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Highlights of Housatonic River Restoration
The Housatonic River flows through rural western Massachusetts, heading south through Connecticut, ultimately discharging into the Atlantic Ocean. In 1903, General Electric (GE) began its operations in Pittsfield, Mass., at a 254-acre plant site along the banks of the river. The plant historically handled polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mostly for the construction and repair of electrical transformers. From 1932 through 1977, PCBs were released into the wastewater and storm water systems of the plant and were discharged to the river.
An October 2000 Consent Decree required GE to provide $15 million to the Natural Resource Trustees for natural resource damages; these were associated with the environmental harm caused by releases of PCBs into the Housatonic River watershed in western Massachusetts and Connecticut. The funds were roughly divided so that $7.5 million would be available for restoration projects in each state's portion of the Housatonic River watershed.
During fiscal year 2011, restoration from the GE/Housatonic River Site for the Connecticut portion of the watershed continued, with numerous projects implemented. Several parcels of land were protected, including 25 acres along the Housatonic River in New Milford, 12 acres along the Halfway River in Newtown and more than 160 acres adjacent to the Housatonic River in Salisbury, Conn. In addition, access for recreational fishing was secured through protection of 3.5 acres along the Naugatuck River in Harwinton, Conn., and invasive species control was initiated on 7 acres of wetland in New Milford.
Restoration funds help establish new Massachusetts wildlife management area
In October, West Stockbridge boosted opportunities for wildlife and people through the opening of the Flat Brook Wildlife Management Area, which will not only protect habitat but provide for many recreational activities, from fishing to hunting and canoeing.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife acquired the 273-acre parcel of land in June for $1.1 million. At the same time, the state added 17 nearby acres to the now 220-acre Maple Hill WMA. The land was purchased using a variety of sources, including open space bond funds, Land Stamp revenue from fishing and hunting license fees, money raised by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, and restoration funds from the $15 million settlement regarding natural resource damages to the Housatonic River.
Youth Corps cultivates native plants for restoration in Massachusetts
The Holyoke Youth Conservation Corps worked this summer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Massachusetts Trustees of Reservations to begin restoring 8 acres of forested floodplain in Sheffield, Mass.
The Corps crew collected hundreds of silver maple and other native plant seedlings along the river in Bartholomew's Cobble, 329 acres protected by the Trustees of Reservations. The crew brought them back to the Land of Providence greenhouse in Holyoke, where the plants will be cared for until they are able to be replanted in the restoration area.
The project is supported by Housatonic River natural resource damage funding. Ultimately, 1,100 trees will be planted. Partners will conduct long-term maintenance to insure survival and viability and invasive species control on an additional 75 acres.
Protecting land along the Housatonic in Connecticut
A 25-acre floodplain on the Housatonic River in New Milford, Conn., was permanently protected by the Northwest Conservation District at the end of November 2010. A trail will be constructed to provide access to the public, and habitat restoration activities will help control invasive species. The wildlife preserve could open within a year.
Known as Indian fields, the area nestled between the river and Route 7 was historically farmed by Native Americans. The Northwest Conservation District purchased the land in November. The NCD will work with partners to remove invasive species, plant native flora and create a trail and viewing platform for the public.
The park will be used for passive recreation, such as bird watching, said Curtis Read, the chairman of the NCD board, to the Litchfield County Times.
The General Electric Company (GE) in Pittsfield, Mass., released polychlorinated biphenyls into the Housatonic River for more than 40 years, contaminating the water, sediment, riverbanks and floodplain. A settlement with GE in 2000 procured $15 million in natural resource damages in the Massachusetts and Connecticut watershed.
Veronica Varela, a former biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's New England Field Office, and trustees from Connecticut and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration allocated nearly $8 million in 2009 for natural resource restoration in the Housatonic River watershed in Connecticut. The protection of the New Milford property is part of this restoration.
The nearby Town of Harwinton, Conn., recently purchased 3.5 acres along the Naugatuck River to provide residents with a public fishing area. The town used funds from the Housatonic River settlement to purchase recreational access easements along the popular trout stream.
UPDATE: Massachusetts Natural Resource Trustees continue to work with the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) and other partners to restore the watershed. Read the HVA story to learn about four new river access sites in the Berkshires.
UPDATE Nov. 1, 2011: This spring and summer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff began removing invasive species, including common reed, autumn olive and barberry, on the New Milford property. Biologists from Audubon-Sharon surveyed the property and found 43 species of birds, including several that are of special interest to the State of Connecticut. Habitat management and monitoring will continue for several years, and a rustic trail will be developed to provide access for hiking and bird watching.
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May 21, 2012