SNEP-ing up to restore our coast

Coastal ecosystems are the foundation of Southeast New England’s culture, economy, and quality of life, yet are threatened by factors such as climate change, uncontrolled development, and legacy impacts from industrial and transportation activities. The grants are aimed at restoring clean water and coastal ecosystems throughout Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts. The program was created in 2012 by Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed in order to fill a critical gap – providing funding and coordination among the many organizations and communities working to restore and preserve our region’s waters and watersheds. Our funding region encompasses upriver cities like Providence, RI, and Worcester, MA; Rhode Island’s South Shore salt ponds; much of Cape Cod; and the offshore islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Having worked in environmental policy and management in New England for more than twenty years, I was already aware of many of the organizations involved in the SNEP program, and with whom I’m now working. However, my favorite part of this job has been getting to better know the people working on the most challenging environmental problems facing New England. I’m tremendously impressed by the dedication and expertise of the scientists, managers, public officials, and volunteers working on these – and many other – important and difficult issues.

It’s easy to get depressed listening to the national debate about the environment. In the country that pioneered clean air and clean water legislation, it seems that facts and science no longer influence public policy. By contrast, here in the SNEP region, issues such as climate change, sea-level rise, water pollution, and habitat degradation are undeniable. State and local officials, regardless of party, are eager for the kinds of solutions that SNEP is providing.

Over the past six months, I’ve met shellfish growers on Martha’s Vineyard who are developing innovative, in-ground filters to clean groundwater; researchers at the University of Rhode Island experimenting with floating artificial wetlands to restore polluted ponds; and a city engineer in Pawtucket, RI, who’s combining stormwater management, mass transit, and bikeways into a “green and complete streets” initiative to redevelop a blighted former factory area. It’s impossible not to have a great deal of hope for the future once you see so many smart and driven people working in great organizations and communities to restore and preserve Southeast New England’s coasts and watershed.

Recently our grant review committee completed its selections for 2018 SNEP Watershed Grants. Over the next month I’ll be notifying grantees as to the status of their applications, and getting contracts in place for those who have been selected. We’ll announce the grants with two separate events in September – one in Rhode Island and one in Massachusetts. Once the 2018 grant round is in place, I’ll begin developing our next Request for Proposals to select projects for funding under the 2019 round of Southeast New England Watershed Grants.

For more about RAE’s Southeast New England Watershed Grants, see www.snepgrants.org.

Tom Ardito is the SNEP program director for Restore America’s Estuaries.

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