The stormwater utility’s treatment of stormwater ... will help the quality of life in New London and really throughout the region.”

New London remains the only municipality in Connecticut with a stormwater authority. Meant as a way to address consistent flooding on Bank Street, the utilities department, as the result of the creation of the authority in 2019, took over operation of the pump station from the Public Works Department and has been mapping the city’s entire stormwater system and investigating the causes of flooding in parts of the city.

Blumenthal also pointed out Wednesday that New York’s ineffective wastewater treatment is spilling over into Connecticut.

“Hundreds of thousands of tons of wastewater and sewage come from New York,” he said. “Connecticut is abundantly represented on this call but we need to persuade New York to invest more on its own and the federal government to aid New York in the treatment of wastewater and sewers. That is still very much an imperative.”

In November 2021, Blumenthal said New York is the “environmental bane” of Connecticut’s existence. “Its wastewater plants are decrepit, degraded and ineffective, and we are the victims,” he said at the time.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos detailed several funding avenues the state is looking into to aid federal involvement in maintaining the Sound.

“New York and Connecticut are set up to make this transformative difference. I communicated with Governor (Kathy) Hochul this morning and I think I speak for both of us when I tell you thank you for what you do," Lamont said of Connecticut’s congressional delegation.

The federal and statewide show of political support was underscored by representatives from New York, including a video message from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Courtney said the new federal funding will complement local efforts.

“Watching in my district, a lot of these local towns are investing that American Rescue Plan money in stormwater infrastructure,” said Courtney, who represents eastern Connecticut's 2nd District. “They’re doing it at the local level, which totally dovetails with what this investment will turbocharge, so we’re really not just going to move on an incremental path but take this up in a more significant and impactful way.”

DeLauro, who chairs the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, noted that the new money is in addition to other, annual federal funding: “we are fighting in our final Appropriations Committee bill for $40 million,” she said. “Appropriations is every year. In 2018 we were at $12 million and now we are at the $40 million level.”

The $106 million is meant to be spent over five years. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will manage Connecticut's share of the money, though it has not been determined yet how much of the funding the state will receive. Organizations and municipalities will be able to apply for grants. Work on the Sound funded by the first portion of the funding will begin this summer.

s.spinella@theday.com

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