Charlestown Town Council backs ‘Wild and Scenic’ designation push for Wood-Pawcatuck watershed

Charlestown Town Council backs ‘Wild and Scenic’ designation push for Wood-Pawcatuck watershed

The Westerly Sun

CHARLESTOWN — The Charlestown Town Council voted unanimously Monday to support a push to designate seven rivers in the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed area as part of a national Wild and Scenic Rivers system. 

The Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Study Committee produced a draft plan of 159 pages outlining the study areas and the benefits of the designation. 

Ultimately, it will take action by the U.S. Congress to approve the designation. 

“There’s been a lot of work the committee has done over the last three years,” study committee Charlestown member Nils Wiberg told the council.

Chairman Sean Henry said the designation doesn’t cost the town any money and imposes no new federal regulations. 

“It will provide national recognition of the special rivers that the town already values and the funds to protect those rivers through partnership with the National Parks Service,” Henry told the council in a May 22 letter asking for its support. “Most importantly, the town of Charlestown will continue to have a part in the stewardship of the rivers.”

Wiberg also said that as part of the stewardship council, Charlestown and other local communities would be eligible to receive National Parks Service funds for such stewardship. 

The town’s Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and Conservation Commission also have endorsed the plan by votes at recent meetings. 

The 300-square-mile watershed is the sole-source drinking-water aquifer for thousands of people in southern Rhode Island and Connecticut. The rivers under consideration for the Wild and Scenic designation are the Beaver, Chipuxet, Green Fall-Ashaway, Queen- Usquepaugh, Pawcatuck, Shunock and Wood rivers.

Members of the Rhode Island and Connecticut Congressional delegations sponsored the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act in 2014, which paved the way for the formation of a study committee to document the special qualities of the rivers and determine how best to protect them.

Eight Rhode Island towns and four in Connecticut took part in the Wild and Scenic study. Assisted by the National Park Service, the study committee included town-appointed representatives from Westerly, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, Exeter, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, and West Greenwich. 

Connecticut representatives were from the towns of North Stonington, Sterling, Stonington, and Voluntown. 

Several state agencies and environmental-advocacy organizations also participated in the study: the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, Save the Bay, The Nature Conservancy, and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

rblessing@thewesterlysun.com


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