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No: Wild & Scenic for the Housatonic River

The Housatonic River is a gem and a wonderful gift to the seven towns of northwest Connecticut. For 35 years, local control has worked to safeguard this beautiful natural treasure and keep it safe from exploitation and overuse. For some reason, the Housatonic River Commission has seen fit to initiate and promote the idea of having the northwest Connecticut portion of the river designated a Wild and Scenic River. Since they are an advisory group rather than a governing body, they should have had the permission of the towns they represent before taking these steps. There has not been an official river study done, nor is there an authorized management plan. Since the National Park Service will fund and oversee the river, together with the state administering it, and having stakeholders involved, it would mean that very little authority will be left under local control. 

The Housatonic River is located in close proximity to the largest metropolitan area in the country. The announced goals: national recognition and increased awareness of the river, if they are met, will call attention to the river to a much larger audience than at present, and the enormous number of people that would likely come to the river as a result would be far in excess of what the existing facilities can accommodate. There would be a need for access points, parks, campgrounds, comfort stations and parking. It would create traffic, safety, and cleanup issues. There would be a greater need for police, fire and ambulance services. It would create a burden and an expense for local towns.

The Farmington River is cited as a successful Wild and Scenic River. Located on Route 44 in West Hartford is Satan’s Kingdom, a State Recreational Area, which sponsors a very active and profitable tubing operation run by North American Canoe Tours. In order to accommodate the large number of tubers, they have eight buses for pickup service and maintain 14 portable toilets on site. I wonder if the river commission has a plan to identify and prevent overuse of the river by recreationists.

A Wall Street Journal article on Aug. 24 to 25, 2013, stated that two environmentalist groups brought suit against the National Park Service claiming that the Merced River, which runs through Yosemite National Park, was insufficiently preserving the river’s “wild and scenic “character. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs. A settlement required the National Park Service to draft a new plan. The San Francisco Chronicle stated “the plan will relieve chronic overcrowding at the park and protect the river from any further degradation.”

There is no need for protection of the river by the National Park Service. Our United States senators and our congressional representative are very interested in protecting the river and have greater ability than the National Park Service to handle any detrimental projects that may be proposed. They acted recently to assist the town of Canton in reactivating two dams on the Farmington River to supply electricity benefiting the town, and had a law passed on the town’s behalf.

It is interesting to note that there are three sections of the Housatonic River: Massachusetts, North Connecticut, and South Connecticut, and our section, North Connecticut, is the only section asking for a Wild and Scenic River designation.

Whatever happens on the river affects the lives and property of the residents who live along the river and now enjoy quiet peaceful lifestyles. That is why 100 residents of Amesville, the river community of Salisbury, signed a petition against a Wild and Scenic River. Of course, the entire township of Salisbury would be affected if the river we enjoy and care for is changed from a local river to a national river. Among the risks is that of crowds invading our community.

In conclusion, it just does not make sense to change the Housatonic River from a lovely, unique, tranquil, environmentally sensitive river, and “have it recognized among the nation’s most significant rivers.” This would cause it to become a prime destination and attraction, and create a danger of possible over-use, and abuse. The need for local control outweighs the need for this designation, fraught with unknown ramifications. Do we need or want several layers of non-local authorities to help decide what takes place and how? The river should remain under local control.

 

Eugene F. Green lives in Salisbury. He is a retired captain, NYPD, and then a longtime Lakeville real estate broker.