November 10, 2014

Community efforts to revitalize a river in North Adams, Massachusetts are being rewarded by the state.

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Judy Grinnell was overwhelmed with joy standing on the banks of the Hoosic River in North Adams.

‘I promised myself I wouldn’t cry,’ Grinnell said. ‘So I’m going to try very hard.’

In 2008, Grinnell and about 30 others started was has become the Hoosic River Revival Coalition, hoping to help to the city reclaim its lost waterway. This summer, Governor Deval Patrick signed an environmental bond bill that included nearly $9 million for the project. Now, $500,000 of that has been released for Phase 1.

‘Thanks to our state government leaders we have adequate funds to begin the restoration of the south branch, from Foundry Road to the Sons of Italy,’ Grinnell explained. ‘The south branch incorporates all of the primary goals highlighted by the community; from a healthy river with economic development opportunities to 21st century flood protection and coordination with the other public-private endeavors going on in the city.’

This round of money will be used to craft a design for one mile of the river that flows north into downtown North Adams, building upon conceptual drawings. Bike paths, kayak launches and recreation areas are some of the ideas being floated. In some areas, access to the river is hampered by rocky banks and 60-year-old concrete flood control walls.

‘The project is both timely and critical as we continue to see the age of our flood control work against us as several portions of the walls have collapsed or are in danger of doing so,’ said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.

The coalition expects to pick a designer in December. A study from Williams College Center for Creative Community Development estimates a revitalized river will have a nearly $14 million economic impact on Berkshire County, $12.5 million of that to be felt in North Adams and surrounding towns. Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Mary Griffin attended the announcement on behalf of the Patrick administration. Her agency helped remove Briggsville Dam on the Hoosic’s north branch in 2012, the largest dam removal in state history.

‘Our Division of Ecological Restoration is very excited to be part of an urban river restoration project here in North Adams,’ Griffin said. ‘It engages a diverse group of people, it brings them and draws them to the river and it provides a great economic benefit to a city like North Adams. So we are very excited about this work.’

In January, Republican Charlie Baker will take over for Democratic Governor Patrick, who did not seek a third term. Democratic State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield says the new administration will need to authorize the release of the remaining bond money.

‘I think after we get the designs back from this stage we’ll have more of a work product to go to whoever is the next secretary of energy and environmental affairs and make the case to them,’ Downing said. ‘But I think it’s pretty clear that this is the type of project that any administration is going to support. It’s an economic development project. It’s a local infrastructure project. You heard the mayor talk about the fact that this isn’t a matter of just picking this project up at will, but rather the old infrastructure is falling into the river in some places now. And it’s about how we improve it moving forward while continuing to protect the community.’

The Hoosic River Revival is expected to create more than 100 temporary jobs.