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Wild & Scenic Program Overview


The National Wild & Scenic River System was established by Congress in 1968 to protect certain outstanding rivers from the harmful effects of new federal projects such as dams and hydroelectric facilities. Since then over 160 rivers or river segments totaling over 11,000 miles have been protected nationwide. To be considered a “Wild & Scenic” river it must be free flowing and have at least one outstanding natural, cultural, or recreational value.

Only seven Wild and Scenic segments are located in New England: the Farmington in Connecticut; the Allagash in Maine; the Wildcat and Lamprey in New Hampshire; and the Westfield and Concord-Sudbury-Assabet in Massachusetts. One additional study is ongoing in New England – the Taunton River in Massachusetts.

Each river designated into the national system receives permanent protection from federally licensed or assisted dams, diversions, channelizations and other water projects that would have a direct and adverse effect on its free-flowing condition and special resources. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act explicitly prohibits any new dam or other project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on or directly affecting a designated river segment, and requires that all other proposed federally assisted water resource development projects in the area be evaluated by the managing agency (in this case the National Park Service) for their potential impacts on the river’s “outstandingly remarkable” values and free-flowing condition. Any federally licensed or initiated project that would result in adverse effects to the designated segment is precluded under the Act.

A Wild & Scenic River Act (WSRA) designation process can also bring additional benefits to the local community through management plans, studies and staff effort required to qualify for consideration under the Act. Additionally, designation boosts the visibility of locally initiated land use initiatives and increases the likelihood of matching grants and support funding.

Before a river can be added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, it must be found both eligible and suitable. To be eligible, the river must be 1) free flowing and 2) possess at least one “outstandingly remarkable” resource value such as exceptional scenery, fisheries and wildlife, water quality or cultural resources. The suitability determination is based on evidence of lasting protection measures (both current and planned) for the free flowing character and outstanding resources and on evidence of strong support from local residents and organizations that will participate in the long term protection of the river. The details of these requirements are explained in the following chapters as each requirement is addressed.

(Excerpt from the Watershed Management Plan, page iii)

In the mid 1990’s, a broad group of local citizens came together with the goal of protecting the Eightmile River and the intact watershed landscape that surrounded it. They knew it to be a rural watershed with clear and uncontaminated waters, virtually no polluting industry, large areas of untouched natural landscape and a bucolic quality of living that was rapidly disappearing in many areas of the state.

This initial group of local citizens, supported by The Nature Conservancy and the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, recognized that the watershed’s exceptional resources could quality it for Congressional Wild and Scenic Designation. They also sought the Wild and Scenic process as a powerful tool for bringing multiple communities together to shape and implement a collective vision for protection of the watershed. A local campaign by members of town boards, area land trusts, The Nature Conservancy, river-fronting landowners and other residents was undertaken to initiate the Wild and Scenic process. Congressman Rob Simmons and Senator Chris Dodd helped secure authorization and funding from Congress to undertake a Wild & Scenic River Study.

After the Study bill was passed by Congress, a local Wild and Scenic Study Committee was formed. Charged with carrying out the Wild and Scenic Study and developing a river management plan, the Committee’s membership included the First Selectman from the communities of Lyme, Salem and East Haddam, representatives of the three area land trusts, representation from a land use commission in each town, the CT River Estuary Regional Planning Agency, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and The Nature Conservancy. National Park Service provided staff support and overall coordination. Sub-committees on management, natural resources, cultural resources and outreach and education helped guide and implement the study process.

Finding that the Eightmile Watershed contained a wealth of outstanding resource values and was both eligible and suitable for Wild and Scenic status, the Study Committee focused on drafting this Watershed Management Plan and the accompanying Study Report which recommends to Congress official Wild and Scenic designation.

Committee members brought a wealth of knowledge and experience in governmental, ecological and organizational processes. These credentials, along with much collaboration with independent researchers, local supporting agencies, professional contractors and the general public helped ensure the study’s success.

In late 2005, the Study Committee released the draft Watershed Management Plan and received endorsements from all of the land use commissions and boards of selectmen from the three primary towns within the watershed (East Haddam, Lyme and Salem). In early 2006, each of those towns held a public meeting vote on endorsement of the Management Plan as well as Wild and Scenic designation at which time the endorsements were passed by a wide margin. As this document goes to the presses, the Eightmile Wild and Scenic Study Committee is transitioning to the Coordinating Committee which will be charged with implementing the plan contained in this documents.

The Eightmile Wild & Scenic Coordinating Committee is the steward of the Eightmile River Watershed Management Plan.

In order to ensure ongoing involvement from a broad range of stakeholders to achieve successful implementation of the management plan, the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Coordinating Committee (ERWSCC) has been established.

The purpose of the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Coordinating Committee, which has an advisory role only, includes:

  • Coordinating the implementation of the watershed management plan.
  • Bringing the stakeholders in watershed management together on a regular and ongoing basis to facilitate continued cooperation and coordination.
  • Providing a forum for all watershed interests to discuss and resolve issues.
  • ERWSCC is advisory only and does not have regulatory or land acquisition authority. The Committee may provide advice to existing entities that have management or regulatory authority affecting the river, but it does not have the power to dictate the actions or decisions of any of those entities. The intent of ERWSCC is to complement and support the roles and activities of existing interests, rather than compete with them.

Responsibilities

ERWSCC assumes the following responsibilities:

1. Implement the Eightmile River Watershed Management Plan

ERWSCC is the the lead organization in ensuring the implementation of the plan occurs and the outstanding resource value goals are achieved.

2. Monitoring of the outstanding resource values with respect to the degree they are protected, degraded or enhanced during implementation of the plan.

3. Address River-Related Issues

ERWSCC pursues cooperative resolution of issues affecting the outstanding resource values of the Eightmile River Watershed. While the Committee does not have the authority to resolve any issue directly, it does provide a forum for the discussion of issues, raising awareness about issues of particular importance, and stimulating needed action.

ERWSCC is available to evaluate specific proposals that could affect the watershed and provide comments as it deems necessary to the appropriate agencies or organizations. The review of a particular proposal could be initiated at the request of the public or of local, state, or federal officials, or at the Committee’s own discretion. It is acknowledged that members of ERWSCC may recuse themselves from participating in such activities as they deem necessary to avoid conflict of interest issues. Examples of proposals that ERWSCC could choose to review and comment on include but are not limited to:

  • zoning changes for lands along the river or its tributaries that affect the watershed as a whole
  • development projects or other land use activities affecting outstanding resource values
  • applications for state permits (e.g., point source discharges; water withdrawals)
  • changes to state programs or policies (e.g., statewide water quality standards; land management practices on the state forests)
  • applications for federal permits (e.g., Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 permits; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certification for pipeline crossings)

Town boards and commissions are encouraged to communicate and cooperate with ERWSCC on matters related to the watershed but it is the Committee’s final responsibility to keep itself informed of proposals under local jurisdiction that it may wish to review and provide comments on. Individual Committee members, particularly the town representatives, play an important role in keeping the group abreast of local issues.

The State of Connecticut will be requested to notify ERWSCCC of certain state or federal permit applications associated with wastewater and stormwater discharges to both surface and groundwater, water diversions, water quality certifications, dam construction, flood management and stream channel encroachment, inland wetlands and other potential actions pertinent to protecting the watershed’s outstanding resource values, and give the Committee the opportunity to comment.

4. Review and update the Eightmile River Watershed Management Plan

It is expected and anticipated that changes to the Watershed Management Plan will be needed over time. Advances in resource management strategies or technology, as well as changes to regulations, laws, policies or programs may require the plan to be revised.

ERWSCC is responsible for reviewing the plan on a regular basis to determine if updates are necessary. It is recommended that a thorough review occur every five years. Changes to this plan can only be made if they are voted on and approved by ERWSCC and may require posting in the Federal Register for public comment. The public should be given ample opportunity to participate in future revisions to the plan.

5. Prepare periodic status reports

ERWSCC will prepare brief annual reports on the status of protection of the watershed and implementation of this management plan.

These reports will serve two primary purposes:

  • to inform the general public, local officials, the Governor, the General Assembly, and, if the watershed is designated as a component of the wild and scenic river system, Congress and the Secretary of the Interior about the conditions of the river and watershed; and to publicize any pressing needs or issues requiring attention or assistance from the local, state and/or federal governments.

What is a “Wild & Scenic” River?

The National Wild & Scenic River System was established by Congress in 1968 to protect certain outstanding rivers from the harmful effects of new federal projects such as dams and hydroelectric facilities. Since then 160 rivers or river segments have been protected nationwide, including six in New England. To be considered a “Wild & Scenic” river it must be free flowing and have at least one outstanding natural, cultural, or recreational value. Today, the Wild & Scenic Rivers program is being used effectively to create river protection approaches that bring communities together in protecting and managing local river resources. (Go to www.nps.gov/rivers for more information.)

How was the Wild & Scenic Study established for the Eightmile River?

A Wild & Scenic River Study is conducted to determine whether a particular river or river segment should be included in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. To establish a study of the Eightmile River, letters from town boards, area land trusts, river-fronting landowners and residents were submitted to Congressman Rob Simmons and Senator Chris Dodd requesting that a Wild & Scenic River Study be authorized and funded by Congress. The entire Connecticut congressional delegation supported the bill and on November 6, 2001 it was signed into law by President Bush (Public Law No. 107-65). The Study is expected to be completed in the fall of 2005.

What did the study process involve?

The study had three primary components:

  1. Determining if the river is eligible for inclusion in the Wild & Scenic Rivers system by demonstrating it has outstanding natural, cultural or recreational values of regional or national significance; (See Outstanding Resource values of the Eightmile.)
  2. Determining if the river is suitable for Wild & Scenic designation by substantiating local support and commitment to designation through methods such as town wide votes of support for designation and adoption of locally-based river protection actions; and developing a locally supported river management plan that details the strategy for long-term protection of the area’s outstanding values. (See Developing the Management Plan.)

Local input, involvement and ownership were critical to the successful study. This Study provided a unique opportunity for Eightmile River towns to come together, mobilize a public input process, and realize a locally shaped vision for their communities and the future of the Eightmile River.

How does a river get designated “Wild & Scenic”?

For designation to be achieved, the National Park Service must make a positive recommendation in its final report to Congress (see news updates), based on the successful outcomes of the three primary study components discussed above. A bill designating the river Wild & Scenic must then be passed by Congress and signed into law by the President.

What are the benefits of “Wild & Scenic” designation?

Wild & Scenic designation will qualify the Eightmile River for federal funding and technical support for actions and projects that help achieve the goals of the locally created river management plan, in turn enhancing and protecting the river’s outstanding values. Implementation of the management plan is directed by a locally led coordinating council.

Designation would also provide communities with special federal protection of the river. However, designation would rely on local control and self-determination and allow existing river uses to continue. It would not establish a federal park or locally undesired federal land ownership.

What role does the federal government have with a Wild & Scenic River?

The federal government, in this case the National Park Service, is responsible for reviewing and commenting on all federally funded or permitted projects to ensure they do not adversely impact the outstanding values of the river system. The study and designation does not put any land under federal control, require public access to private land, or force any changes in the local land use decision making process.

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