Residents of Hawley, Massachusetts have spent a year in dispute over post-Irene repair work done on a river running through the small Franklin County town. This week, state environmental officials reached a settlement that requires the river and its wildlife habitat to be restored.
In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene caused the Chickley River to flood onto the main road in and out of Hawley closing it and causing major damage. In an effort to repair the road, and stop future flooding — state officials say five miles of wildlife habitat was destroyed. The river contains trout, salmon, and other species. Before the storm, Mass DEP issued emergency regulations allowing clean up of debris normally requiring permits. And after the storm, it did issue an emergency certification allowing the town to remove debris from wetlands town. But the work went beyond the limits, according to the settlment. Now Hawley officials and the contractor are required to pay for and restore the Chickley to its original contours, un-straightening the channel that was created, and connecting it with the floodplain. The work began this week. Peter Keenan, Hawley’s Selectboard chair says, in the wake of Irene, the immediate response was to tame the river and protect the people of Hawley.
“It never, I don’t think, occurred to anybody.that we were doing any sort of permanent harm to nature. But we were brought up to speed, in fact, it’s arguable that we did. and it’s also agreed upon by all parties, that another hurricane or a couple years go by and the river’s going to go back to whatever it wants to do anyway, no matter what we, or anybody does to it.”
According to the DEP, the contractor – ET and I of Stow – did not admit to the violations, but the company agreed to restore the river at a cost of $400,000. The contractor and the town will also put $150,000 into an escrow account for post-restoration monitoring and tree planting.