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HRC still seeking federal status to protect the Housatonic River

“The past two years — heightened by the pandemic — have seen a huge increase in river usage and abuse.” Bill Tingley, Housatonic River Commission Chair

SHARON — Housatonic River Commission Chairman Bill Tingley gave an update on efforts to gain federal Wild and Scenic River status for the Housatonic River, at a meeting on Tuesday, May 25, of the Board of Selectmen in Sharon.

The application effort was started a few years ago, Tingley said.

He explained that there are two ways to pursue the status. One is to go through the state governor’s office and the other is to go through federal congressional offices. He said that first his commission tried pursuing the first option. But although the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) supported the application, no movement toward the designation resulted.

The past two years — heightened by the pandemic — have seen a huge increase in river usage and abuse, Tingley said.

In an effort to move the application ahead, Tingley is asking the support of selectmen in area towns for pursuing the application process through the congressional route. He said that if the application is successful, the river would still be under local control and administration in a sort of partnership structure.

Studies done in support of the application through the governor’s office can be used in support of the Congressional application, so time will not be lost, Tingley reported.

Once Wild and Scenic status is granted, then the commission could receive an estimated $150,000 annually — enough to hire a park ranger or two and provide for some needed signage, Tingley said. 

He added that no firm decision has been made about how the funding would be spent. The main goal would be to keep river activity limited to allowable and safe locations. 

The Housatonic attracts out-of-town visitors who swim in areas that are not designated for public use. There have been several drownings in the river over the years; the first Housatonic River fatality this year was at the Great Falls in Salisbury on May 15.

The selectmen agreed to provide a letter of support on behalf of the town for the Congressional application.

“Local management of the funding is a key advantage,” Tingley noted, adding that the funding would come through the U.S. National Park Service if Wild and Scenic status is granted.

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