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Source: Newsday

Lawmakers press for funds to protect Sound

BY CARL MACGOWAN

Posted: April 16, 2012
Originally Published: April 13, 2012

Saying the Long Island Sound boosts the local economy and creates jobs, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Steve Israel on Friday asked local environmental leaders to support continued federal funding for the estuary.

In a discussion at the Sagamore Yacht Club in Oyster Bay, Gillibrand and Israel promoted bills authorizing $325 million over five years for environmental protection of the Sound. The bills would allocate $40 million annually for restoration such as wetlands protection and $25 million per year for stewardship projects such as land protection.

Calling the Sound "one of New York's great treasures," Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said federal funding is "absolutely critical" for environmental protection, which in turn fuels economic development and enhances property values.

"The Long Island Sound is a $9 billion economic engine for Long Island," said Israel (D-Dix Hills). "When your engine sputters, it breaks down."

But he said the Senate and House bills face an "uphill battle" in Congress, where lawmakers are seeking to trim the federal budget.

And despite an annual $40 million allotment for Sound restoration, the actual amount spent has declined under President Barack Obama, a Democrat, from $7 million in 2010 to $3.96 million this year. It is expected to be $2.96 million next year, Israel said.

Restoration funding, which began in 2000, also fluctuated under President George W. Bush.

"I'm disappointed with President Obama on the Long Island Sound," Israel said. "We have to stop the roller coaster on funding."

Israel said the House bill has 13 co-sponsors, including Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton) and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights).

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who attended the meeting, said funding cuts could imperil efforts to save the Sound's fragile ecosystem.

"Significant progress has been made over the last 10 years, and the last thing we want to do is go backwards," she said after the meeting. "Less funding means less progress means damage to our economy and potentially our health."