Two proposals have been initiated that will directly affect the lives and properties of all residents that live on or in proximity to Westport rivers and tributary streams. Both are sponsored or supported by Westport Rivers Watershed Alliance and the Westport Fishermen’s Association.
1. An effort to obtain an Area of Critical Environmental Concern designation for several Westport brooks, reported in WRWA’s 2008 annual report. This state program managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation creates a framework for local and state regional stewardship of “critical resources,” loosely defined as Aquatic Eco Regional Planning.
2. The more recent Wild and Scenic Rivers designation request. Already endorsed by a majority of Westport selectmen and Planning Board members, WRWA has obtained an endorsement of this proposal of the Conservation Commission. This federal program administered by National Park Service creates a framework for local and federal stewardship of rivers’ “outstanding remarkable values,” including scenic, recreational, historical, cultural, fish, wildlife, ecological, geological and hydrological values. WSR’s provisions also influence resources like water quality and quantity, minerals and forestry.
Each case requires development of a stewardship plan made up of presently undefined management measures jointly administered by the responsible state or federal authorities. The local regulatory component could comprise a public access board, would be appointed by the selectmen and would be empowered to write and modify its rules without any voter ballot approval safeguards. Can you guess who would comprise the committee?
Permitting in the applicable river and streams areas presently requires compliance of up to 20 local and state laws and regulations. Imagine the possible new dictates that can be inserted into the stewardship plans.
As an example, the Taunton River Stewardship plan includes a listing of local, state, federal and model laws. The list comprises 61 pages. Can such dictates be made to apply to other rivers watershed communities: Fall-River, Tiverton, Freetown, Dartmouth?
Some questions that would not be answered at the Conservation Committee meeting seem to be in order:
— Is this action premature when we are waiting for the much heralded and costly estuaries study?
— What is the immediate crisis with the watershed and the rivers that prompted this action?
— Why was there no official town voter representation in initiating this action?
— Who determined the need for this action? When?
— Would WSR mandate the destruction of other dam remnants, such as Trout, Mouse Mill and others?
— Since this designation is for the whole watershed, how will it impact and control the roughly 36,000 acres located in other municipalities?
— Will this enhance the often stated and documented WRWA’s promotion of sewer systems?
There are many more uncertainties with the proposals but space is limited. Since these measures will affect thousands of Westport residents, as well as the town’s future, should they not be decided by consensus rather than rushed acceptance by agenda driven advocacy?
Claude A. Ledoux