By JIM LEVULIS, WAMC
A citizens group pushing for the revitalization of the Hoosic River in North Adams has released detailed plans to redevelop a section of the waterway.
For the past eight years, volunteers with the Hoosic River Revival have worked to rethink how the waterway runs through North Adams. The city’s 2.5-mile section is largely tamed by 15-foot concrete walls installed 60 years ago to prevent flooding. With help from designers, Revival founder Judy Grinnell says the group has developed a plan that would reintegrate a meandering river with the Noel Field athletic complex, bringing it closer to Route 8.
“With this river flowing as it does in a safe way maintaining flood protection right in the middle of an area that is already popular with the community is really an asset,” said Grinnell.
Currently that southern section of the river flows straight and is separated from Route 8, a main avenue into the city, by the fields. The plan calls for doing away with steep concrete and rock walls to allow people to get into the river using modern day flood control methods. The Revival is calling this area The Park and plans to incorporate recreational pathways and pedestrian bridges over the river and around the ball fields. In a promotional video voiced by Grinnell, the group provides examples of similar efforts.
“Denver, Colorado built amphitheater steps down to the water at the confluence of the Platte and South Platte Rivers,” Grinnell explains in the video. “It’s designed to be inundated by the annual spring floods yet it provides community recreation space the rest of the time. Functional steps instead of a barrier wall contain floodwaters. As the river returns to normal flows, the water drains off. Confluence Park proved so popular that Denver expanded upriver with bike and pedestrian trails inside the formally concrete channelized river.”
The Revival believes The Park can open in 2020, but must get approval from a number of agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers. This phase for a half mile of river would cost an estimated $20 million, for which the group plans to seek a number of grants. Massachusetts has earmarked nearly $9 million for the projectin an environmental bond bill, but the majority of that money has yet to be released. So far the group has raised $800,000 in donations, and volunteers have devoted 7,000 hours to the project. With some of the river’s flood walls failing, State Representative Gailanne Cariddi sees it as more than an economic development project.
“I consider it a public safety project,” Cariddi said. “And really a far-ranging public safety project that will keep our valley safe from flooding, but will also continue to bring tourism and recreational aspects to the whole area.”
Grinnell says redeveloping the rest of the river will be costlier because it will involve removing more concrete flood chutes. She points out that in 1950 the federal government allocated $15 million to construct 2.5 miles of channelized river – that figure today is $150 million. Furthermore, Grinnell says Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard estimates the local economic impact of Phase 1 could total $33 million and employ 250 people over the course of construction.