A recently signed environmental bond bill includes money to help North Adams reclaim an often overlooked river that dissects the city.
Judy Grinnell is president of the Hoosic River Revival Coalition. In 2008, the non-profit began looking at ways North Adams could better utilize two branches of the Hoosic River totaling roughly two miles that cut right through downtown.
“The city exists because of this river and the chutes exist because the river is sometimes wild and uncontrollable, but it is what brought people to North Adams,” said Grinnell.
With the support of area lawmakers, like State Senator Ben Downing, Massachusetts has authorized nearly $9 million for the first phase of the project.
“I think if you polled all the residents of North Adams, especially those who haven’t lived there their whole life, and asked if there was a river flowing through the city I think many wouldn’t even notice it,” Downing said. “I think that is a testament to the success of the flood control, but I also think it has come at great cost.”
The authorization is simply the first hurdle in securing the state money. Governor Deval Patrick’s administration — or his successor — would still have to release the funds. Both Grinnell and Downing say the bond can help leverage private financial support for plans and designs that will guarantee the granting of that money. Downing, a Democrat from Pittsfield, says any eye-appealing facelift will not override flood protection.
“I think it’s good that we’ve recently seen the value of those flood chutes with some the larger storms,” he said. “It reminds us that we’re an area that’s prone to flooding and we ought to be able to balance the two together with modern technology and a more comprehensive understanding of the ecology of the river.”
The Revival Coalition is working directly with the city of North Adams, state departments and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the project, as well as seeking public input. Grinnell says the next steps include bringing on firms to analyze the river’s walls and chutes and design a pilot demonstration. She says that would include taking an already engineered section of the river and modifying it, instead of doing the entire two miles all at once.
“We might have a wall that’s at a 45-degree angle or we may have no wall at all,” Grinnell said. “We have a berm that will function in the same way, but be greenery so that we can a bike path flowing right along the river and let people have a nice river to look at.”
Grinnell hopes the analysis can be completed by the end of this year. She adds the Army Corps of Engineers has said the 60-year-old flood chutes have outlived their functional lives, though a structural review is yet to be done. Grinnell says that speeds up the timeline, with flood protection being the main priority. Overall, the coalition has spent $125,000 using private donations, grants and state money to analyze the flow of the river and review best practices in other cities. Grinnell believes reclaiming a river for boating, fishing and recreation while increasing public access is an economic driver.
“All socio-economic levels can appreciate it,” Grinnell said. “Businesses thrive and actually look for river cities because water is such an asset.”
“A more blended integration with the city could make the river and the area around it an attraction for tourists and for the region,” said Downing.