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Hoosic River Revival’s New Leaders Look To Federal Government To Fund Waterway Restoration

Hoosic River Revival
A segment of a map showing the Hoosic River's pathway through North Adams, Massachusetts.

A North Adams, Massachusetts advocacy nonprofit looking to transform the city’s waterways has new leadership — and a plan to aggressively seek federal funding.

The Hoosic River Revival has elected new co-presidents after former executive director and North Adams city councilor Jason LaForest resigned due to the demands of his work as a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, HRR founder Judy Grinnell and board member Richard Tavelli will steer the group forward.

“It is our mission to renovate the current 70-year-old concrete sluice flood control system that North Adams has running right through downtown," said Grinnell. “Our goal, in addition to that, is to create support in the community and from federal and state officials to support it, because now that we know that the system is aging, falling down in some places, we need to have a new one built.”

“The city in its recent municipal evaluation identified flood control as the most significant risk that the city faces," said Tavelli. “But also, in terms of the kind of designs that we’ve been looking at and the type of cooperation – we’ve been working with the state agencies for ecological restoration – looking at a design that is much better for the habitat. It’s a little known fact, but the Hoosic River is one of the best sources for Brown Trout populations in the area.”

The HRR says the restoration would also allow for greater community access to the waterway.

“For walking and sightseeing, and it would also enhance the natural contours of the river as people view it from the downtown and from the roadway, and that promotes the kind of positive image for the community,” said Tavelli.

But Grinnell says it’s not going to be cheap.

“We anticipate with the studies that we’ve done that the funds are going to be at least $150 million to do the 2.5 miles," she told WAMC. "To restore all of them in a 21st century manner.”

Toward that end, the HRR is turning to the very entity that installed the flood system back in the 1950’s: the federal government.

“Our goal is to convince not just our representatives, but they in turn to convince Congress that this is a worthwhile endeavor,” said Grinnell.

“If you walk along the river far enough, you’ll come to an entity known as MASS MoCA. And that in itself is a multi – well, hundreds of millions of dollars of enterprise and it’s a combination of a private, public and nonprofit money," said Tavelli. "And I think the fact that the federal government way back when decided they need to provide that flood control and the Corps of Engineers built the flood chute system designates it as a significant and worthwhile project.”

He says that the estimated cost of the project about equals the price of originally installing the system.

“These big concrete walls are about 15 feet high and 15 feet wide, and a number of the panels have fallen – in fact, one fell near MASS MoCA, so it identifies the current situation,” the co-president said.

In the chaos of 2020, Tavelli says the HRR is working to get its pitch for the project in shape as the government prepares further measures to stimulate the pandemic-ravaged economy.

“Over the next six months or so we hope to have our plan of action really in good shape – that is, to be able to advocate for ourselves and for those that we speak with on the federal and state level and the legislative and executive branches why this project is necessary, why it’s timely to do it now and what the economic and other benefits of it would be,” said Tavelli.

“This is a very important project for not only North Adams but the Northern Berkshire area because they’re faced with a serious problem of doing something about the flood control chutes and of course improving what it will look like in the next 100 years as we try to save that river and the importance it is to our economic future," said 1st Berkshire District State Representative and former North Adams Mayor John Barrett.

He says he is putting the HRR in contact with the offices of Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

“It definitely needs federal money," said Barrett. "Federal funds were used to build the flood control chutes some 60 years ago, and now many sections of it are collapsing and it has to be dealt with rather quickly.” 

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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