Bolton Joins “Wild and Scenic” Rivers Study… June 29 BOS meeting

| July 15, 2017

by Nan Shnitzler

After hearing from representatives of the Wild and Scenic River study committee of the Nashua River Watershed Association (NWRA), selectmen, at their June 29 meeting, voted to join eight other towns looking into federal protection of the Nashua River and two tributaries: the Squannacook and Nissitissit Rivers.

Al Futterman, NRWA Outreach Director, and Town of Harvard Selectmen Chairman Lucy Wallace, also chairman of the study committee, explained that U.S. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas sponsored legislation in 2014 that authorized the Wild and Scenic River study committee to begin to determine whether the three rivers are “eligible and suitable” for inclusion in the federal Wild and Scenic Partnership River program, part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Wild and Scenic Rivers was created by an Act of Congress in 1968 “to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations,” according to the WSR Act website. The partnership program involves local and state collaboration with federal input.

Once designated “wild and scenic,” federal support is prohibited for dams and other incursions that would interfere with water quality, the free-flowing river state, or the river as an essential resource. In addition, federal funds come to wild and scenic rivers, Wallace said.

“If you have ‘wild and scenic’ status, it helps with grants,” Futterman said. “What it does not do: no federal acquisition of lands and no federal involvement in land use.”

The study committee is about halfway through its expected three-year process. Committee members have been reviewing records, reports and historical documents pertinent to the rivers’ cultural history, important biological and ecological resources, and recreational opportunities. Findings will be compiled into a management plan, to be finalized with town boards and stakeholders’ input. The plan will contain recommendations to guide future ecological, cultural and recreational protection of the rivers, even if federal designation is not forthcoming.

The finalized plan will go before Town Meeting voters, likely in spring 2018, in the cohort of towns: Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Harvard, Lancaster, Pepperell, Shirley, Townsend and now Bolton. Voters will determine whether the plan is sufficient in eligibility—with at least one “outstandingly remarkable” resource value, and suitability—with enough local support for protection, to submit legislation to Congress to have the rivers federally designated “wild and scenic.”

Each town has one representative (and one alternate), typically the town’s conservation agent, a conservation commissioner, a member of an open space and recreation committee, or an interested and knowledgeable resident, Wallace said.

“It’s a broad range of people who are interested in being part of the cultural, historic, scenic, biological values of this river resource,” Wallace said.

Selectmen thought that Bolton’s Conservation Administrator, Rebecca Longvall, would be appropriate. ConsComm Chairman Brian Berube said some conservation commissioners had the right knowledge base. The town could also advertise the position, officials agreed. Once selectmen made the appointment, at a future meeting, that person would attend the study committee’s third Thursday monthly meetings.

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