Remember the national wildlife parks and refuges off the Connecticut coast that were damaged by Storm Sandy and later embroiled in a funding fight between the state’s congressional delegation and a tea party congressman from Louisiana?
Well, $6 million in disaster relief funds needed to pay for the repairs have now been released by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Connecticut will also receive a portion of a $12.7 million allocation to be divided among all states impacted by Sandy.
The funds include $5 million for the preservation and restoration of historic properties damaged during the storm, as well as more than $1 million to remove debris and restore safe public access to the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, a collection of 10 units of land stretching from Greenwich to Westbrook.
“These Department of Interior funds will go a long way towards restoring and repairing vital public parks and sites damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Our public parks and historic sites are treasures that should be restored and protected from future damage so that generations to come can continue to enjoy them. As storms like Sandy become more frequent, we will continue to advocate for additional funds to ensure that communities, businesses and families have the aid they need to not only recover from disasters like Sandy, but to rebuild in ways that make future damage less likely,” the Connecticut delegation said in a joint statement.
The McKinney refuge, named for former Connecticut Republican congressman Stewart B. McKinney, form a delicate ecosystem of sandy beaches, grassy bluffs and tidal salt marshes within the I-95 corridor, one of the nation’s most densely populated regions.
The Oct. 31 storm eroded some of those beaches, which provide nesting grounds for an endangered shorebird. Waves surged over sea walls while wind and rain lashed a dock and an educational center on Outer Island off the coast of Branford.
But the refuge quickly became a symbol for U.S. Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a tea party affiliated Republican. On the floor of the House during a debate earlier this year over storm relief, Fleming was critical of giving money to restore the refuge. “For heaven’s sake, we should not be spending money restoring coastlines on islands that nobody ever goes to,” said Fleming, who leads the subcommittee overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service, said on the floor of the House.
The move sparked the ire of the Connecticut delegation, which pledged to find a way to get the money restored.
The McKinney refuge will receive $390,000 to pay for the removal of debris and $462,000 to restore access to Falkner Island, among other funds.