River could attract federal dollars

by Jen Taylor | 11/25/97 6:00am

The Connecticut River Watershed Council and several other environmental organizations are hoping that President Clinton will designate the Connecticut River as one of 10 "American Heritage Rivers" and qualify the river for government-funded improvement projects.

Six months ago, Clinton launched the American Heritage Rivers program which provides federal funding to community-led waterfront projects that promote conservation, economic development and cultural preservation.

Federal funding could enable towns neighboring the Connecticut to replace sewer overflows that send untreated sewage into the river during storms, restore riverbanks, create buffers and create a scenic byway to attract tourists.

"The federal government has been seen as a big brother in these types of programs," said Connecticut River Watershed Council associate director Whitty Sanford. "We are trying a new approach."

The idea behind the program is not so much to single out rivers that need protection, but to give active working rivers a more positive outlook, Sanford said.

Sanford defines active rivers as those that "aren't pristine rivers; they are dammed, have active farmlands. Humans are using and affecting the water."

The campaign for the nomination of the Connecticut River is mainly focused on letters of support. Sanford has collected over 180 letters from a variety of interests including historical and cultural groups, urban corporations, elected officials and area chambers of commerce. 35 newsletters are also being circulated to promote the measure.

The applications, which are comprised of a four-part, 15-page propsal, are due at the White House Council on Environmental Quality on December 10. The President may decide to make the announcement of the American Heritage Rivers in his State of the Union Address to Congress in January.

The nomination of the Connecticut River has wide support in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The governors of all four states are backing the cause and nearly all the Congressional representatives of the states are in favor of seeing the river as a candidate for federal funds.

Sanford said a new move is currently afoot in the New Hampshire state legislature to have the entire state house support the nomination.

Though the program has large network of support, it is not without opposition. Representative Helen Chenoweth of Idaho leads the opponents of the Presidential program on the grounds that it inferes with property rights, said Sanford. "Basically what we have is a misinformation campaign going on," she said.

While Chenoweth is attempting to convince other groups that this program would entail the acquistion of land, Sanford stated, "this is not a program that deals with property rights."

The program's goal is to make the federal government and its benefits more "user-friendly," Sanford said.

Once people understand that this program does not mean implementing new regulations, Sanford is confident that they will "get behind the nominations" and support the economic enhancement and community involvement of the land along the Connecticut River.