With the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy still being felt throughout the Northeast, a recent round of grants will help the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) manage and restore more than 230 acres of land, including the herring run between Menemsha and Squibnocket Ponds.
The tribe received $670,000 last month as part of the National Fish and Wildlife Federation’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency program. The funds will be matched by $212,793 from the tribe for a total of just over $880,000.
More than $100 million in grants were dispersed through the program. The money will be released in the fall, but the tribe has already begun work on its projects.
The 2012 storm had a number of impacts on tribal properties, said Bret Stearns, natural resources director for the tribe.
Mr. Stearns said that in addition to the restoration work, the tribe had included a number of longterm planning efforts in its proposal.
“We need to be thinking ahead,” he said.
The tribe detailed four different projects in the proposal. One will assess the stability of Lobsterville Road. “We almost lost that roadway,” Mr. Stearns said. The tribe is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair the road itself, but the grant will help develop engineering solutions to fortify Lobsterville. Properties alongside the road are owned by the tribe, the town of Aquinnah, and private homeowners.
“We want to have a great, open dialogue with everybody, so that funding will be used for . . . very specific engineering solutions for that roadway,” Mr. Stearns said.
The grant will also be used for restoration and longterm management of the tribal land along Lobsterville Road and West Basin Road.
The land contains “a tremendous amount of sustenance food,” Mr. Stearns said. “It’s probably one of the most important pieces of land for up-Island because it’s the corridor barrier beach between Menemsha and the open ocean.” The dunes along the roads had been eroding for years, removing a natural buffer even before Hurricane Sandy dealt its blow. The tribe is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to get the sand back, and will use grant money to plant more beachgrass.
“The beach grass is really what protects the dunes,” Mr. Stearns said.
Grant money will also go toward developing management plans for the cranberry bog and creating plans for removing invasive species.
Helping native species thrive is a priority: a third project centers around improving the herring run between Menemsha Pond and Squibnocket Pond. A herring counter will be installed for the first time, allowing the tribe to get exact counts as the fish move through the passage.
“The herring run through the creek up to Squibnocket to spawn,” Mr. Stearns said. “With hurricane events and high tides the sand has built up so much that the herring can’t easily run.”
The herring run requires regular maintenance, he said, but Hurricane Sandy created more erosion than usual inside the creek. By working with engineers to clear the creek, the tribe hopes to help not only the herring but also the overall nitrogen exchange between the ponds. Mr. Stearns said that by improving nitrogen flow, more phytoplankton would be able to enter Menemsha Pond, creating more food for the shellfish there.
Funding will also be used to develop a plan for managing not only Menemsha Pond but also Squibnocket and Nashaquitsa. That plan will involve collaboration between the tribe and town departments, in addition to state and federal personnel, and will build on previous community efforts.
“In the past we’ve done oil spill and marine mammal training,” Mr. Stearns said.
Tribal chairman Tobias Vanderhoop said the process of securing the grant was itself a massive collaborative effort.
“There was a rather short time frame afforded to us to actually get the application put together,” he said. “It was a pretty heavy lift to get the package together and submit it properly, but they did an excellent job.”
“It’s a benefit for us here today, but also future generations,” Mr. Stearns said.