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“We're back, and we are excited:” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers returns to North Adams to begin flood control system modernization study

The Hoosic River makes its way through downtown North Adams, Massachusetts through the crumbling flood control system the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built in the 1950s.
Josh Landes
The Hoosic River makes its way through downtown North Adams, Massachusetts through the crumbling flood control system the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built in the 1950s.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kicked off a three-year feasibility study on modernizing the crumbling flood control system in North Adams, Massachusetts with a site visit this morning.

The Corps built the concrete chutes that channel the Hoosic River through North Adams between 1950 and 1961. Over the last 70 years, overhauling the dilapidated and actively disintegrating system has been a long-held goal of both the city and nonprofits like the Hoosic River Revival. In a city hall conference room Friday, the Corps was officially welcomed back to North Adams to determine the next chapter of the Hoosic’s history.

“It's been 61 years – can you believe that? – that we finished building the chutes downtown. But we're back, and we are excited. My team and I are ready to help the community," said Seth Greenwald, the project manager from the Army Corps of Engineers. “We have three partnerships: We’re the federal agency, Army Corps of Engineers. We have our non-federal sponsor, represented by the city of North Adams, and we have the Hoosic River Revival, the city's rep. So, we're going to be working very closely with these organizations in the next three years and we're very excited. It's an inclusive process.”

“We have four main areas of interest," said Laura Searles, the lead planner for the project. "We've got scoping, and then alternatives, evaluation analysis, feasibility analysis of the selected plan, and then a Washington-level review.”

The Corps will review the information North Adams has already collected and develop a scope for the project.

“The scope encompasses everything that we know, everything that we hope to know, and everything that we can eventually move forward with," said Searles. "We will also work that into our project management plan, which then also includes our schedule and our budget for the entire project. We also will then move to create, based upon all the information that we have, we will create an alternative, or we will create many alternatives, as potential solutions that might solve the issues that we find during our process of reviewing all that information.”

In three months, the team will present those findings to Corps leadership. The next nine months will then be dedicated to creating a draft report.

“We'll have economic analyses, environmental analyses, engineering analyses, and hydrodynamic model analyses to make sure that the plans that we have looked at, the alternatives that we're looking at, are the best, the most effective, and the most efficient alternatives that we can possibly present,” Searles continued.

After the draft report is reviewed – a roughly six-month process – the project then moves into a year of finalizing the report for a climactic six-month Washington review that is expected to conclude in August 2026.

“If our feasibility study has a positive result, then it will move into a chief’s report, which is basically a really big summary of that three-inch binder that we're going to have worth of information with our draft report," Searles explained. "So, after that, again, assuming everything goes well, and it is a positive result, then we could request, or you guys could request congressional authorization for construction of the project itself in the Water Resources Development Act, otherwise known- We call it WRDA. And then after that, we get to go to the design and cost shared construction. So that's when we actually develop the real plans that will be implemented into the construction phase.”

Western Massachusetts State Senator Paul Mark told WAMC that while he’s excited to see the long-overdue evaluation begin, it indicates that he and his fellow legislators have more work ahead of them.

“I'm a little surprised that it takes three years, but I guess the amount of work that has to go into it, that actually makes perfect sense," said Mark. "And it gives us a little bit of a longer timeline to start laying groundwork for whatever money that might need to come from the state. I saw, already, 35% is not coming from the federal government, so to me that means you already have to start getting ready for how we're going to help supplement whatever estimates they come up with and make this vision a reality.”

The $3 million study is half funded by the federal government and half funded by North Adams, though Massachusetts is contributing $1 million of the city’s portion.

The press conference was followed by members of the Corps taking a tour of the flood control system alongside state and local leaders. A public input meeting about the modernization of the Hoosic River is being held at the UNO Community Center in North Adams Wednesday night.

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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