Board not supporting Conway river grant

Selectmen want land for new municipal complex; some townspeople protest

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>South River as seen from Rt 116 bridge in the center of Conway

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    South River as seen from Rt 116 bridge in the center of Conway

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>South River as seen from Rt 116 bridge in the center of Conway

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    South River as seen from Rt 116 bridge in the center of Conway

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>South River as seen from Rt 116 bridge in the center of Conway
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>South River as seen from Rt 116 bridge in the center of Conway

CONWAY — The town has received a $212,500 grant to address flooding and erosion along the South River after Tropical Storm Irene inundated the town center last year, but the selectmen aren’t supporting a local match because the project might interfere with their idea to move virtually all town facilities to the riverfront former Rose property.

The flood mitigation grant was on behalf of the Friends of the South River — a private organization that promotes the restoration, protection and ecological integrity of the South River.

The grant would be used to build underwater structures in the South River to relieve the power of the river’s flow and allow the river to spill onto the floodplain on the former Rose property after a powerful storm.

It would address the area located from the South River Bridge to the Rose property and four private properties threatened by erosion.

The project was one of seven projects statewide focusing on watersheds to receive more than $1.4 million from the state Department of Environmental Protection in November.

However, the grant funds only a portion of the project. The total cost is $354,166 and requires a $141,666 town match approved by town meeting.

But whether the town will accept the competitive grant and have a chance to vote to match the funds has come into question after selectmen’s Chairman John O’Rourke said the project may not fit into the selectmen’s proposal for a multi-use municipal complex on the former Rose property off Shelburne Falls Road.

“These are competitive grants and they’re not easy to get,” said Robert Anderson, a member of the Friends of the South River. “I was appalled we got the grant and now (the selectmen) don’t want it. We’re going to put pressure on them to bring this to town meeting. There at least needs to be a democratic vote on the project.”

Earlier this month, town boards and committees packed into the selectmen’s office demanding information on the board’s proposal to build a multi-use municipal complex on the former Rose property, an 11-acre field abutting the South River. And at an earlier Planning Board meeting, Selectman Rick Bean disclosed a proposed contract with R. Levesque Associates of Westfield to study the feasability of the selectmen’s plan. The news rattled the Planning Board and other community members, who felt they were excluded from the selectmen’s planning, and who had ideas of their own on how to use the Rose property.

“I saw a lot of people in the room that night who were very sad,” Anderson said. “The government in Conway has been vital and exciting. Something was really wrong. I know the selectmen are doing their best, but somehow they’re on the wrong track. They need to get the train back on track.”

That night Anderson questioned whether the selectmen considered the grant in their planning.

O’Rourke responded, “If they carve this out of the property, the property is useless. This is something we were considering.”

Anderson, on the other hand, believes restoration of the river and town use of the land are not incompatible.

“I think we can have a river restoration program and develop the complex,” Anderson said. “We have all of these solutions. We should do what we can in relation to what the community needs.”

The main goal of the project is bank stabilization. The project would address several issues along the South River, including a lack of pools for the flooding water to go, sediment buildup and a straight river flow in the Conway portion of the river. A straight flowing river gains strength and speed, resulting in erosion and threatened natural habitats.

According to the grant application, engineers would use underwater structures — boulder deflectors and V-shaped boulder weirs where the four residential properties are at risk of erosion. The deflectors and weirs would improve the river’s flow and lead to pool formation. Anchored logs would be placed at the base of the banks between the boulder structures to promote sediment deposition along the eroding banks.

The project would also lower a section of floodplain on the Rose property for flooding water to go. It would lead to a reduction of flood flow speed and improve the river’s habitat function. The river is home to a native species of brook trout.

This is the portion that may conflict with the selectmen’s proposal. The state Wetlands Protection Act placed a 200-foot buffer zone along the river. If the town uses a portion of the property for flooding water, the buffer would extend farther into the property.

At last week’s Planning Board meeting, members suggested the Friends of the South River’s plan may not counter the selectmen’s if the existing floodplain is used.

“You may not be extending the floodplain,” said Planning Board member Joe Strzegowski.

Looking at maps of the Rose property and the flood mitigation plan, planner David Barten said, “It doesn’t look like its really impacting. It’d be a win-win if we’re not creating a new floodplain.”

The grant is an outgrowth of biological and geographical studies on the river conducted by Field Geology Services last year. In 2011, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments received a $74,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a Fluvial Geomorphic and Habitat Assessment of the South River Watershed. With the money, the FRCOG hired Field Geology Services to complete the assessment of the South River, which provided information on the causes of erosion, channel instability and habitat degradation.

Out of those studies came a recommendation to address flooding and sediment management along Route 116 to the Rose property on Shelburne Falls Road.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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