By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. ‘ The South Branch of the Hoosic River should be largely restored to a natural state by 2020.

That’s the goal of the Hoosic River Revival, which updated the City Council on Tuesday on the status of the $21.4 million project. The state has so far put aside nearly $9 million toward the effort that could directly employ 250 people.

HRR’s founder Judith Grinnell and Nick Nelson of Inter-Fluve Inc. reviewed the preliminary plans released last year by Inter-Fluve Inc. and Sasaki Associates. Those plans have been forwarded by the city to the Army Corps of Engineers with the anticipation they will be approved later this year.

“We cannot put a shovel in the ground until we get an OK from the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Grinnell. “But we’re not going to be stopped because we need to be looking into the soil … talk with permitting agencies and continue to raise funds.”

The revival has raised $800,000 in private and public donations toward the restoration of the half-mile section from Hunter Foundry Road north to Christopher Columbus Drive.

Phase One includes the authorization process with the Army Corps, soil testing design refinements; next will be flow and flood modeling, Corps peer review, and local, state and federal permitting and soil remediation. By 2018, the project is expected to enter the major reconstruction period, estimated to cost $15 million, when the river is reformed close to its original path. The final part will be the relocation of the Noel Field Athletic Complex’s ballfields and the construction of a footbridge, paths and landscaping.

“We’re confident it will improve the river ecosytem, link resources, and enhance the quality of life and economic development for city,” Grinnell.

The river is envisioned to cut a meandering path along the half-mile section that will slow its pace. Nelson explained it was being viewed as several separate parts: a wild section at the south end on land mostly owned by the city, the park section through Noel Field for use as recreational area, and the gateway area as it enters Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

“Habitat is an important part of the overall design. This is where we are able to meander the stream a little bit,” said Nelson, pointing out the curves in the river on a projected image.

The turns allow deeper pools and shallower faster areas for fish, he said. “It creates a nice complexity for organisms.”

The banks are being designed to exceed the 100-year flood using natural elements such as rock and heavy wood foundations. Both Grinnell and Nelson stressed that flooding mitigation was in the forefront of planning.

The concrete chutes built to contain the river 60 years ago by the Army Corps are beginning to show their age, said Grinnell. One section of wall in the North Branch has fallen, and three more are leaning – two in the North Branch and one in the South.

“It is of concern, while this started as an economic and environmental project, we have made it clear to the state and federal government we see safety issues,” said Grinnell.

The revival is moving forward in having Inter-Fluve and Sasaki come up with a draft design for the North Branch, in part because of the concern over the deteriorating walls but largely to provide stakeholders with a completed vision. Grinnell said having a picture and financing information for public agencies and private foundations will make the project more successful in the end.

“They are very interested in what’s next … where are we going and what it would look like?” she said.

While the cost seems high at $21 million for a half-mile, Grinnell said the original chutes cost $15 million, or about $3 million a half-mile. In today’s dollars, the revival calculated the chutes would clock in at $30 million a half-mile. Los Angeles is about to embark on a $1.3 billion river revitalization, that comes to a half mile for $60 million.

“I say that all the time to federal government, we’re cheaper but we’re good,” she said.

In answers to questions, Nelson further explained how the stream foundations would hold up and where they had been used, and the thought process behind moving two of the ballfields across the new river path because of space needs.

Grinnell said the city would likely continue to be responsible for maintaining the area since it had signed a contract to do so in the 1950s. There would be an effort to raise funds for a foundation to cover needs above and beyond regular maintenance.