Long Beach West Restoration Project
Southern New England-NY Bight Coastal Program, Fish and Wildlife Service, Rhode Island
Project Point of Contact
(401) 364-9124 x37
Long Beach West is a barrier beach that was developed. Town property was leased to the public. In 1996, the wooden bridge providing access to the site was destroyed in a fire. The site was abandoned leaving 37 cottages, 25 outbuildings, four docks, retaining walls, debris, and trash. This site is one of the largest remaining stretches of barrier beach in coastal Connecticut. This site provides critical nesting habitat for federally threatened piping plovers and state threatened least terns, is an important migratory bird stopover area, and is home to five state listed plant species as well as critical shellfish beds. The restoration of this site entailed complete removal of all hazardous materials including lead, asbestos, and PCBs, as well as the houses and debris, preventing contamination on nearby federal lands (GMU) and surrounding coastal habitat. This site has been fully restored for wildlife and for passive human recreation.
Long Beach is part of the longest stretch of barrier beach in Connecticut (CT) and contains sand dunes, tidal wetlands, and sand flats. Long Beach and the adjacent Pleasure Beach, shelter a 700-acre estuarine system which includes the Great Meadows Unit of Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) that provides one of the most critical areas for birds in CT and is one of the sites identified by the Long Island Sound Study Habitat Restoration Initiative for beach and dune habitat. In October 2008, Long Beach along with Pleasure Beach and the Great Meadows Marsh Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney NWR was recognized as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. Long Beach also provides public access to the Long Island Sound at the heart of a densely populated urban area, thereby making the permanent preservation of the area both a top conservation and a top recreation priority in the state, if not the region.
However, like most coastal habitat in Southern New England, Long Beach has suffered from the impacts of houses developed on this sensitive area. The houses on the site had been leased by the town of Stratford until 1997. The bridge connecting the beach to the City of Bridgeport burned down in 1996 and consequentially emergency and other critical services could not be provided to the area. The town elected not to renew those leases, although some tenants continued to occupy the cottages during a long legal battle, which formally ended in spring of 2007. The cottages have been vacant since then and many, if not all, have been extensively vandalized. Forty-one cottages, twenty-seven outbuildings, four docks, retaining walls, debris, and trash remained at the site as of March 2009 during the Services Pre-Acquisition Contaminants Survey. Since then, another four cottages and two outbuildings have been burned and destroyed by vandals leaving thirty-seven cottages, twenty-five outbuildings, four docks, retaining walls, debris, and trash at the site.
The restoration project proposed to remove all abandoned cottages, outbuildings, docks, and debris on Long Beach West in Stratford, CT, in order to restore barrier beach habitat. This action was needed for the benefit of both humans and wildlife. The abandoned cottages, outbuildings, docks, and debris were a hazard to human safety and welfare. They contained contaminants that could pollute the environment, were a fire hazard, and no longer served a beneficial purpose. In addition, their presence continued to impair dune stabilization and beach maintenance, had degraded habitat for state-listed plants, and had degraded and eliminated nesting, rearing, and feeding habitat for migratory birds, including federally- and state-listed endangered and threatened species and other species that are rare. The cottages may have also provided shelter for feral cats, rats, and other predators of migratory birds.
This project involved extensive partnering with town, state, federal, and private partners. Partners are the Town of Stratford, CT, the CT Department of Environmental Protection (CT DEP), the Trust for Public Land, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Audubon CT, Land-Tech Consultants, Inc., Ducks Unlimited, and the Fairfield County Community Foundation. The Service's Southern New England-New York Bight Coastal Program (SNEP) was a major partner and secured $909,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for demolition and restoration at the site. Other funding sources included the Environmental Protection Agency s Long Island Sound Study Long Island Sound Futures Fund ($100,000), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Dissolved Oxygen Benefit Fund ($53,000), the CT Department of Environmental Protection Long Island Sound Fund ($50,000), and a Fairfield County Community Foundation Grant ($30,000).
Results and Achievements
An environmental assessment was undertaken to comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and to thoroughly pursue options for site restoration. Four options were considered reasonable. The option chosen was removing abandoned cottages and associated structures by creating a temporary access road to the site over land. It would have the least disturbance to the natural habitat at the site and any disturbed areas would be restored as part of the project.
With an approach defined for the project, partners came together in many meetings to coordinate the application of local, state, and federal rules. At the conclusion of the NEPA process, partners were confident that a sound, rational, and cost effect approach had been developed and that all local, state, and federal rules were followed. This project would not have been possible without the support of so many partners; and their successful cooperation to achieve the common goal of site restoration shows the importance of this site and the clean up that occurred.
This project was taken on in the context of an ongoing effort by the Service to restore, protect, and preserve barrier beach habitats on the Atlantic coast for migratory birds and other wildlife that require it to complete their life cycles. This project included management actions that supported federal laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This project supports federal initiatives to partner with non-federal groups, support habitat and natural areas in urban environments, and takes sea level rise into consideration. This project was also carried out in the context of the Great Meadows Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge that is adjacent to and sheltered from the ocean by Long Beach. Restoring the barrier beach habitat for the benefit of migratory birds is in keeping with the wildlife purposes of that refuge, which is owned and managed by the Service.
Since this project was adjacent to and not on federal land, an agreement was arranged with the town of Stratford. The agreement states that since ARRA funds were used on town land for restoration and habitat protection, if the town develops the property for uses other than passive recreation, the ARRA funding will be repaid in full. This helps to assure the sustainability of the restored habitat into the future. In addition, this project and the process it went through would be applicable at other sites that are faced with similar situations helping to sustain other habitats into the future. This project contributed significantly to the protection and improvement of the environment. Material removed from this barrier beach including hazardous materials consisting of lead, asbestos, and PCBs. A significant amount of the debris was also recycled. This project prevented contaminants from being dispersed on the Stewart B. McKinney NWR and surrounding environment which could have occurred during a large coastal storm. Habitat was improved for federally- and state-listed species and the project also improved aesthetics and safety issues at the site. The site will be returned to a pristine barrier beach ecosystem for wildlife and people to enjoy.
This project took advantage of a situation in which a community adjacent to a federal property was able to have the land restored to pristine condition with the only provision being that if the community developed it in any way it must repay the federal government all the costs for remediation. Both the community and the Service recognized the benefits of restoring this property instead of redeveloping it. The project stands as a model of environmentally beneficial reuse of critical property that would otherwise have significant commercial value.