GROTON -- The nearly decade-long journey to federally protect the Nashua River is another step closer to fruition. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas unveiled what is likely her final piece of legislation before she retires at the end of her term: the Nashua River Wild & Scenic River Act of 2018.
"This desire to protect this river and to look at ways for the federal government to be engaged in helping to do that for future generations really is because the communities and the individual leaders have made this a priority for many, many years," Tsongas said before a crowded room of local, state and federal officials at the Nashua River Watershed Association's River Resource Center. "So as your federal partner, I've been happy to do whatever it took to advance that vision.
Tsongas said the 3rd District is "disparate in every way" -- geographically, economically, culturally -- but is "united by its rivers." She said she's enjoyed drawing attention to this through her annual River Day events.
The bill is the "next stage" in ensuring the protections so many in the district have worked toward, and "it's been a long time coming," Tsongas said.
Tsongas co-introduced the bill with New Hampshire U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster. A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and co-sponsored by fellow Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Hampshire U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.
In 2009, the NRWA and its partners began the effort to add the river and two of its tributaries, the Squannacook and Nissitissit rivers, to the national Wild & Scenic Rivers System.
Following an earlier attempt in 2009, Tsongas introduced the legislation to create the Nashua River Wild & Scenic River Study Committee in 2013.
It was approved with unanimous bipartisan support in a Republican-controlled Congress in 2014 and later signed into law by President Barack Obama, kicking off a three-year study by the National Park Service.
The designation would help preserve and protect the waterways and make them eligible for federal funding for further conservation efforts.
Jamie Fosburgh, Rivers Program director for the National Park Service's Northeast Region, said the legislation is a big milestone following the study that has become a model for other parts of the country. He said he recently spoke with people from Minnesota who were interested in doing something similar with a river in their region.
"Right off the bat, I said, 'What are you doing for the next 10 years?'" Fosburgh said, drawing laughs from the audience. "That's really what it takes, and it's not a joke. It takes sustained commitment from every level."
Lucy Wallace, president of the NRWA board of directors and chairwoman of the Harvard Board of Selectmen, served as chairwoman of the Study Committee. She said it can often be challenging to get towns to work together on initiatives that go beyond their borders, but the Wild & Scenic study presented a unique opportunity for collaboration and garnered wide support.
"This truly has been a partnership effort, which has benefited from the amazing diversity and talent of all the people that have participated in this journey," Wallace said.
NRWA founder and legendary river activist Marion Stoddart said the once-polluted river has come a long way since she began working to clean it in the 1960s. Stoddart, of Groton, who turned 90 earlier this year, thanked Tsongas for her leadership and everyone else who has contributed along the way.
"It's very, very exciting, but the job is never done," Stoddart said. "Even after this bill is passed -- and I hope it will be passed soon -- there's still more work to be done, so we can never relax."
For more information and the latest updates, visit wildandscenicnashuarivers.org.
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