Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Southern Company and Environmental Partners Award Wetland Restoration Grants Through Five Star Program

PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Southern Company, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Association of Counties and Wildlife Habitat Council announced today that 10 new wetland, riparian and coastal conservation grants have been awarded in the Southeast through the Five Star Restoration Program.

This year, Southern Company provided $246,000 in grants and, combined with partner matching funds, a total of nearly $532,000 will benefit projects in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. Since 2006, Southern Company has contributed $621,000 through 33 grants, resulting in an on-the-ground conservation impact of $1.89 million.

"EPA's Five Star Restoration Grant Program will help promote conservation and environmental stewardship in these communities," said Jimmy Palmer, EPA Regional Administrator. "Community-based projects, such as these, improve environmental awareness among local residents and create lasting relationships for protecting and sustaining wetlands, streams and coasts."

The Five Star Restoration Program is a national initiative providing financial and technical support to wetland, riparian and coastal habitat restoration projects. It brings together citizen groups, corporations, students, landowners, youth conservations corps, and local, state and federal government agencies to build diverse partnerships and foster local natural resource stewardship through education, outreach and training activities. In 2006, Southern Company pledged $1.2 million over five years to fund community-based, wetland and streamside restoration across its four-state service territory. Additionally, Southern Company collaborates with the program partners to select the projects each year and distribute funds to grantees.

"As Five Star Restoration's lead corporate sponsor for the Southern region, Southern Company has committed five years of matching funds for projects in our region," said Chris Hobson, senior vice president of research and environmental affairs for Southern Company. "Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, providing habitat for reptiles, fish, waterfowl, mammals, plants and more. Grassroots efforts through this program will make a significant contribution to our environmental landscape and underscore the importance of healthy wetlands environments in the communities we serve."

The following grants have been awarded in Georgia for 2008:

-- Conasauga River Alliance - to treat 500 linear feet of collapsing streambank in order to restore riparian integrity to a 3,800-foot segment of Swamp Creek, a tributary to the Conasauga River. The site will be used for an in-field, community-based workshop to showcase actual installation of currently underutilized, ecologically-preferable streambank stabilization techniques to area developers, designers and landowners. Additional project partners include Whitfield County, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, Limestone Valley RC&D Council, D2 Land and Water Resources and private landowners.

-- DeKalb County Parks Department - to restore and protect more than one-half acre of wetlands at the historic Evans Mill site, including 200 linear feet of riparian buffer, along Pole Bridge Creek. Junk automobile parts and other debris will be removed from the project area along with invasive plant species and restored with native plants. The site will serve as a rest/picnic area at the terminus of a nearby multi-use trail and five local schools will be involved. Project partners include DeKalb County Parks and Greenspace - Office and Department of Watershed Management, Salem Middle School, University of Georgia Extension 4H Program and University of Georgia Alumni Association - DeKalb Chapter.

-- Georgia Wildlife Federation - to restore 3.5 acres of wetlands along the Alcovy River at East End Road in Covington. Invasive exotic flora will be removed and replanted with desirable native wetland species. This will be used as a demonstration site to educate the community about the economic and ecological values of healthy riverine ecosystems. Additional project partners include The Conservation Fund, Georgia Future Farmers of America-Future Career and Community Leaders of America, Georgia River Fishing, Newton County Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful, Oxford College of Emory University, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Department of Environmental Protection Division, Adopt-A-Stream and Rivers Alive, Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council, Newton County Extension and Master Gardeners and Air Conditioning Specialists.

-- Chattahoochee RiverWatch, Inc. - to restore 2.2 miles of riparian forest buffer along Lindsey Creek from Macon Road to Bull Creek, a major tributary of the Chattahoochee River watershed. The project will engage the local community in stewardship of their water resources and help produce an education video about the impacts of storm water and non-point source pollution on water quality in the watershed. Additional project partners include Columbus Consolidated Government, Columbus State University Environmental Science Program and Georgia Forestry Commission.

-- Elachee Nature Science Center - to restore 15 acres of riparian forests of the Chicopee Woods by treating exotic invasive plants and restoring the area with diverse native plants. This site will help train volunteers and teach the public and local elementary students about the threat of exotic invasive plants in Georgia and promote local conservation efforts. Additional project partners include Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission, Chicopee Woods Weed Management Area, Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council and City of Gainesville.

-- Upper Oconee Watershed Network - to restore 800 feet of riparian buffer and streamside wetlands in the Trail Creek Watershed. This effort will be used to teach citizens about the relationship between residential land management and riparian habitat condition, stream health, downstream water quality, and the species that depend on these ecologically valuable corridors. This project will provide local residents with tools to initiate their own backyard wetland habitat improvements and the project will conduct a series of workshops to educate and engage local citizens in watershed health and maintenance. Additional project partners include Oconee River Greenway Commission, Chicopee-Dudley Neighborhood Association, University of Georgia, Athens-Clarke County Departments of Leisure Services, Public Works and Central Services and Athens Garden Club.

The goal of EPA's Wetlands program is to motivate and inspire the Nation to value, protect and restore the ecological integrity of its wetlands and aquatic ecosystems. The Wetlands Program accomplishes this through co-leadership of the Clean Water Act's wetlands regulatory program, and by fostering effective wetlands management in strategic partnerships with states, tribes, local governments and other key partners. EPA's vision is for America to have abundant and healthy wetlands and aquatic ecosystems that sustain biologically diverse plant and animal life, improve water quality, protect communities from flooding and provide recreational opportunities.

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