The dominoes include the nonprofit Revival organization and its board, the office of Mayor Thomas Bernard, the North Adams City Council, Mass MoCA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Sons of Italy, the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, the federal government and the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. While all components share the same goal, there are so many of them that some very adroit coordination will needed to craft a coherent plan that will take maximum advantage of funding opportunities, wherein one threshold crossed enables the project to progress to the next.
The plan for the south branch of the Hoosic involves “naturalization,” which is a shorthand way of saying reversing an outdated philosophy embraced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which first channelized the river over five decades ago with the goal of controlling flooding. The Corps has never counted esthetics among its engineering priorities, and the channelization, while effective, turned the Hoosic into an unsightly civic feature best ignored. Since that time, cities around the country — notably Providence, R.I., Oklahoma City and San Antonio — have converted their largely ignored urban river fronts into civic attractions incorporating parks, walks, restaurants, taverns, businesses, bikeways and more.
Such a renaissance does not come cheap, but the state grant, added to $50,000 in private donations raised by the Revival organization, amounts to a pump-primer that will help launch the first phase of the river’s redevelopment. Once the project gains momentum, more and more of the Corps’ work will be undone, the river restored to more of its original meandering path, and its banks and surrounding areas converted into recreational and ecological benefits to the city. If the Revival board can negotiate land-sharing agreements with the Model Railroad Museum and other abutting properties, for example, it can then apply to the state for a $200,000 grant for design work. This, in turn, would lead to approval from the Corps of Engineers and open up possibilities for access to $8.775 million set aside for the project in an environmental bond bill.
Certainly, the will exists for this worthy project to move forward. What it needs now, besides a lot more money, is everyone pulling oars in the same direction.