SHIRLEY — Over the past year or so, representatives from the Nashua River Watershed Association, Fish & Wildlife and the National Park Service have made the rounds of area towns to garner support for a study that is the first phase of implementing the Wild and Scenic River Act.
Other towns, including Harvard and Pepperell, have already signed on.
Monday night, questions and concerns that kept the selectmen from signing on earlier were answered and addressed. This time, they said yes.
For example, proponents reiterated that the proposal now is only a study and does not commit the town any further if the selectmen and town voters don’t accept the recommendations that come out of it.
Over the next three years, identified sections of the Nashua River and its local tributaries — the Squannacook and Nissitissit rivers — will be studied for their environmental value and recreational and wildlife habitat potential, including land that cuts in 500 feet from the bank on both sides, widening the existing no-build zone by 300 feet. It’s only temporary, though, and only for study purposes.
The study will include public input, lots of it, the selectmen were told.
There are restrictions, however. For the term of the study, no new federal dam projects can move forward in targeted areas, but there are exemptions if a participating community has a hydro project in the works.
Shirley has no such projects on tap, but Selectman Andy Deveau said he didn’t want to close that door. No problem, he was told, since the typically protracted study-and-permit phase for a hydro-power project would likely take as long as the river study anyway.
The restriction applies only to construction and the town can still apply for grants.
The report may recommend uses for riverside lands and some of the envisioned plans may include dismantling existing dams that serve no purpose now, some of which need extensive repairs. Fish & Wildlife has historically favored removing such structures to let rivers run free again.
Townspeople may agree or disagree. Either way, Town Meeting voters get the final say.