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Conway Selectmen’s Chair: board has until May to decide to accept river grant, decide fate of Rose property

CONWAY — Chairman John O’Rourke says the selectmen have until May to accept or decline a $212,500 South River erosion control grant.

“We haven’t refused the grant,” O’Rourke said in a phone interview Thursday.

The grant addresses flooding and erosion along the South River in the center of town. The Franklin Regional Council of Governments helped obtain the grant from the state Department of Enviromental Protection. on behalf of the Friends of the South River, a private organization focusing on the restoration, protection and ecological integrity of the South River.

The grant would help fund the construction of underwater structures designed to relieve the power of the river’s flow and allow it to spill onto a floodplain on the former Rose property off Shelburne Falls Road during big storms. The underwater structures would also help alleviate erosion on four nearby properties.

The grant only funds 60 percent of the $354,166 project. The grant requires a $141,666 town match approved by town meeting in May.

Before the selectmen decide whether they will accept the grant and bring it to town meeting, O’Rourke said, “There are other complications to be considered.”

These complications include determining the final use of the Rose property, O’Rourke said.

“There has to be coordination between the final use and the way the grant is used to prevent erosion along the banks and make sure the river is channelled properly,” O’Rourke said.

This month, consideration of the 11-acre Rose property became a bone of contention after the Board of Selectmen revealed its proposal to build a municipal multi-use complex, combining town offices, the fire and police departments and a highway garage. The selectmen’s proposal, which they were developing quietly, caught other town boards and committees off guard because the Planning Board, Housing Committee and Parks and Recreation Committee have been investigating the property for other, possibly conflicting, uses for several years.

O’Rourke clarified remarks made at the Dec. 10 meeting, in which Friends of the South River’s Robert Anderson questioned whether the board considered the grant in its plans to build a municipal complex on the Rose property.

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

The South River project is designed to lower a section of floodplain on the Rose property to make room for flood water. 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. This is the part that complicates other proposals for the site.

On Thursday afternoon, O’Rourke explained, “the plan is to lower the property so flood waters could come onto the property. That could preclude doing a lot of things with the property.”

O’Rourke said the town needs more input from the consultants who developed the erosion mitigation plan, Field Geology Services, to determine how the property could be used if the South River project is implemented.

“There are half a dozen things people want to do with the property,” O’Rourke said. “There are many inconsistent goals.”

The Planning Board will hold an all-committees meeting Jan. 10 at the Town Hall to discuss options for the Rose property. However, the selectmen have scheduled their own meeting for Jan. 14.

“We scheduled a meeting with (the Planning Board) on Jan. 14,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t know what (the Planning Board) has planned.”

O’Rourke said he will attend the Jan. 10 meeting of the Planning Board. And the selectmen’s later meeting is “absolutely” happening, he said.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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