Group aims to have one picked this winter

By Edward Damon, edamon@berkshireeagle.com @BE_EDamon on Twitter

POSTED: 01/02/2015 09:43:27 PM EST

NORTH ADAMS >> An organization aiming to improve the Hoosic River intends to choose a design team for its first project this winter.

In a recent interview, Hoosic River Revival (HRR) founder and President Judy Grinnell expressed excitement at the move from conceptual drawings to firm designs.

“I consider it a threshold year for us,” she said, reflecting on the year ahead.

But she stressed that further fundraising and government grants will be needed to fulfill the group’s vision ‘ naturalization of the river while maintaining adequate flood control, and providing economic development.

In November, the nonprofit announced it had chosen a one mile section of the river for a pilot project ‘ from the former Sons of Italy building to Hunter Foundry Road off Curran Highway (Route 8) to the south, a section that runs along Noel Field.

Also announced was a $500,000 allocation from the state Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) that would fund design services.

Requests for designers were issued on Dec. 4 with a Dec. 26 deadline.

Grinnel said that some firms conducted site visits earlier this month. “Between January and Dec. 26, a team from DER, with advice from several of us at HRR, will choose a design team,” she said. “We’re not sure yet if it will be one firm or a couple of firms who will work together.”

The organization hopes to have a presentation from the design team in June 2015, she said.

Since 2008, the group has led efforts to restore the river to a more natural state while maintaining flood control, with organizers envisioning adjacent biking and walking trails. Community members and organizers have also stressed a need to replace the current concrete flood control chutes, which were constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s.

The project took a step forward in August when Gov. Deval Patrick authorized $8.8 million for the project’s first phase ‘ but a firm plan must be in place before the local organization can access the money.

Grinnell said she and local legislators will be lobbying incoming Gov. Charlie Baker to have those funds ultimately be released.

“Some of that [money], if not all, should come to the pilot project so we can proceed with permitting, construction and any other work that needs to be done,” she said.

And while the pilot project moves along, the organization will be looking toward improving other sections of the river.

“We will be fundraising and looking at grants,” Grinnell said. “Even if that $8.8 million comes through, that’s only the beginning of the project.”

She said HRR’s efforts are moving parallel with separate initiatives aimed at economic development, such as the redevelopment of the Western Gateway Heritage State Park into Greylock Market, the creation of a bike path, and the development of the Berkshire Scenic Railway.

“It’s so good we’re all moving together,” she said. “We’re staying in touch, we’re serving on each others boards.”

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979