By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
Monday, July 28, 2014

bond bill iberkNORTH ADAMS, Mass. ‘ A group of local activists hopes that getting into the state’s funding stream will help advance a project to beautify and utilize the Hoosic River.

The Hoosic River Revival Coalition this week is keeping an eye on Boston, where the Legislature will vote on the five-year Environmental Bond Bill, which includes $8.8 million for design and construction of Phase 1 of the river restoration project.

With the project included in both the House and Senate versions of the legislation, inclusion in the final product is highly likely.

But that is just another step in the process, notes Hoosic River Revival President Judith Grinnell.

“Being in the Bond Bill … merely means the legislature is authorized to provide the funds for a project such as ours,” Grinnell wrote in an email seeking comment on the bill. “Not all items in this five-year bond bill will be funded.”

The Senate version of the bond bill authorizes $1.9 billion worth of projects, including $15 million in Berkshire County, according to the office of Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield. Other local projects in the Senate version include $5 million for construction of a Greylock Glen Outdoor Center in Adams and $1.1 million to support a multipurpose turf facility at Berkshire Community College.

According to Downing’s legislative director, even if a project in the bill does not get funded this year, it would remain in the queue for funding until the next bond bill comes up for a vote.

In North Adams, the Hoosic River Revival Coalition has been working for years to “reclaim” the river that runs through the Steeple City through flood chutes.

Without compromising the chutes’ ability to safely control the river’s passage through the city, the coalition hopes to maximize its potential for recreation and make it a major attraction for the city.

“We envision a time when residents will gather along the river to picnic, engage in sports, and listen to music,” the group’s website reads. “In short, we want a river that is an integral part of our city, a destination point for friends and visitors, and a catalyst for economic revitalization.”

In light of the recent closure of North Adams Regional Hospital, the need for investment in the local economy is particularly acute, Grinnell said.

“As our mission reflects, the goal of the Hoosic River Revival is to reconnect the river to the city of North Adams, to make it an attribute for recreation, economic development and community building while simultaneously maintaining adequate flood control,” she said. “For many people in North Adams, protecting them from flood disasters is the most important aspect of our work.”

The efforts began in 2008 with the support of city officials and has since come to include talks with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the flood-control chutes in the 1950s. Community input has been gathered through public sessions and compiled in a report last year.

Among the feedback was a desire for great connectivity between sections of the river; bike and pedestrian paths; winter ice skating; plazas for entertainment and activities; and maintaining the primary purpose of the flood control chutes, particularly after impact of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

The possible phases and development along the river’s North and South branches include parks, walkways and plazas, with some ideas more expansive than others. While no costs have yet been assigned to the options, the public determined that cost estimates and viability should be priorities, such as the cost for the city to maintain any parks.

One goal was to develop a relatively inexpensive aspect of the project as a pilot that would provide high visibility and engender confidence that design changes would not impede the flood control system.

The coalition has a 16-member board of directors that includes academics, professionals and public officials from throughout North County and a 15-member advisory council that includes North Adams Administrative Officer Michael Canales, City Councilor Nancy Bullett and an aide to Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, who got the project into the House version of the Environmental Bond Bill.

The project has the support of Mayor Richard Alcombright.

The coalition also has enlisted the technical support of a Springfield, Mass., engineering firm with experience in similar revival projects.

“[Milone and MacBroom] has been the firm working with us on developing a pilot project conceptual design, but we have also been consulting the Partnership for North Adams, the Greylock Market folks and the mayor’s office to ensure that what we do complements and supports their efforts to enhance downtown North Adams,” Grinnell said.

Once the coalition has a final design for its pilot project, it plans to bring it to the North Adams City Council for approval, Grinnell said.

Although the project is still in the design phase, the coalition believes the time is right to secure state funding so it is ready to move forward when the time comes.

“We are far enough along in the process to be confident that the funds requested accurately reflect what we will need for the project,” Grinnell said. “Because the Legislature develops the Bond Bill only every five years, the HRR board decided it made sense to submit our request at this time.”