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San Juan County awarded $700,000 federal grant for habitat protection, pollution awareness

The price tag on innovation can sometimes prove too steep.

But thanks to an infusion of nearly $700,000 in federal funds, San Juan County will have money to spend on creating new techniques to better manage growth and protect its shorelines, water and land.

On July 6, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will distribute $30 million in federal grants over the next three years in an ongoing effort to help protect and restore Puget Sound. The grants, 36 in all, are intended to bolster Washington state’s goal of restoring the health of the Sound by 2020.

Recipients include Washington state and various tribal and local governments, including San Juan, throughout the Puget Sound and Salish Sea.

“Puget Sound is our region’s icon,” said Dennis McLerran, regional administrator of the EPA. “Every grant dollar we’re announcing today directly supports the goal of a healthy Puget Sound by 2020. We have a strong team working for progress we can all be proud of.”

According to the EPA, the recipients are together matching dollar for dollar the $30 million in federal grants. The EPA has dedicated $58.4 million Puget Sound’s recovery in the past four years.

Many of the projects are designed to have community-wide influence or to mesh directly with the needs and priorities of property owners. Which is precisely the case in San Juan County, according to Mary Knackstedt, coordinator of the Marine Resources Committee, which netted the grant.

Knackstedt said a significant portion of the grant, totaling $696,184 over three years, will be used to help raise awareness about habitat protection and ways to reduce pollution. It will help to develop a system in which property owners have access to information, incentives and technical assistance that will help lessen impacts of development on their land.

The county committed roughly $360,000 over the three-year period to match the federal grant and bring the total to a little over $1 million.

“There actually are four components,” Knackstedt said of the grant. “One of them, maybe the most important, is we want to be able to provide property owners with technical assistance and some options when they build that protect habitat, and different techniques that reduce pollution and runoff.”

The grant, Knackstedt noted, allows the county to partner with the San Juan Islands Conservation District and pay for the technical assistance that district experts can provide should a local land owner request an on-site evaluation of their property and its development potential.

It will also help the county to promote and possibly insert low-impact development techniques into local building codes and its stormwater regulations, and pay for public outreach.

Entitled “Managing Growth in Island Communities,” the grant will also help finance a “constructed wetland” on county-owned land just north of Eastsound Village Square, also known as the Mount Property.

The grant’s objective, according to EPA’s website, is protection of land, shorelines and hydrological functions, and it’s intended to build the capacity of the county to manage growth sustainably, and to establish a regional forum to help share information on how to protect island communities as they grow.

But that’s not all.

Knackstedt said the county will also piggy-back on a $584,000 grant awarded to the City of Seattle, which, based on the “Green Shores for Homes” program of British Columbia, is designed to promote incentives for low-impact development on the shoreline of Lake Washington and in the San Juans.

For more information and a map of EPA grants, visit www.epa.gov/region10/map/funding/pugetsound_funding_map.html

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