Rell announces grants for coastal, river and wetland areas

Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced on Thursday that the state would award almost $4.5 million in grants for projects to buy or protect coastal land, improve wetlands and river areas, and to help migrating fish reach many more miles of rivers.

The money, awarded to several organizations, land trusts, and municipalities, comes from two sources: settlements paid by polluters to the state Department of Environmental Protection, and revenues from the sale of car license plates that say “Save the Sound.” The total given out was $4,471,181.

The largest individual grants, of $500,000 each, went to the Trust for Public Land and the Winchester Land Trust for real estate deals. TPL plans to buy the 17-acre former Griswold Airport near Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, and also 1,100 acres near the Connecticut River in Stafford to preserve forest and wildlife habitat. The Winchester Land Trust plans to buy easements for acreage near the Farmington and Connecticut Rivers.

Also, Groton Open Space Association received more than $82,000 to buy a farm in the coastal village of Noank, where Rell made the grant announcements Thursday.

Most of the projects offer human engineering assistance to help 14 species of fish that migrate between the ocean and the rivers to reach more miles of river and stream. The fish include shad, striped bass, white perch, sea-run trout, and sturgeon.

Among those projects are three fish ladders-objects that let fish swim past dams by jumping in stages-will be built in Bridgeport, Wallingford, and Preston.

Other grants deal with removing dams altogether. One grant will pay for engineered plans for one dam (the Flock Process Dam on the Norwalk River in Norwalk) and four others will pay to take out dams on the Pequabuck River in Bristol; on the Farmington River in Bloomfield and East Granby; on Hilliard Pond in Manchester; and on the Eightmile River in Lyme.

The other projects funded on Thursday are to improve land that development has altered, or to preserve land near other preserved areas. One grant will go toward improvement of degraded banks of the Pomperaug River in Southbury.

Three projects are to control an invasive marsh grass in West Haven and at 14 sites along the lower Connecticut River from Haddam to Old Saybrook. The grass, Phragmites australis, is one many people think is native, but it’s actually an invasive plant that chokes out many other grasses, making it difficult for all sorts of creeping and swimming wildlife to live well. To control phragmites, crews use equipment and other methods to remove it long enough to give other grasses a chance. The Nature Conservancy and the state of Connecticut have been working on this problem for almost two decades.