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January 17, 2014

Tarr-led group seeks Sandy money for marsh

NEWBURY — Local, state and federal officials have launched an initiative to obtain some of the $100 million in the federal Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency program, and part of the effort involves environmental awareness to prepare for the future.

Leaders of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance (MRBA), co-chaired by Gloucester-based state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, are partnering with the National Wildlife Federation to make plans in preparation for tumultuous weather events in the future.

The decision to apply for federal funding was approved at a regular meeting of the MRBA, a loose aggregation of municipal and environmental officials organized to protect shore property in Newburyport, Newbury, Salisbury and nearby areas.

The panel has reacted to weather events in the past, such as attempting to counter erosion on Plum Island or finding funds to fortify crumbling jetties at the mouth of the Merrimack River.

But a meeting this week featured dialogue and presentations that suggested that local officials are increasing efforts to develop long-term solutions, especially in protecting the marsh.

“This is one of the most significant initiatives I have seen,” said Tarr. “Working with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) provides valuable support, and they’ve done a lot of work already.”

Christopher Hilke, program manager for federation’s Climate Change Adaptation panel, described the marsh in Essex County as “one of the largest on the East Coast, and one of the most popular birding destinations.”

“There is federal money available,” Hilke said, “and we look forward to working with the local officials here to obtain funding and develop projects that will preserve the great assets here.”

Perhaps because the NWF is involved, local officials are now seeking funding for projects such as dune restoration ($850,000), salt marsh vegetation restoration ($400,000) and submerged aquatic vegetation restoration ($120,000).

Funds are also being sought for a youth engagement program ($190,000) and a “Great Marsh hydrodynamic modeling” study ($550,000).

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