The Shinnecock Indian Nation and Cornell Cooperative Extension have been awarded some $3.75 million from the Superstorm Sandy federal aid package, to be used for restoring parts of the reservation shoreline damaged during the October 2012 storm, and boosting resiliency and protections from future storms.
The grant—which comes with a required local match, $314,000 that was cobbled together by the tribe, Cornell and the other partners—is the largest yet awarded on Long Island since Congress approved $60 billion in federal aid for communities impacted by the storm.
“This is a big deal,” said Tribal Trustee Taobi Silva this week. “We don’t know exactly what has been funded yet, but … we have a reason to be happy.”
The tribe, working with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, applied for aid for a host of projects, ranging from massive shoreline rebuilding along most of the western shoreline of the tribe’s Shinnecock Neck reservation, to repairs to the tribe’s crumbling shellfish hatchery building.
The bulk of the funding is to be directed to the restoration and bolstering of the waterfront on eastern Shinnecock Bay. Some 60 feet of beach was scoured away from the shoreline along more than a mile of reservation shore during the storm, Mr. Silva said. The restoration will take on a number of components, most notably the replenishment of sand and native beachgrass. Mr. Silva said the details and timing of how the project will be conducted have yet to be worked out.
He said that the organizers would be looking to coordinate with other large-scale dredging efforts taking place in the region, either to take advantage of economies of heavy dredging equipment already being in local waters or to work with Suffolk County to direct sediment from smaller local dredging projects that they have planned but have not identified suitable sites for depositing the spoils.
In addition to restoring the shoreline’s pre-Sandy contours, other projects intended to dampen the effects of future storm-driven waves are also on the wish list. Restoring eelgrass beds in the near-shore waters of eastern Shinnecock Bay could act as a dampener for waves and storm surge, as could an oyster reef the tribe has said it would like to create along the tidal shallows off its shores.
“Science suggests that reefs burn a lot of the energy of storm surge getting over the top of the reef,” Mr. Silva said. “It’s solid science, and we believe in it.”
He noted that an oyster reef would also add a dense population of filter-feeding shellfish to the waters at the eastern end of the bay, which could help tamp down harmful algae blooms that have been blamed in the past for disappearances of eelgrass beds.
Among some of the other projects the tribe hopes the funding will pay for is modifications to two former mosquito ponds, making them tidal.
The tribe will be looking to create a handful of jobs with the grant money, for individuals dedicated to the planning and administration of the grant projects. Mr. Silva said they expect to appoint a program director for the entire package of grant-funded projects that will be undertaken eventually.
The grant money will be assigned as projects receive specific approvals from local and state and federal jurisdictions, according to the state.
In the drafting of the grant application, the tribe worked with a number of local, regional and national groups and agencies, including Stony Brook University, the Peconic Institute, the Long Island Indian Council, the U.S. Geologic Survey and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Mr. Silva said that many aspects of the project were designed to bring benefits to the entire region, not just to the Shinnecock lands.
“We’re trying to be a good neighbor,” he said, nodding to the ancillary benefits that steps like an oyster reef, restoration of eelgrass and mosquito control would present. “We tried to find projects that would have benefits for Shinnecock but would also help everybody.”