Posted Saturday, November 17, 2018 11:39 am
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle
NORTH ADAMS — The effort to revitalize the Hoosic River has received a $25,000 boost from the state.
A $25,000 grant, announced Friday by Gov. Charlie Baker’s office, will help Hoosic River Revival launch the first phase of redevelopment along the river’s southern branch.
“[The grant] recognizes the ongoing commitment of the commonwealth to the work we do as a priority project for the city and state,” said Jason LaForest, executive director of the nonprofit.
It also will help build toward the long-term goal of converting miles of crumbling flood-protection infrastructure into a recreational, ecological and recreational backbone for the city — while continuing to prevent floods.
At present, Hoosic River Revival’s primary goal is to negotiate an agreement with the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture museum for use of city-owned land south of the Sons of Italy parcel, work that the grant will support.
“[Hoosic River Revival] needs a small easement on the south end of that property that would allow for the extension of the flood-control wall to permit a hydrologically sound meander following the historic route of the Hoosic,” LaForest said.
The south branch naturalization plan will be complemented by improvements to the nearby recreational facilities around Noel Field.
But the fluid nature of the model railroad museum’s plans, which have shifted south from what was initially envisioned, have stalled the Hoosic River Revival’s phase one plans for about 18 months.
“Returning the river to its historic course will then allow us to upgrade the athletic fields south of Joe Wolfe Field,” LaForest said.
Negotiations between the two organizations are ongoing. Additional development in the area includes a proposed bike path and the Berkshire Scenic Railway.
“It’s exciting to imagine what all of those projects working in a complementary way would look like for the city. It’s also going to take a lot of willingness on everyone’s part to roll up our sleeves and work together,” said Mayor Thomas Bernard. “You’re talking about a lot of good things happening in a very narrow, concentrated area.”
The grant also will ensure continued collaboration among the nonprofit, the city, state agencies and the region’s federal delegation.
With a land-sharing agreement in hand, Hoosic River Revival would tap into $200,000 set aside by the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Division of Ecological Restoration for the advancement of design work.
From there, the organization would hope to win a green light from the Army Corps of Engineers and begin negotiating for access to $8.775 million set aside for the south branch project in an environmental bond bill.
The grant also is expected to support the ongoing development and training of the nonprofit’s board.
“Having a well-developed board is important to the work that we do both in scope and in practice,” LaForest said.
The public funds were matched with $50,000 raised from private sources by Hoosic River Revival.
“I think it’s great news for the project, particularly as they move into a new phase with new leadership,” Bernard said, referring to LaForest, who was hired as the nonprofit’s new leader this year.
Hoosic River Revival was one of five projects across the state to receive the funding.
“River and wetland restoration projects are vital to the Commonwealth’s efforts to combat and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Baker said in a release. “Through the innovative Priority Projects program, we are proud to provide funding and technical assistance to support the efforts of cities and towns who continue to work tirelessly to preserve ecosystems across the state.”
Adam Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.