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EPA awards USM $1.75 million to aid environmental programs in southeastern New England

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $1.75 million grant to the University of Southern Maine to create and run a training and technical assistance network overseeing environmental efforts along a section of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coastline.

 The money — which could increase to a total project grant award of $6 million over five years — would be administered through the New England Environmental Finance Center, which is housed at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service. Begun in 2001, the center is one of 10 such offices in the country that works with municipalities, regional agencies, tribes, and state entities to use innovative financing methods to help fund environmental projects.

The EPA award will be used to support environmental work in the EPA’s Southeast New England region, which consists of watersheds in Massachusetts and Rhode Island including Cape Cod, Narragansett Bay and Buzzards Bay. 

 “A network of partners that collaborates on projects will provide opportunities and synergies to achieve more together than any individual partner could possibly achieve alone,” said Martha Sheils, director of the New England Environmental Finance Center at USM. “EPA’s vision to implement a cohesive partnership approach will set the stage for long term meaningful reform on how stormwater and watershed management can be financed, and how protection and restoration of our waters can achieve long term climate resilience in the Southeast New England region and other New England areas.”

Most of the award money will support the work of the many partners in the region including: the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Mass Audubon's Shaping the Future of Your Community Program, Brown University, the Cape Cod Commission, the Environmental Finance Center at Syracuse University, the Environmental Finance Center of the University of North Carolina, the Nature Conservancy in MA and RI, Rhode Island School of Design, Save the Bay, the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center, the University of Rhode Island, Throwe Environmental, Kimberly Groff Consulting and Elizabeth Scott Consulting.

Jon Kachmar, the USM center’s project manager, will provide leadership to the project partners.

Initial pilot projects under the EPA grant include efforts to protect the watersheds of the Maidford River on Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay using nature-based solutions such as preserving undeveloped land and re-planting stream edges to filter agricultural pollutants and improve habitat for fish and wildlife. Additional efforts for the Taunton River in Massachusetts will build upon ongoing land protection and ecological restoration planning to ensure viable wetlands and river resources into the future. 

"USM is proud to be engaged in such a collaborative and innovative partnership supporting environmental initiatives in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which will also leverage environmental stewardship and leadership in Maine, New England and beyond, " said Glenn Cummings, president of the University of Southern Maine."

Dennis Deziel, the EPA’s New England regional administrator, called the new network “an important milestone.” 

"Establishing this technical network will fill a significant need, helping communities, tribes and local organizations build and enhance their abilities to manage their programs in ways that produce multiple environmental and fiscal benefits," Deziel said.

Stories about the award have appeared in MaineBiz, the Barnstable Patriot, the Bourne Enterprise and CapeCod.com