The Great River, the one that Native Americans called the Quinatuquet, is New England's largest and most powerful river, flowing 410 miles from its source in tiny Fourth Connecticut Lake near the Canadian border to its meeting with the sea at Long Island Sound. Over most of its first 271 miles, the Connecticut River forms New Hampshire's sinuous west coast and its border with Vermont. While royal decree gave the river to colonial New Hampshire in the seventeenth century, well over half of its 4.5 million acre upper watershed lies within Vermont. The river remains a living thread that binds together the people of both states in one valley.
The Connecticut is a powerful river that commands respect when it releases its ice in the spring, when it floods after a storm, and when it turns turbines day after day to produce electricity for millions of people.
It is a life-giving river, blanketing its floodplain over thousands of years with the finest agricultural soils in New England. Its waters and banks provide nationally recognized fish and wildlife habitat. The river is beautiful. It draws people to live in its peaceful setting, to grow businesses and prosper, to fish and canoe, to explore the historic heritage of its nearby villages.
Excess is the enemy of a place like this. Too many people or too much exploitation can destroy the equilibrium which exists between the present and the past, between people and the sustaining environment of clean air and water, productive farms and forests.
A generation ago, people who wished to safeguard their environment turned to Congress to write laws, establish agencies, and provide funding to secure protection for water, air, wildlife and the other resources they shared and valued. The results have shown the unarguable benefits of environmental commitment. More importantly, the commitment has spread over the years from a few ardent environmentalists to trained experts, local officials, school children, homemakers, farmers, and business people.
A 1951 government report called the upper Connecticut River "damaged" and described its load of untreated domestic sewage from thousands of homes, and of untreated industrial wastes from pulp and paper mills, milk processing plants, other industries and similar loads from 24 tributaries. The poor quality of the river blighted the valley and was even considered a limitation for further industrial use. The river had earned its reputation as the "best landscaped sewer in New England."
As the twenty-first century draws near, people in the Connecticut River Valley are well aware of the asset they now enjoy. They turn to each other in carrying out their shared commitment to safeguard a good place and a good life. They do not welcome decrees from distant governmental hierarchies or corporate directors. They do need the constructive partnership of federal and state agencies and corporate citizens as they rise to the challenge ahead of long term stewardship and prosperity. They are pioneers in a new era of citizen leadership and responsibility.
Since 1989 when the Vermont Connecticut River Watershed Advisory Commission and the New Hampshire Connecticut River Valley Resource Commission first met together and held a valley-wide conference to set an "Agenda for the Year 2000," we have been listening to people in the valley. From that conference, and the subsequent meetings, studies, and discussions that the Commissions have fostered across the river among communities and between local citizens and federal and state agencies, the Connecticut River Joint Commissions realize that aspirations for the river and its watershed are high and are widely shared.
The Connecticut River Joint Commissions (CRJC) are a focal point for communication about the river and its valley, between the states of New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as between the federal government and its local, state, and citizen constituencies. A bi-state conference of 300 people, sponsored by the CRJC in 1989, provided the agenda for our work in the valley.
"In good New England fashion, we are able to come out
with a consensus position because of the variety of our
points of view."
Both commissions are advisory and have no regulatory powers, preferring instead to advocate and ensure public involvement in decisions that affect the river and its valley. We are the agency for public interface, and believe that the most effective action takes place when all the players come to the same table to achieve consensus, and have restated our commitment to this approach on a local basis within our five subcommittees. We also believe that economic development need not take place at the expense of environmental health, and recognize the extraordinary quality of life our river and its valley offer our citizens. Our broad goal is to assure responsible economic development and sound environmental protection.
The thirty volunteer river commissioners, fifteen appointed by each state, are citizens who live and work in the valley and are committed to its future. Members represent the interests of business, agriculture, forestry, conservation, hydropower, recreation, and regional planning commissions on both sides of the river. The Commissions hold a joint meeting each month, and are supported by three staff: an executive director, communications coordinator, and administrative assistant.
The New Hampshire legislature created the Connecticut River Valley Resource Commission in 1987 to preserve and protect the resources of the valley, to guide growth and development within it, and to initiate cooperation with Vermont for the benefit of the valley. The Vermont legislature established the Connecticut River Watershed Advisory Commission in the following year. The two commissions banded together as the Connecticut River Joint Commissions in 1989, and also achieved the status of a non-profit organization.
"If this plan echoes a shared vision of the people in
the corridor, it has as much grassroots credibility as any
plan I have ever seen."
The Connecticut River Joint Commissions mobilized hundreds of valley residents and local officials to successfully nominate the Connecticut River into the New Hampshire Rivers Management and Protection Program, and the nomination was enacted by the legislature in 1992. Then-Governor Judd Gregg signed the law at a ceremony at the Cornish-Windsor covered bridge that joins New Hampshire and Vermont.
This new protection establishes a local avenue for river decision-making, which is represented by this plan. The law, known as RSA 483 (see Appendix A):
It is the intent of the New Hampshire legislature through RSA 483 to empower each New Hampshire Connecticut riverfront community to participate in developing a locally-conceived means of conserving the river and its shoreline. The legislature sought also that "the scenic beauty and recreational potential of [the Connecticut River] shall be restored and maintained, that riparian interests shall be respected" without preempting the land zoning authority already granted to the towns.
New Hampshire law identifies the New Hampshire Commission as the local river management advisory committee for the river, with responsibility for developing a river corridor management plan. The New Hampshire and Vermont Commissions together have delegated this responsibility to local subcommittees in order to allow the plan to best respond to the changing character of the river and the varying interests and needs of valley citizens along its 271 mile length as it flows between Vermont and New Hampshire.
To ensure local leadership in implementing the New Hampshire Rivers Management and Protection Act on the Connecticut River, the CRJC established five local river subcommittees, with the specific approval of the New Hampshire legislature. The Vermont legislature also directed its 27 riverfront communities to participate in the work of these subcommittees. The CRJC asked the selectmen of all riverfront towns for nominations, and appointed up to two members and several alternates from each of the 53 towns. Some 150 citizens have thus participated in the subcommittees' work.
The five local groups are advisory, and have met monthly since January of 1993 to develop the Connecticut River Corridor Management Plan. The subcommittees are also empowered by RSA 483 to review and advise state agencies on permits that can affect the river on the New Hampshire side, and by agreement with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, on the Vermont side as well. Their leadership, planning, and expertise are local in nature, but their ideas now reach far beyond town boundaries as they advise the CRJC and state and federal agencies on river issues.
The strength of the local subcommittees' planning process lies in the diversity of their membership. These citizens, as directed by RSA 483, represent local business, local government, agriculture, recreation, conservation, and riverfront landowners. In addition, the subcommittees include members who are managers of major hydroelectric dams in each segment of the river. Therefore, the subcommittees are truly reflective of their regions, representing many perspectives and towns from both sides of the river.
All of the recommendations of each local subcommittee's version of the Connecticut River Corridor Management Plan represent the consensus of this diverse group of citizens within their region. The legitimacy of the plan they have produced is based on this consensus.
"I was impressed enough with the CRJC plan. It had some
reality in it."
Each local subcommittee elected its own leadership and adopted rules of procedure to govern its meetings, which are always open to the public. Coordination of their work along the length of the river has been provided by the CRJC Communications Coordinator, who managed the subcommittees' communications with each other, the CRJC, and various state agencies and organizations. For four of the five subcommittees, the Communications Coordinator transcribed their discussions to construct drafts of their plan, which the members revised and approved. The Upper Valley River Subcommittee's plan was written by the chairman of that subcommittee with similar editing and approval of the group.
We honor the work of the local subcommittees. Each region's plan stands on its own as a home-grown blueprint for how all of us -- communities, landowners, businesses, agencies -- can work together to recognize and safeguard the significant asset of the Connecticut River. Each region's plan is different, yet many of the same themes emerge. In addition, the CRJC offer an overview of the issues and opportunities raised by the local subcommittees, to bring a riverwide perspective to the plan.
The CRJC Overview has had the benefit of review by both the public and collaborating state and federal agencies, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, and the regional planning commissions. A number of our statements, such as those addressing Atlantic salmon, flood control, agricultural marketing, and water quality monitoring, are based upon special public sessions held with recognized experts in these fields. Others are based upon the results of cited studies undertaken on the river. A public hearing on this overview was held on January 27, 1997, at a regular monthly meeting of the Commissions. Dozens of agencies, organizations, and individuals contributed their comments; their wisdom has been incorporated as much as possible in this plan.
"We found the Overview to be a very comprehensive, well-written document than covers all the major issues facing the Connecticut River corridor and contains very practical, results-oriented recommendations for state and federal agencies, as well as local communities"
EPA, Region One
New Hampshire RSA 483 specifies that the river corridor area to be covered by the plan includes the river and the land area located within a distance of 1,320 feet (1/4 mile) of the normal high water mark or to the landward extent of the 100 year floodplain as designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whichever distance is greater. While the recommendations of the plan are directed toward this area, their consideration on a more general scale could benefit the river, its tributaries, and the region as a whole.
Both states must be equal partners in protecting the Connecticut River and its watershed. In Vermont, the legislature has directed its citizens to participate with their New Hampshire counterparts in creating this plan. In Vermont towns, the plan deserves to be considered by planning commissions for adoption and inclusion in the town plan, with river protection measures to be subsequently incorporated by these local commissions in town regulations.
This plan makes hundreds of recommendations which touch every level of government, landowners, local business. These recommendations are not made lightly. They reflect the truth that responsibility for the well-being of the Connecticut River is widely shared. The Connecticut River Joint Commissions and our five local subcommittees urge that this plan be adopted by every Connecticut River front community in New Hampshire and Vermont.
The mechanism for adoption is the conventional local planning process; planning boards and commissions review the plan and adopt it as an adjunct to the town master plan. They then select recommendations to bring to townspeople for approval. For towns without planning boards, this responsibility is in the hands of selectmen.
"The implementation of the Plan will have a positive
impact, not only in New Hampshire and Vermont, but in
Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Long Island Sound."
The Connecticut River is presently exempted from New Hampshire's Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act, RSA 483-B(see Appendix B) which prevails on rivers not included in the Rivers Program before 1993. The exemption from the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act does not divorce New Hampshire communities from their responsibility to adopt appropriate shoreland protection measures. In fact, RSA 483-B is clear that "in the event that...the cities and towns along designated rivers or segments thereof do not adopt the proposals made by their local river management advisory committees, the house and senate shall re-examine the exemption provided in RSA 483-B:20 and propose minimum standards as defined by this act."
This plan should be reviewed annually, to note progress and to identify new actions to be taken. Priorities must be set and a work plan must be developed for implementation. The CRJC are committed to working with state and federal agencies, business, and non-profit organizations to address riverwide Opportunities raised in this plan, and with the local river subcomittees and their communities to identify local priorities to move forward with this diverse and important agenda.
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