New Hampshire Commission Threatened with Zero Funding - CRJC's April 15 letter of testimony to the Joint House and Senate Finance Committees

Aperil 15, 2010

Dear Senators and Representatives,

We, the Connecticut River Joint Commissions of New Hampshire and Vermont, respectfully request that you overturn the item in the Governor's proposed budget that would eliminate funding for New Hampshire's Connecticut River Valley Resource Commission.

Current funds for the Commission are $57,900. RSA 227-E which established the Commission in 1987 authorized funding for the equivalent of one full-time staff person. The Commission is administratively attached to the Office of Energy and Planning, but is not subordinate to that Office. We believe the Office erred in assuming that it could help meet its budget reduction targets by eliminating all our funding. The decision was made without the benefit of information about what the State of New Hampshire will lose by zero funding the Connecticut River Commission.

The NH Commission and its twin counterpart from VT carry out their programs in partnership through the Connecticut River Joint Commissions.

Looking ahead to FY '11, the Commissions already have $455,000 in contracts from federal agencies, and in each case a match of 10% or 20% is required before the federal funds can be made available. The annual state appropriation provides that essential match.

Without our Commission's basic support from New Hampshire, we will not be able to make a $40,000 commitment pledged to the Town of Colebrook as part of the match for their EDA application to repair the severely eroded riverbank adjacent to the Colebrook Business Park. The North Country will lose jobs if the erosion is not halted. The riverbank is currently eroding in chunks.

Without our Commission's basic support from New Hampshire, we will be unable to provide $10,000 to match federal funds for an interactive website for the Connecticut River Byway, a set of handbooks for communities along the Byway, and other projects that draw tourists to the valley's heritage.

Without our Commission's basic support, the Commission will not have staff and will collapse and lose the chance to build on its years of accomplishments.

The Commission had its beginnings twenty-five years ago when Councilor Raymond Burton led the effort to hold hearings along New Hampshire's "West Coast." Subsequently the Legislature addressed the question, how could New Hampshire provide a focal point for protection and enjoyment of the great scenic, agricultural, historic, and recreational resources of the Connecticut River Valley, treasured by people who live there, and barely known east of the White Mountains?

The answer came when the Legislature created the Connecticut River Commission. John Tucker, Speaker of the House at the time, went across the River to Montpelier and testified for that legislative body to establish a Connecticut River Commission too. They did so, and responding to the wishes of people in the valley, the two commissions have worked as a team ever since.

In the intervening years, the commissions have leveraged millions of dollars in federal and state grants and foundation awards. A brief summary of Commission accomplishments includes:

  • fostered citizen planning, with over 100 citizens engaged in developing management plans for the river, most recently on water resource managements and river recreation;
  • earned national recognition for roadways paralleling the Connecticut River, now honored as the Connecticut River National Scenic Byway;
  • brought science to the river, with studies of flow patterns, flood hazards and the causes of erosion;
  • addressed erosion problems at several sites with application of bioengineering solutions;
  • persuaded federal agencies to invest in water quality and protection of aquatic resources;
  • published a wide array of educational newsletters, brochures, fact sheets, and two books. The most recent, Where the Great River Rises, an Atlas of the Connecticut River Watershed in Vermont and New Hampshire came out a year ago and has over 40 distinguished authors. The Commissions were joined by Dartmouth College in creating this authoritative reference.

The Commission expects to take its share of budget reduction. A 10% reduction would drop us from $57,900 to $52,110. Zero funding, however, would not only extinguish a highly productive Commission, but also jeopardize a riverbank restoration that will protect jobs in the North Country. Zero funding would abandon the Connecticut River National Scenic Byway, counted on by communities such as Claremont, Haverhill, Lancaster, and Colebrook.

Please reject the elimination of funding for the Connecticut River Valley Resource Commission.

Sincerely,

Sharon F. Francis, Executive Director