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After Building Massachusetts City's Flood Controls, USACE Returns for Its Modernization

Thu August 31, 2023 - Northeast Edition #20
WAMC Northeast Public Radio


The USACE first built the concrete chutes that channel the Hoosic River through the western Massachusetts city between 1950 and 1961. Since then, overhauling the dilapidated and actively disintegrating system has been a long-held goal of both the North Adams officials and nonprofit groups like the Hoosic River Revival. (Mass.gov photo)
The USACE first built the concrete chutes that channel the Hoosic River through the western Massachusetts city between 1950 and 1961. Since then, overhauling the dilapidated and actively disintegrating system has been a long-held goal of both the North Adams officials and nonprofit groups like the Hoosic River Revival. (Mass.gov photo)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) kicked off a three-year feasibility study on modernizing the crumbling flood control system in North Adams, Mass., with a site visit Aug. 25.

The USACE first built the concrete chutes that channel the Hoosic River through the western Massachusetts city between 1950 and 1961. Since then, overhauling the dilapidated and actively disintegrating system has been a long-held goal of both the North Adams officials and nonprofit groups like the Hoosic River Revival.

In a city hall conference room, the Corps was officially welcomed back to North Adams to determine the next chapter of the Hoosic River's history, according to WAMC Northeast Public Radio in Albany, N.Y.

Seth Greenwald, the USACE's project manager on the modernization effort, excitedly noted that it has been 61 years since the Corps finished constructing the chutes in downtown North Adams.

"But we're back, and we are excited," he said. "My team and I are ready to help the community."

Three agencies have come together to form a partnership to repair the river's flood control system, Greenwald explained. Besides the USACE, that alliance includes the city of North Adams, and the Hoosic River Revival (HRR), a volunteer organization that has been working with engineers and urban planners since 2010 to assess the conditions of the flood control system.

"So, we're going to be working very closely with these organizations in the next three years," Greenwald added. "It's an inclusive process."

HRR's website notes that it "develops options for system modernization that would ensure flood mitigation but also improve the health of the river and create corridor enhancements, such as bike paths and accessibility to the river."

New Flood Controls Demand Lots of Prior Analysis

According to Laura Searles, the USACE's lead planner for the North Adams flood control project, there are several main areas of interest for her agency to focus upon.

"We've got scoping, and then alternatives, evaluation analysis, feasibility analysis of the selected plan, and then a Washington-level review," she explained.

WAMC reported that the Corps will review the information North Adams has already collected and develop a scope for the project.

"[It will] encompass everything that we know, everything that we hope to know, and everything that we can eventually move forward with," continued Searles. "We will also work that into our project management plan, which includes our schedule and our budget for the entire project. We also will then move to create an alternative, based upon all the information that we have, or we will create many alternatives as potential solutions that might solve the issues that we find during our process of reviewing all that information."

In three months, she added, the entire team will present those findings to USACE leadership. The nine months following that will be dedicated to creating a draft report, according to the WAMC.

Searles explained that the team will be armed with economic, environmental, engineering, and hydrodynamic model analyses "to make sure that the plans that we have looked at, the alternatives that we're looking at, are the best, most effective and most efficient alternatives that we can possibly present."

After the draft report is reviewed — a roughly six-month process — the Hoosic River project then moves into a year of finalizing the report for a climactic six-month Washington review that is expected to conclude in August 2026.

"If our feasibility study has a positive result, it will move into a chief's report, which is basically a really big summary of that three-inch binder worth of information with our draft report," Searles told North Adams officials. "So, after that, again, assuming everything goes well, and it is a positive result, then we could request, or you guys could request, congressional authorization for construction of the project itself in the Water Resources Development Act [WRDA].

"After that, we get to go to the design and cost shared construction," she said. "That's when we actually develop the real plans that will be implemented into the construction phase."

Study's Funding to Come From Feds, North Adams

Massachusetts State Sen. Paul Mark, D-2nd Berkshire, told WAMC that while he's excited to see the long-overdue evaluation begin, it indicates that he and his fellow legislators have more work ahead of them.

"I'm a little surprised that it takes three years, but I guess [with] the amount of work that has to go into it, that actually makes perfect sense," he said. "And it gives us a little bit of a longer timeline to start laying groundwork for whatever money that might need to come from the state. [We] already have to start getting ready for how we're going to help supplement whatever estimates [USACE comes] up with and make this vision a reality."

Funding for the $3 million flood control study will be split evenly between the federal government and North Adams, though Massachusetts is contributing $1 million of the city's portion, according to WAMC.




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