Interviewer: Renee Garrelick
Place of Interview: His home, at 1540 Monument St.
Click here for audio in .mp3 format.
Passage of SUASCO's Wild & Scenic Rivers Legislation Interviews with Former Congressman Chet Atkins; Julia Blatt, Director of the Organization for the Assabet River at Damonmill Square; and, Bill Sullivan, chair citizens committee, former Selectman, and developer Damonmill Square. Concord Oral History Program, Interviewer Renee Garrelick July 1, 1999
-- Grassroots movement of local groups for protection of rivers and river banks
-- Eight town association of citizen representatives and state legislators
-- Distrust by Concord of the National Park Service and insistence in the "no land taking" by the federal government
-- Support in Congress but political realities of how a bill becomes a law, A 12 year odyssey.
On June 7, 1999 at the Old North Bridge in Concord, a gathering of Congressman including Marty Meehan, former Congressman Chet Atkins, Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, Representatives of the Minuteman National Park, local environmental groups such as SUASCO and OAR (Organization for the Assabet River), State Representatives, Senators, town officials gathered together for the commemoration of the passage of the SUASCO Wild and Scenic Rivers Legislation signed into law on April 9, 1999 by President Bill Clinton. To protect these rivers from federally funded or licensed projects that would negatively impact them, the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers are now part of the National Wild and Scenic System. Chet Atkins was among the early supporters advocating for this legislation. He is being interviewed by Renee Garrelick on July 1, 1999 at his home at 1540 Monument Street.
Former Congressman Chet Atkins:
I grew up on the Concord River, and it always struck me as one of the great rivers of America. It has just an extraordinary amount of history. It's a wonderful bio-diversity, and it really in many ways cut through the heart of so much of our history from the Indian - Pre- Colonial to the wonderful Native American myths and legends related to the river to the colonial period and then to the industrial revolution and of course to transcendentalist and the great flowering of New England and of America and the post industrial revolution period and even today is kind of a center and interesting way for some of the most promising technologies that are building our economic future. It has also been a wonderful metaphor for changing land use and land use patterns and land use protections. Given all of that, there has been a tremendous connection in Concord and the surrounding communities: Wayland, Sudbury, Lincoln, Carlisle and Billerica to the river and the importance to the river numerous people use the river recreationally and have really an organic relationship to the river and in many ways it defines these communities. So I got very involved when I was in the state legislature with efforts as they were putting together the Mass Port Resources Authority. Some of the planners, instead of looking at water conservation, wanted to look at ways to tap the Concord and the Sudbury Rivers for water to serve the MWRA District. There was legislation to block that, to prevent it forever, but there were concerns around that and around other issues and the booming economy of the 80's that people would do things that would be fundamentally destructive to the river, either governments or local communities allowing certain kinds of development, and working with a number of local organizations - the Organization for the Assabet River (OAR), and Sudbury Valley Trustees and the Mass Audubon. We looked at opportunities and discovered this opportunity for Wild and Scenic Rivers designation. Julia Blatt on my staff, worked very closely particularly with Bill Sullivan, who was I believe a Concord Selectman at the time. And getting a process started and statutory have a study commission first involved a lot of local input and Bill and people in the local community - it's just a wonderful outpouring of support. Interestingly enough, Concord, as it always does, encompasses a variety of opinions and some of the people who have been very active and misnamed YUSE movement, which is essentially a movement to eliminate any public or town control over land use and just let the free market system and private property rights dictate everything, and they were admittedly opposed to this and actually organized nationally against the Scenic River designation and this was right at the beginning of that movement, the backlash from land protection and conservation. So, the communities eventually completed their study process, made some important recommendations and pleaded their study process, made some important recommendations in ways in which to take the federal - essentially model legislation for Wild and Scenic Rivers and to adjust it to the needs of the local communities that were involved and also to look at reasonable boundaries for the Wild and Scenic section.
I became interested while in the State Legislature blocking the efforts of the Mass. Water Resources Authority to divert water from the SUASCO watershed and that was a start in citizen efforts. A number of people were represented by Cile Hicks from Wayland who was very active in that. That was the start of sort of a citizen effort to protect the river, particularly from actions by government which may be very destructive to the eco-system there. That was the pre-cursor if you will. A lot of the same people that had been involved in that effort were subsequently involved in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Then the early conversations and it was really Alan Morgan who had been the head of the Mass. Audubon Society and then had left there and started the Sudbury Trustees, really was the driving force in many ways to get the Wild and Scenic Rivers study the designation. He pushed it, and I think he deserves an enormous amount of credit for that. So in any case the communities and this is when it started in 1989-90 (that time frame), communities completed the study process and then went to Congress looking for an actual federal designation and at that point I think there was wide, wide spread support for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Designation. Congressman Marty Meehan, my successor, elected in 1992, really embraced this issue - made an enormous investment in pushing it and putting it in his priority list and he moved very nicely early on in the process working with Senators Kennedy and Kerry to get the legislation to get it passed and then in 1994 the Republicans took control of the Congress - particularly in the natural resource area and the committees that deal with the environment, a group of people who are against the last 50 years as sort of the record of protection - environmental protection going back to Theodore Roosevelt who wanted to turn back the clock on all of that and wanted to appeal endangered species protection appeal, protection from clean water, clean air, roll those things back and really have these issues determined solely by free market forces took control of the committees and at that point it was almost impossible to get new environmental legislation passed and indeed it is an enormous struggle against undoing federal support for the National Park system, undoing support from land and water conservation fund, and undoing some of the protection for old world forest in the Pacific Northwest, so it was all a reaction to protect the things that have been done in the last twenty years. There was a backlash in the public against that and ultimately some of the more radical notions of anti-environmentalism went out of favor or some favor in the Congress were tempered and Congress Meehan and Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry were able to finally push through the legislation but it was over a six-year process for them. Quite extraordinary - it is so hard on a piece of local legislation and it affects just a defined member of the communities to keep that kind of attention and that kind of effort behind the legislation. I think that the importance of the legislation, if you read it, is not so much in what it does in the protection that it provides for the watershed but rather in the vehicle and the mechanism was to bring people together to think about the rivers and to think about their role in our communities and to think about how we use them and to move and work together around that. There were all kinds of small victories that came out of that and were helped in ways that sort of changed the way people looked at how we used the river. Bill Sullivan developed the Damonmill and where the Assabet crosses Rte. 62 in West Concord and did a wonderful job in doing that and restoring that old mill site and creating public access to the river and highlighting the river as a real asset.
One aspect since the late 80's was the time that this really took hold was also a time locally when a number of Concord residents were opposing the Minuteman National Park on what they felt was not very practical control. Prior to the Wild and Scenic River activities the National Park Service on a regular basis goes over the so called park boundaries and they needed legislation to redraw those park boundaries and to essentially re-authorize the Minuteman National Park. Minuteman National Park has had uneven history of federal management and it has been a troubled history. Concord has always has been a difficult place for anybody to exert the authority of the state and in the National Park Service may times they have exerted that authority very clumsily so there were numerous residents and farms the National Park Service took and then didn't use, just left them in a deteriorating condition. There wasn't a vision for the National Park. It was in a sense of how you managed visitors. There wasn't really the kind of communication with the communities that really built a park system, it built trust. It wasn't a sense in the communities that the Park Service really appreciated community values and appreciated people's daily lives in the town and commerce and little things the park service tried to shut down: the Willow Pond Kitchen which has been an old Concord tradition and I wound up getting into a fight to keep them open for a little while longer. The Park Service really mistreated the Inferrera Farm and there was a huge struggle over that. So the Park Service there wasn't a level of trust for the Park Service. The effort to redraw the boundary became a very huge and a controversial thing. Eventually, thanks to Larry Gall who is the new park superintendent, there was a sensitivity to the community. The Park Service moved ahead some projects and I think were very valuable ones and were able to get the boundary of the park and as that got settled it got easier to deal with the Wild and Scenic Rivers through the Park Service. Of course since that time Nancy Nelson has taken over as superintendent of the Park and Nancy has a real commitment and dedication to the community and a sensitivity there and as a result things like the Minuteman Bike Path have been built which are a tremendous asset for people in the community and the tourist. It was done really on a shoestring budget and things like that kind of program has really restored peoples faith in the Park Service and the ability of the Park Service to act in positive ways and to recognize the importance of limiting the use of states authority in a community.
I am certainly glad that direction happened because I think initially there was some skepticism about legislation. There was huge skepticism and the story is actually an interesting story of rights in this country because early in the development of the National Park they took a number of farms from eminent domain, many of them immigrants and many had limited understanding and use of English and these people were really intimidated that Park Service people came in and exercising that one of them was awesome of the state the power of eminent domain and forced these people to sell properties and if you think of these properties, these were properties that weren't just held by people, these were farms where they had worked the land. Since they came to this country and farms that many instances that they wanted to hand on down to their children and the land value is what they changed to that people were forced to sell these farms in the early 60's would have been millionaires many times over had they been able to keep the farms and sell them at today's prices. There was just a whole legacy of mismanagement, mistrust and abuse in some instances.
The Park Service is now an important partner and the Wild and Scenic program is administered in conjunction with the National Park Service. It is interesting that in many ways the Wild and Scenic River designation, one of the most important things it does is it limits the power of the State to do things in those rivers. So it is kind of a reversal of limiting state power. Limiting the power to put dams in, limiting the power to devote water, limiting the power to put high tension electric wire through there. So that has been an interesting change and one of the fascinating things about Concord and this has always been a center of thinking and action around individual rights going back to early colonial days and it has always been a place that attracted free thinkers and dissidents and people who enjoy the fine art of decent. The whole story of how we have dealt with our public land has sort of illustrated some of those national struggles in terms of private property rights vs. the larger public interest in protecting and preserving certain things and if you travel the landscape in Concord you appreciate that by and large in that struggle over the years the town has done a very creditable job in protecting what needs to be protected and allowing development and commerce and free expression of individual property rights if you will on private land.
Julia Blatt, Director of the Organization for the Assabet River located at the Damonmill:
I first got involved with this in 1987 and at the time I was an aide to Congressman Chet Atkins, and I worked on general issues to begin with. I decided I wanted to do something environmental for Chet because that was really my interest so I made some phone calls and one was to Sudbury Valley Trustees and in my ignorance I called people up and said "Hi, I am from Chet Atkins office, what are your issues and what can we do for you?" I spoke with their executive director and his name was Alan Morgan, and he said "thank you for calling. I am really interested in getting wild and scenic protection for the Sudbury River." I had no idea what that was. It sounded something federal and something that we could do so his concern was that the Sudbury was listed as an emergency supply of backup water, drinking water for the City of Boston should the provident fail and whoever uses provident. He was concerned that if the river was to be diverted it would destroy the river. So he thought this could protect the river against that. He didn't actually explain that he just said that (he is kind of an abrupt guy) "could you do that, I'll hold the chatter or something like that." So I called the National Park Service and we ended making a meeting and the first meeting that we had was either in Sudbury or Wayland, I think it was Sudbury. Some people from the River and Trails division came out and Alan Morgan got some people to come that were interested and it was a pretty small meeting. We learned about it and it was something that was really different for me and I grew up in Sudbury so it was the first river that I ever canoed and it is a very beautiful river as you know and I just love the idea of getting federal protection for it. As it turned out it was a very long process and I think Chet was kind of skeptical at the beginning. We went through a long process which maybe you already heard about and the first step was deciding what parts of the river could be designated as Wild and Scenic and could-did it meet the federal standards. We found out that the Wild and Scenic protection only protected free flowing rivers so once you get to a dam or an impoundment you can't protect that. It can't be rip rapped along the side and it has to have outstanding characteristics so like a National Park there has to be something really special about it in order to get federal protection so the first thing that we had to do was to decide should it be just the Sudbury or the Sudbury-Concord, should it be the Sudbury-Concord-Assabet? So we started meeting once a month with the National Park Service staff and this little group that had gotten together that was interested and somebody from OAR came and somebody from Sudbury Valley Trustees came and there were people from some of the Conservation Commissions of the towns along the rivers. People would advocate for their part of the river. Lowell was great, Lowell has white water and people kayak or how about this part and that part, but what we eventually ending up doing is looking at the river going from the confluence we went upstream on the Sudbury and Assabet until we got to a dam and downstream on the Concord until we got to a dam and we had a nice Y shape piece and there was certainly champions for the park in Lowell and the Assabet and beyond there. But the Park Service people explained to us that it was kind of unusual disjointed segment and it might be easier to do it if we didn't do it that way and downstream on the Concord it is not as pretty and it would be harder to make a case. It is not ecology and scenery wise it would be harder to make a case for needed protection. So we ended up with this Y shaped piece. The next step was to get a study authorized to get it officially looked at and Congress had to offer that study so did Chet tell you about this? Now I don't remember if this is the recommendation of the Park Service or Chet's idea, but what we ended up doing was getting all eight communities along that segment to vote at their town meetings and actually one town may not have. I think the town of Lincoln may have had the selectman write a letter because they had already done something similar, but the other seven towns had to vote at their town meeting whether they wanted the study or not. To me who is sort of naive and young, I thought okay that is a no brainer. Why wouldn't anyone want to have the federal government to come and study the river? You get people to look at it and tell you what is good about it and make a decision, you know there is not commitment there, well it turned out to be quite controversial in some of the towns. Some of the communities thought right away what a great idea. But such as Lincoln where they didn't even think about going to a town meeting. Other towns like Billerica were really concerned. The town of Billerica gets its drinking water from the river and they were concerned that they might not be able to sink another well or the federal water would come in and tell them they couldn't do it. So there was opposition there. The town of Concord which I am sure Chet told you about had somebody who was a part of the Wise Use group and had experience with the National Park Service up in Maine and had conceived a real hatred for the agency and I think it was part of his overall philosophy and fear of loathing the federal government. He went around telling people that there would be land takings associated with this and I think it found some fertile ground in the town of Concord because Concord has as you know, already has MCI Concord, already has Walden Pond, already has the Park and around the same time or shortly after that, actually it was around the same time the Park was trying to expand in Concord and also in the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and I think that people felt like it was enough government present in the town already and that there were enough tourist and that they didn't have anything to gain from this, that enough already you know, leave us alone. So he got 1,200 people to sign a petition and there was sympathetic person on the Board of Selectman and it is always easier I found in local politics, it is really always easier for people to say no than to say yes to a new thing and it is just easier to defeat a new proposal and to go with the status quo. It was actually a battle in Concord to really educate people mostly because what this was about because there was land taking at all and if anything I think that the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in some ways is weaker than I wish it were as far as a tool to control growth and sprawl or any of that. It is really not appropriate for those kinds of uses. It is really very limited to limiting federal activity funded permitted or initiated federal activity that would somehow harm the river and that is all it is. The other half of this ended being getting together a group, a regional group to take care of the river and implement a lot of activities to protect the river. That is a wonderful thing that is going to happen and it shouldn't be something that is scary. It should be something that the people really welcome. Anyway, we went through each town and its own strategy and it was very exciting and I thought it was very dramatic and there were two sets of votes and now they border a little bit and the line on one of them we had help from the AMC and the CR Club and a lot of the organizations got their members to support it as well and that was helpful and I think that was the second vote. We did a lot of just going from town to town making presentations and answering questions and talking to Boards and Selectman and talking to Conservation Commissions and getting it put on their warrants and getting it endorsed by the different town boards and that did pass. It passed in all the towns, even Concord. Billerica finally figured out that as the farthest downstream community they were either going to sit at the table and be involved with the decisions being made or they were not going to be players. So they figured that it was better to be at the table than not, because some of the towns were more easily separable than others. We could have still done it without Billerica and could have just stopped at the Concord boarder where if Concord had been out it wouldn't
The one leg of the Y starts at the Sudbury River in Framingham at the Danforth Street Bridge. The other one starts right here at Damonmill on the Assabet and this is only four miles. The Sudbury is the longest leg of it. In the last part of it is Concord. The Concord River goes to the Route 3 bridge in Billerica. Actually here is the SUASCO watershed and you can see that it is an upside down Y. The end points are shown there. I mean that takes up the entire stretch of the three rivers. If you canoed it, you would know how special that is - all three of those rivers. I think in particular the Sudbury and the Assabet and the upper Concord and as you continue on the Concord it broadens out and it straighter and lots more interesting whereas on the Assabet you have this really long canopy of trees and the high banks and the mixed hardwoods and it is very interesting meandering. The Sudbury of course has beautiful meadows and a lot of bird life to look at and its just really great canoeing. The other thing is that it is just so unusual and special is that the rivers are so close to Boston and yet you could be on the rivers and feel like you are having not quite a wilderness experience but pretty close compared to most other outdoor activities that you can do around here. So it is really a real benefit for the region to have these rivers and I think it should be important to protect them. It is hard to imagine now that everybody is congratulating each other and patting each other on the back about how wonderful this is, and you know success has many mothers and failures and often that kind of thing. It is hard to remember back then (twelve years ago, or ten years ago) how controversial it actually was especially in Concord, but it was. I had sleeplessness nights over this and over these very stressful meetings where I would go to public meetings and I was kind of young and not that confident in general. Going to these meeting with Selectman and having always hostile questions from the audience - lots of hostile questions from the audience. It was interesting the Park Service - the people that I work with were so committed and so wonderful and need a program inside and out and love the rivers too. We weren't working 9-5 at that point. We would go to millions of night meetings. We would all go to them, it was a lot of work. So anyway, that ended and that all passed and the next step was to get this river conservation group established (the study group) and so that group had eight people from the different towns and somebody from OAR, SPT and somebody from Great Meadows and I may be forgetting one other person or maybe not. For a few years (about three years) I put together a conservation plan and I did the eligibility report which was an internship for the National Park Service, that is when I had gone back to graduate school and I was hired during the summer to research the outstanding values, which was the piece that would determine if this was indeed eligible be a Wild and Scenic River. What we had found was that it was recreationally, ecologically, scenery wise and cultural history which is what made it special and it had to be regionally or nationally outstanding or regionally statewide and so it wasn't really a high threshold and the fact that Great Meadows which was along these rivers was already given the seal of approval from the government that it had ecology there and there had been 200 species of birds sighted and the association of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Hawthorne really made it very unusual from a literally prospective and cultural prospective. The shot heard round the world that started the American Revolution was fired on the Concord River and there was a lot of history. Anyway, the scenery is of course outstanding. The group determined that it was eligible and then suitable referring to political support so that meant that we had to go back for another round of votes. Again, it was controversial. I think that the second round of votes was a little bit easier because people saw that our study had been going on for three years and no land had been taken and people had sort of come to accept it and as we were going there was a process of education that happened because the people that served on the committee went back to the communities and reported regularly to the Board of Selectman and we had a huge mailing list so people understood this a little better, it wasn't as frightening to them. So then we went back and got another series of votes and everybody voted yes and they even took it to their town meeting and it was a lot fun actually. At that point I think the last vote I think that I was eight months pregnant with my daughter and didn't go to the last couple of meetings but it was really exciting. Each victory - now there was a whole group of people that was devoted to it and people would just get so excited. The next step after that in the meantime we have this little conservation plan for the river which is going to now be a great useful thing and at OAR we are doing some of the activities in the conservation plan and it was very well done and documented.
The next step was really to take it to Congress for designation and at that point we delivered to Marty Meehan. We delivered to Marty a really done deal as far as the communities were concerned and had the seal of approval from all eight communities, two environmental organizations, and there was nobody opposed to anymore. It was for him just the challenge of being the democrat in a Republican told Congress to get that through and being from Massachusetts which doesn't help either so it took him three sessions of Congress before he finally did it. Someone told me that this is the first piece of legislation that he has gotten passed since he has gotten elected. I don't know if that is the truth - but it probably is, so I am sure that he is very proud of it and I know he worked very hard and his staff worked very hard. I think that we have the fun part working for Chet because I got to work with all the towns and get to know the Selectman and the Conservation Commissioners and the volunteers and each town had its own little group of activists that got involved and what was fun about it and personally besides just the excitement of seeing something finally go though, I mean working on this all time it really turned my career towards the direction of being an environmental activist and I don't have a big background or anything. Chet mentioned I saw him at the event, and he said "this is kind of a watershed for you" watershed for you to get involved with this and it was, because I don't know if I would have realized that I could make a living, not a great living but a living doing this. If it weren't for getting involved with Chet and all these environmental issues and the field of policy.
Bill Sullivan, developer of the Damon Mill was chair of the local citizen committee:
I got interested in this stuff in 1985/1986 when Alan Morgan had started having public meetings on his idea to get these river segments designated as well as scenic. At that time there was significant threat to the flow of the Sudbury River from the MWRA. They have on the Sudbury River not in Sudbury, but a little upstream, a thing called the Sudbury Reservoir, which is a retention reservoir, which was part of the City of Boston's water system progression westward to pick up more and more water before they get to the Wachusett Reservoir in Clinton they had built this retention reservoir and it already had a pipe installed -to draw off water to Boston, subsequently they went to Build Wachusett and then built Quabbin. A progression of grabbing more and more water as the population grows is more normal and at that time they were having engineer studies - done to reuse the retention reservoir. Spending a lot of money on engineering studies and the environmental impact statements on what it would mean to the Sudbury River if they did something that they called "skimming" which is taking the excess water flow, the water flow in the Sudbury River above the average flow. However, during all of this many citizens would actually read these twenty pound reports and there were references to the MDC's riparian rights to draw off a lot more than skimming. Those riparian rights existed I would guess are in place today - something they wouldn't give up easily. So there was a lot of concern in the mid 80's, from different washed groups in this area like the SUASCO Watershed Association, and particularly Sudbury Valley Trustees that if the MBC had the ability to draw off a lot of water they could in the extreme turn the Sudbury River into a trickle which since it slopes so gradually (I think the slope of the River is something like a foot between Framingham and Billerica including Concord.) So in a lot of ways it is like a very long lake which supports thousands of acres of significant wetlands so there is a great deal of concern about their being dried up. So one of the ways that Alan Morgan wanted to try to deal with this was to propose that long segments of the Sudbury and the Concord in particular be designated as Wild and Scenic which puts restrictions and limitations on projects such as what MBC was proposing because it is a restriction of federal activities including things that are simply licensed by the federal government or in part funded by the federal government. Funding by the federal government is always trickled down though public works projects from fed money and state money to finance a project. It was a way of putting the bite on that process and again restricting what the Feds. could fund - even if they didn't need a license. Since that time there has been something called the Innerbasin Transfer Act which I think was passes in the early 80's which I think precludes major transfers of water from one watershed to another. There have been some cases I think on the Connecticut River (in particular) that engendered this kind of thing where if you drew off water from the Sudbury watershed you couldn't transfer (pipe it) to another watershed or into Boston, so in the meantime while all this stuff has been going on for twelve years there has been an even greater impact against what could be proposed by MBC. I think generally the attitude of the suburbs that held these water resources wasn't that they wanted to starve Boston and have people passing out from a lack of water it was at the time Boston had a daily rate (I've forgotten the number) of literally millions of gallons of water a day of beautiful fresh water was being squandered by leaks in their system. I think at that time they had just begun a leak detection system and so the attitude was - hey Boston we appreciate the necessity of water, but when you stop wasting it then come and talk to us about it. I think the MBC was already doing a lot of it but they kept doing more and more of it and made huge gains by tracking leaks with cameras and that sort of stuff. I became a selectman in 1986 and in the late 80's Alan Morgan after he consulted at length with Chet Atkins about the federal legislation they contemplated that started a process of going though all the eight towns that were involved: Framingham, Wayland, Sudbury, Lincoln, Concord, Carlisle, Bedford and Billerica. This is sort of a large two step process for this thing. The first is to try to get legislation through the federal government that authorizes and enables you to do the requisite studies to determine whether or not the river segments are eligible for listing, or attached to the Wild and Scenic Rivers. At the time Alan started through this process of sitting down and meeting with selectman at their ordinary meetings. There was in Concord a lot of furor going on over the space in Minuteman National Park. I can remember talking with Chet Atkins saying your not going to throw 90 year old people out of their houses at my watch. These are a properties or parcels that were bought many years ago in the 50's in fact and their life tendencies or their leases were coming due and the park wanted the funds apparently to expand what it had at the time and so there was a lot of animosity towards the Park, some of it I think engendered by the superintendent at the time who basically had an attitude of I'm big mother fed and this is what we are going to do - wrong town to be doing that in. Then this proposal came along seeking selectmen support and then endorsement by Town Meeting in the middle of this Park fury when this program is authorized and supported financially (not administered) by a Department of Interior program administered by the Park Service. Along came this other Park Service program which got caught up in all the flap about Minuteman National Park and so people that were opposed to it -- Simply because it was part of the Park Service itself -- or administered by the Park Service so they could contribute funds to the study that needed to be done and provide a staff person in the name of Cassie Thomas who has been terrific throughout this whole thing. She works in an office in Boston. There was a lot of flack -- ironically in Concord, where you'd expect support for this additional level of protection by federal restriction on their activities in the waterways -- these 29 miles of rivers. Ironic because the nature of Concord is having long tradition of conservation but also because it had almost half, I think it has 14-15 miles of the thread of the 29 miles of free flowing rivers proposed. So it had approximately half of the rivers and is the only town that had all three of them. The Assabet was included in order to qualify it to the extent it was possible. There is a very strict definition in the base act that says the water is supposed to be free flowing. At the time I thought that we could find a way to run it past here at the Damonmill and then up to the next dam but the definition of free flowing rivers in the act precluded passing into areas that have canals, man made retaining walls and dams. So even though this dam is breached, if we included this area and up to the next dam unfortunately it would have rejected the whole system proposed so it was decided to stop it a thousand feet downstream of the remnant of the Damonmill spillway so that it would meet the definition. Another definition that raised a lot of rank or over this thing is in the basic act. Because the act was originally written for protecting wild western kinds of rivers it included the federal governments right to take land on either side of the thread of the river up to 1,500 feet. So when people were trying to find ammunition to fight this thing and to make it seem more worse than it was in applying it an urban area they would constantly say that -- " The public is going to be playing volleyball in your backyard if your property goes down to the river -- what a terrible thing and here comes mother fed and she is going to tell you what to do with your backyards and so forth." The bigger [irony] was that in fact the whole purpose of this thing was a restriction upon the federal activities, licenses and funding. I can't tell you how frustrating it was to know that and try to convey it to people that don't want to hear that they probably, if they are in that mind set, should have been supporting it. The potential taking was not realistic in this context but remained a major issues so in order to get it thought the Concord Town Meeting, and there are many peripheral citizen meetings that Chet Atkins would hold trying to get public support for this and I would attend because by this time it's been several years since I first got interested in this thing. I first got interested in this because I live on the river. I live in a commercial building but I see the river everyday and I have an interest in its future. I think that the rivers in this town are one of its biggest assets and they ought to be protected. The legislation for the Study Bill was drafted and I guess it was in the vicinity of '89 -'90. It was taken through eight town meetings and in Concord the whole effort was to change the legislation draft so that it would preclude any possibility of taking for the purpose of this listing as Wild and Scenic. The only other town that had any other concerns was Bedford. In fact all seven of them looked like we had two heads figuring that we'd be leading the charge for this and so it took efforts to explain to the other towns why this was going on and that really it had nothing to do with whether or not we like conservation. Finally it did get through with those conditions, it did pass the Concord Town Meeting so that began a process where the drafted legislation through Chet Atkins office then headed through the federal legislative process, which included the need for people to come down and testify to the subcommittee of the main resource committee of the House of Representatives. At the time there was a fellow at the Park Service by the name of Phil Hoffman that was dealing with this and I believe Betsey Stokey and I went down and we both testified to this committee. Now at that time the head of the committee was a fellow name Bruce Vento who was I think from Minnesota and it was when the majority in the house was from a Democratic side and Bruce Vento regarded himself as the last bastion of protection of the federal government's right to taking is general. So of course when he and his staff looked at what we were proposing, he had a major problem with the fact that we had the audacity to limit the federal government in any form, particularly the governments right to do taking's. Through a lot of negotiation that language was removed from the basic proposed legislation and put in something called "report language" which is sort of the background explanation of why any bill is in the form that it is. Of course when we came back to report to the Selectman that the anti-taking language wasn't tossed out but it wasn't exactly in either, it provided for a fair amount of consternation because there were people that were still on the Board of Selectman that were still skeptical about the whole thing and very skeptical about any federal government meddling in local affairs. We somehow got over that and since this was only the study authorization it was still regarded as the "camel's nose." We did get through it and Concord did not try to block the thing after all. The authority from the town meeting was to the selectman who had to sort of evaluate the net result to make sure it was in conformance to the town meeting vote and it was decided that it was. We had very strong commitments from our Senators and Congressmen that if Concord didn't like what it got back it could fold or back out. If Concord in particular had folded the whole system would have gone literally and figuratively down the drain. The only other town that had any concerns at time was Bedford. It was concerned as to whether or not it would put any restrictions on their need for drinking water, wells to be placed within the aquifers of the river, but their fears were relieved by the fact that it wasn't something that was going to be federally funded as a starter and this whole system wasn't created to create more bureaucracy, it was more of a process of education locally and in the process create the platform for the eight towns to start communicating with each other. The rivers are obviously aren't aware of political bounds they are passing through and for the most part the towns have had very little conversation between each other on this lineal resource. There are nine treatment plants on the Assabet River, not on the segment but certainly on the Assabet itself. There are a lot of circumstances where like the town of Billerica uses the flow from the Concord River as their main drinking water source and then they pollute it with waste and dump it back into the river through a treatment plant. So, they weren't objecting to what we were doing in fact, Billerica threw its representative Town Meeting was supporting this (note: the aforementioned bolded text in red has been deleted from the original oral transcript.) for the most part. You get to a place where in the meantime we also had one of the citizens of Concord who was admittedly opposed to this was a fellow name Eric Vehyl who I think probably throughout his constant badgering through his prospective is a member of something called the Wise Use Movement was that we were completely out of our minds to start with and we're doing as is some local plot against he and all property owners of the town. I think without his constant badgering the whole issue of keeping the anti-taking language would not have stayed such an important thing. He was a constant badgering reminder of this and after a point I just lost patience with the guy. As a Selectman I had to put up with him and I always tried to be pleasant with him but after a while I just told him I've had it, and there is only so much that can be done and he is never going to be happy with it anyway. Finally the State Legislation did pass the Study Bill and we did get it through all eight town meetings and it was signed by the President (and we are now getting into the Spring '92 and my six-years as a selectman were up at that point). The Interior Department was looking for nominations from each of the Board of Selectmen to have a representative to the Study Committee and since most of them had no real understanding of what I was doing with this stuff anyway on my way out the door was asked to be the Town's Representative and agreed to do so because basically nobody had stayed with the thing so long. It took almost a year and a half once these nominations were given to Secretary Luan to get the committee appointed. The committee consisted of a representative from each town, the woman in Framingham was Leslie Willett and the women from Wayland was Sally Newbury, and the man from Sudbury was Alec Porter, the Rep. for Lincoln was Peter Sprayregen, I represented Concord, Carlisle had Wanda Millik, Bedford actually had two of them, there was an Anna Lipouski for a long time who we found had a piece of land that she was apparently proposing to fill in the wetland of and that is why she stayed interested. There was also a very active Bedford Selectman on water sources as it was a big issue in Bedford. There is a lot of trouble with Lexington and Hanscom Field and the MWRA and so forth. Joe Piantossii was a very active participant in the whole process with us and also an avid fisherman and I think wanted to make sure that we weren't fooling around with his recreational life too much and to protect his town's concern about the water - wells. Ruth Ann Valentine became their representative after Anna Lipouski left became their representative. The fellow representing Billerica was interesting (still interesting) character, a fellow named Ralph Bacon who was one of the public works engineers for the town of Billerica. The committee consisted of thirteen people so in addition to the eight you had two governor appointees. Governor Weld appointed a fellow by the name of Jonathan Yeo who was from the MWRA and a women by the name of Joan Kimball. She is a Lincoln resident and she works in the Mass. Department of Riverways in Boston and has for many years. Another person who is closely associated with this whole thing from the Atkins days is Julia Blatt who was an aide for Atkins who I got to know in the days of trying to keep this thing rational relative to the experience of Minuteman National Park. Today Julia is the director of something called OAR. OAR had a representative by the name of Betsey Stokey who is one of OAR's founders and also a member of the Concord Natural Resources Commission for a long time and Sudbury Valley Trustees also had a representative; Ron Macadow. Alan Morgan had unfortunately since died so we were in a sense carrying on his dream of protecting the rivers. The thirteenth was a fellow by the name of Ed Moses, who was the manager of the two Great Meadows Federal Wildlife Refuges administered through Fish and Wildlife, in the river segments; one in Sudbury- The Elbanobscot Facility on the river and the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge here in Concord, also an interesting guy. In the midst of the study we finally got going, there was a huge lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service by the Nature Conservatory. They wanted to include in their national lawsuit a place that was having some issue in the Conservatory's opinion, that was not protecting the resources sufficiently from things like jet ski's and that kind of thing which are already illegal on the rivers anyway, but you would never know it.
So, I think it was April or May for the first time these thirteen people that had never known each other, got together up at the Buttrick mansion and one of the first things that you do is pick a chair so they immediately start talking about how vociferous Concord had been throughout this whole process and since I had some peripheral things to do with getting the legislation through and at least getting the positive vote though here in Concord, I get nailed with the job of doing that. So the whole study process started at that point, we had finally gotten appointed after sitting in limbo for a long time. I am not going to bore you with the study process but essentially it was to establish all "outstandingly remarkable resources" (only a bureaucrat could think of something like that). So we began researching and had a scientific study done to determine the remarkable nature of the flood plains and wetlands and also to document the impacts of various amounts of flow. When you look at the flow it takes to support the rivers and the wetlands in particular that are there today, there is very little margin of error. "Skimming" in its own would have a huge impact on wetlands so that was all documented by a study (I forget the name of the company that we hired with federal funds) but it was Roy Crystal, who owned this environmental study company. So we did all of the requisite studies, some of the outstanding remarkable resources demonstrated were not only just the biological ones. But historical and literally because a lot of the literal connections to the river. In fact when I went down the first time to speak to this sub-committee chaired by Congressman Vento, it is just the standard stuff you see on television, you know with this big horseshoe shaped high desk and all these guys looming down at you and you are sitting down at this little tiny table and you feel like you are about the size of an ant. Everything is sort of orchestrated, you even have to submit what you are going to have to say in advance and I figured why particularly in July do I need to go down there and sweat in the Washington heat if I already know what I am going to say. Anyway, I got up to speak and one of the things that I said was that Thoreau despised authority and particularly despised the Concord Selectman and ironically here is a Concord Selectman trying to protect the rivers often referred to as the Thoreau's Rivers. I was trying to lighten these guys up a little bit which worked to a point, then at one point Congressman Markey came in for a brief moment, sat down with the committee and started making by reciting all this poetry from Emerson and Thoreau about the river. That kind of cracked everybody up because he wasn't doing it very well. At the time there was still this animosity about the Park Service and one of the people, technical staff people in D.C. from the Park Service to my surprise got up and testified against this project which completely blew me away. It was his position that it didn't really need to be as important as a Wild and Scenic designation, it could be done by an administrative thing. Anyway, so then you roll forward to probably 1997 or something like that, the study is done, the committee has voted finally it eligible. We had met every month at least and had many public hearings and we then needed to go back through all eight Town Meetings again to get the Town Meetings endorsement because that is what the Congressmen wanted as a demonstration of support - do you really want this now that it is eligible? It was all an interesting experience. I went to all eight of them and spoke at almost all of them, by then we had an issue in Billerica about a family owned marina that also supports ocean racing boats up on the Concord River in Billerica. This family would trot in this ancient old guy, I think his name was Sullivan too, and then say that you are destroying my father's heritage and this marina has been here a long time, which we of course were not. They were concerned about what we were doing understandably. When they finally understood that we are actually in the business of promoting access to the resource and liked what they were doing I think that they found that we weren't so bad after all. So the second round of Town Meeting at Billerica, even though its a Representative Town Meeting they trotted out the old guy again as they used to do it at the hearings. We had hearings at every town and I thought I would never get this out of my life - it went on and on and on. We had public information hearings at various stages and it seemed like between the meetings we had as many hearings as we did meetings. We finally get through it all with positive votes from all eight towns, some of them were fairly squeaky but Concord was not by this time. Back to the federal process and low and behold this time, all of the Committees and Congress are run by the Republicans. Interestingly that allowed us the context in which to put the anti-taking language back into the main body of the Bill because Vento and those guys are now sitting in the back row and the former minority member, Jim Henson was now the chair of the same committee that I had spoken to. I went down there and testified again, and I believe we went through three rounds of this. It was the 105th Congress - the first year of it and the Bill didn't get through fast enough because there was a lot of competition with other bills that we're a lot more important to people saying don't attached a bill to this because that is going down the pipe and stick with this, etc., etc. There was a massive amount of negotiating between staffs and by this time Marty Meehan is in former Congressman Atkins seat working very hard to get the same thing passed but also, like Atkins very much out front on a number of issues. So you've got a guy form the south, Jim Henson, who had some issues with Meehan's stand against the tobacco industry, which has nothing to do with us, but this is the way the place works - 'it's if you'll give a little here, maybe I will support you there.' Nothing gets through Congress on the merits, its all just this deal making and then its goes through all the staff and all these kids work there butts off doing this stuff. It gets very complicated very quickly from things not really related. So anyway, we didn't get thought that year and then we got down to last fall, the fall of '98 which would have been the second session of the 105th Congress. We are getting down to where we more or less have gotten passes the House or we did get passed the House finally, and I had to go down again (the third time) and appear before the Senate's version of the same kind of committee. At that point Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry personally showed up with testimony to the sub-committee hearing. They personally spoke on behalf of this legislation, went out of there way to find me and thank the citizens working on this committee for doing this kind of work. And they also understood that with the republicans running Congress they were a bit of a lightening rod, so they had to be careful on how strongly they came out for us because it could backfire.
We get down to the week before Congress is to adjourn (maybe a month before), Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, is doing a Wild and Scenic Rivers Bill on the Chattahoochie River in Georgia, which runs through Atlanta. It's land of a slow flowing muddy moving river. He is being egged on by the trust public lands down there and it's like a fourteen million dollar funded bill as well. Ours is on a scale of maybe a $100,000 a year - on a good year. The Speaker of the House decides that he is going to attach his Bill to our Bill, which he did. So I am thinking at the time this is great, finally this is going to get this is basically non-controversial passed but this doesn't seem to get us anywhere either because of all the other stuff that is going on in Congress. We have the anti-taking language in there and the thing is redrafted fifteen ways to Sunday and I am thinking we are ready to go and wow! we just jumped the Gingrich freight train and nobody is going to stop us now, because we are on the Speaker of the Houses' pork barrel freight train. It always porkbarrel when it's someone else's Bill. We come down to days before the end of the last session of the 105th on the Senate side and I've done my testimony and all that stuff well before this, and in Tennessee a Democratic Senator was retiring. In Washington that means he is dead meat, he has little influence or power because nobody has to live with him after the session. This Senator had a Federal Courthouse built somewhere in Tennessee that was nearing completion and this fellow had a judge who was a friend and apparently. Had done a lot of good works in the state of Tennessee and he thought is was appropriate and a nice thing to do to have this courthouse named after his friend and General good guy, the judge. So he filed a Bill to have it named after the judge. The Republican Senator from Tennessee said "no, your not getting away with that when your on your way out the door. I am going to oppose it." On the Senate side unlike the House there was this thing called a "hold" and a Senator can put a "hold" on any Bill that has come before the Senate and he can even do it anonymously and that Bill stops dead in its tracks and it just sits there until the hold is removed. Unfortunately, in my opinion it places a huge amount of power in any one of the hundred Senators hands and it can be abused pretty easily. The staffs are running around going crazy because this guy has put a hold on Newt Gingrich's Bill attached to our Bill because the outgoing Senator now wants to stick his thumb in the Republicans' eye on his way out the door because he doesn't like being treated this way with this federal courthouse naming bill. There is all this buzz (literally like a bee hive) between the staff and they arrange a deal because this Senator doesn't really want to go out the door with a bad taste in his mouth but he is having fun with his thumb in Gingrich's eye. So the staff deal is that at the last minute of the 105th, he will lift the hold and it is understood to be like somebody pulling the plug on a drain and everything goes flying through. A lot of other bill's are apparently in the same circumstance, waiting for various other deals and so forth. So, we get down to the point where the staffs are calling me and saying Trent Lott (the Senate President's) has a plane ticket for a 5:30 flight and takes him a half hour to get to the National Airport, and it's figured that he's going to run the Senate right up to the end at 5:00 and gavel it to adjournment for the whole session. The deal is that the guy from Tennessee will lift the hold somewhere between four and five and everything will pass and everything is wonderful - on to the President. At 4:00 Trent Lott walks in and instead of continuing the dialogue or debate, he decides that it is time to go home then. So he gaveled the Senate into adjournment in a few minutes and everybody involved in a whole lot of Bills is sitting there with their mouth hanging open including the Senator from Tennessee who at that moment is retired and was waiting to pull his "hold." Newt Gingrich's Bill goes down the toilet and subsequently so did he, so I don't know where the Chattahoochie sits. Gingrich the week before this had a big celebration on the Chattahoochie, celebrating the passage in advance. (I'd love to be at the meeting when he had to explain that one.) We just went down the chute all over again, freight train and everything right into the Chattahoochie. That now gets us into early '99. Congress is back.
The 106th Congress starts, and now this kind of stuff is sort of treated like floor sweepings from the last one and so there is a sense that this is unfinished business but I was afraid that I was going to have to go down there all over again and do over all this testimony but fortunately I didn't. All of a sudden it was thrown in with a bunch of stuff as Marty Meehan had been pounding away at this thing relentlessly to get it through and it went to the Senate side, Kennedy and Kerry got it through there I think President Clinton signed it in April.
Incidentally during this whole study period the rivers had the legal protection as if they were listed and we had cases where we proved that the alarm system worked through the federal government - through the Corps of Engineers. More importantly the cases where we got involved with the state on a bridge case and the MWRA on a case in Framingham where I think that they learned that we were not onerous bureaucrats, we were people that were making suggestions as to how moderate some of the impacts on the rivers. That is the nature of the whole thing. So I think that what we are about to do now that everybody has taken their bows for getting this thing through, that Cassie Thomas and I are going to get our committee back together and we're going to approach the Selectman from each town and get this River Stewardship Council, as authorized by the Bill, going and to be funded and supported by the Park Service and Cassie Thomas fortunately will be there for this River Stewardship Council. It will be roughly getting the same representation, not the same people but the same representation as were on the Study Committee and as I do every chance I get I push to have like the Reps to the Committee from each town be a Selectman so that it tends to stay on a front burner at least initially. So I suspect that we will do that later in the summer or in the early fall and as far as I am concerned we'll probably meet with the River Stewardship Council and this will sort of envoke the way that we have conceptualized this thing and how we think it should be administer and so forth. I think that the real benefits are going to be communication between the towns through this body. Educational efforts that can be funded through it for limitations on phosphate for non-point solution. Dealing with people like Bill Edgerton at the Concord Public Works who wants to do the right things. We can help him in many ways because he too is looking for phosphate removal. To get the towns talking so that it is an educational/ communication process kind of thing. Not some big bureaucracy that is being built. I think that it will be a lot more effective that way. It will be nice to have it finally in the bag and moving forward. I am not sure that the process makes any sense but it does work - eventually.
The Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT), the Organization for the Assabet River (OAR), and other local conservation interests request assistance from the North Atlantic Regional Office of the National Park Service to evaluate whether portions of the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers could be designated as Wild and Scenic.
U.S. Public Law 10 1-628 designates segments of the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers for study regarding their suitability for becoming a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
SUASCO Study Committee -- made up of representatives from the eight affected towns, SVT, OAR, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts -- concludes that the river segments merit wild and scenic designation. Eight affected towns endorse designation and a proposed river management plan in separate town meetings.
U.S. Representative Marty Meehan (D-MA) introduces H.R. 3405, a bill to designate portions of the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands holds hearings on H.R. 3405.
U.S. National Park Service submits draft report showing that 16.6 miles of the Sudbury River, 4.4 miles of the Assabet River and 8 miles of the Concord River are suitable for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, based on their free-flowing character and the presence of five outstanding river-related resources (ecology, history, literature, recreation and scenery).
Meehan re-introduces legislation (now labeled H.R. 1110) to designate these portions of the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. U.S. Senators John Kerry (D- MA) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) introduce identical legislation in the U.S. Senate (S. 469).
House Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands reports the bill favorably to the full Resources Committee by voice vote.
The two Republican-sponsored bills are scheduled for full House consideration under the Suspension Calendar, a process reserved for non- controversial bills and require a 2/3 vote for passage. H.R. 193 is notably absent. Meehan's staff logs calls to Majority Leader Dick Armey's office and Democrats collectively threaten to wage war by threatening to kill (vote down) the Republican bills if H.R. 193 is not scheduled for a House vote.
H.R. 193 is put on the Suspension Calendar at the last minute and passes the House by a 395 - 22 margin.
The House-passed bill is referred to Senate Subcommittee on Parks, Preservation and Recreation, which discharges the bill to full committee.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources reports H.R. 193 favorably to the full Senate.
The bill passes Senate by Unanimous Consent and is cleared for the President.
The bill is signed into law by President Clinton: Public Law No: 106-20.