NORTH ADAMS — The Hoosic River Revival's plan to invest more than $20 million in restructuring the river was met with praise — and questions — by the City Council.
In a presentation Tuesday night, the nonprofit detailed the designs for the first phase of its planned revitalization of the southern branch of the Hoosic by 2020.
"What you've done over time is quite amazing," said City Councilor Ron Boucher. "You took a vision and made a reality."
The goal of the group's half-mile restructuring is to expand public access to a beautified southern branch of the Hoosic River that meanders through and near athletic fields, city infrastructure, and a future bike path. The design of this phase, which runs from runs from Hunter Foundry Road to Western Gateway Heritage State Park, is now at 60 percent completion.
Instead of relying as heavily on the concrete chutes built by the federal government more than a half-century ago for flood control, the Hoosic River Revival hopes to use stabilized walls and landscaped banks to control the river while maintaining access to it. Revitalizing the southern branch is the first phase of what will become a yearslong rethinking and restructuring of the Hoosic.
While many councilors met the proposal warmly, they also had a slew of questions, many of which revolved around the flood control and stability of the group's plans.
"The two things you councilors are going to hear the most are: 'What are we going to do for flood control, and what are we going to do for flood control?' said David Willette, a board member of Hoosic River Revival. "The Army Corps of Engineers has to approve this."
Councilor Eric Buddington asked about the track record of similar revitalizations and their stability under duress. Nick Nelson, of river restoration firm Inter-Fluve, responded that river revitalization is a relatively new phenomenon and "in terms of a hundred year perspective, we don't have that."
Similar projects in San Antonio and other places have, thus far, held up well, Nelson said.
"I'm fascinated by your strategy of using natural materials in a permanent fashion," Buddington said.
Councilor Robert Moulton, Jr., asked whether the city or the Army Corps of Engineers would be responsible for flood control once the project is complete. But while the corps designed and built the flood control chute system in the 1950s, the city is now and has been responsible for the system's maintenance.
"I was here many years ago when you first came and brought this forward," Moulton said. "You guys have done a terrific job."
Councilor Lisa Blackmer noted that, given the flood control system's current state of decay, the river will require investment one way or another and it might as well be a project that "moves the city forward."
"If we do nothing, if this project doesn't go through, somebody is going to have to spend money to fix it and bring it up to date and make it safe regardless," she said.
Councilor Nancy Bullett noted the orientation of the athletic fields at Noel Field, which would be divided by the newly aligned river under the organization's plans.
"There's a disconnect with having softball fields placed on the other side of the river," she said.