Massachusetts invests $1.2 million in ecological restoration projects to fix poorly-engineered streams and wetlands

On March 12, 2020, the state of Massachusetts announced $1,215,000 in state and federal grant funds for four priority ecological restoration projects in the towns of Amherst, Mattapoisett, Northampton, Easthampton, and Plymouth.

The four projects help local partners correct badly-engineered water flows, remove aging and dams (some of which were never necessary), rejuvenate historic wetlands, restore floodplain habitat and storage, and improve resilience to climate change.

Our administration is proud to help municipalities and organizations complete on-the-ground restoration projects that increase resiliency for communities and while restoring ecosystems and natural habitats,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Working with local communities to support these restoration projects represents a crucial part of the Commonwealth’s climate change adaptation strategy.

The four projects restore healthy habitat while also helping communities prevent storm damage, address aging infrastructure, and improve outdoor recreation. The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) selects wetland, river and flow restoration projects that bring significant ecological and community benefits to the Commonwealth as Priority Projects through a statewide, competitive process.

By fostering collaboration between state and federal agencies, non-governmental partners, and cities and towns across Massachusetts, our administration is able to support these critical projects that protect natural resources and build resilience to climate change in our communities,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.

Implementing these important projects will lead to needed infrastructure improvements and deliver significant environmental and public health benefits to residents across the Commonwealth,” she added.

Priority Projects are eligible for grants, technical services, and project management and fundraising help from DER staff. Currently, 56 ecological restoration projects throughout the state are designated as Priority Projects.

Healthy wetlands and floodplains buffer communities from the impacts of extreme storms,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides.

Natural flood protection will become increasingly important as climate change leads to larger, more frequent storms, and by making these investments now, the Baker-Polito Administration is reinforcing its commitment to working with communities across the state to build a more resilient Commonwealth,” she continued.

The river and wetland restoration grants are administered by the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Division of Ecological Restoration. DER brings together federal, state, and local agencies and organizations to plan, fund, and implement projects that restore rivers and wetlands while also helping communities adapt to climate change.

These projects represent a collaborative, partnership-based approach to restoring habitat,” said Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ronald Amidon. “We work closely with cities and towns, non-governmental organizations, and many other groups to plan and implement river and wetland restoration projects and make smart, targeted investments that support important protections for the Commonwealth’s natural resources.

Of the total funds awarded, $120,000 is from state capital funds and $1,095,000 is from federal grants that DER secured from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agriculture Conservation Easement Program.

Protecting and restoring these wetlands will ensure that the Reserve will continue to be enjoyed by the community and will help sustain our aquifers, and I thank the Baker administration and Commissioner Amidon for supporting this project,” said State Representative Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett).

The four grants awarded are:

Fearing Brook Restoration Project, Amherst

Award: Town of Amherst, $40,000 (State)

This grant supports the reconnection of Fearing Brook to its historic floodplain to improve water quality and reduce the pollutant loads to downstream waterways. The project will also improve stability within the stream channel and create a dedicated public access point adjacent to a newly established public open space. This funding augments funding secured by the Town from DEP’s 319 program and will be used to complete final design and bid preparation. Fearing Brook flows through downtown Amherst and has been highly altered and impacted. DER has been working with the Town to identify potential restoration projects, develop concept designs, and work toward implementation of these beneficial projects to improve visibility, water quality, and appreciation of this urban waterway.

Mattapoisett Bogs Restoration Project

Award: Buzzards Bay Coalition, $90,000 ($50,000 State/$40,000 Federal)

This grant supports the final design and permitting to prepare approximately 57-acres of retired cranberry bogs for required restoration in order to rejuvenate historic wetlands. The Buzzards Bay Coalition (BBC) owns 220 acres of contiguous upland forest, swamp and retired cranberry bogs known as the Mattapoisett River Reserve (MRR), a network of preserved lands in the Mattapoisett River Valley on the south coast of Massachusetts. DER is working with BBC and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on the wetland and stream restoration design and engineering. Funding from this award will help support final design and permitting to prepare the project for implementation. This grant consists of $50,000 in state funds from DER, and $40,000 in federal funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). This award augments funding secured by BBC from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) for engineering design, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for future trails improvements, and the NRCS for future project implementation.

Arcadia/Manhan Meadows Floodplain Forest Restoration Project

Award: Mass Audubon, $30,000 (State)

This grant will support permitting, design, and early implementation tasks as Mass Audubon works with DER on a site within its Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary to restore 15-acres of former agricultural fields to a high-terrace floodplain forest community. Prior to European settlement, the banks of the Connecticut River harbored expansive floodplain forest communities. Over time, these floodplains with rich and stone-free alluvial soils were cleared for agriculture. With increases in agriculture came increases in population, resulting in development pressures that generated additional loss of these forested wetland systems. Currently, floodplain forests represent only 0.1% of the nearly 3,000,000-hectare Connecticut River watershed. Much of this acreage is developed, contains agricultural easements, or consists of intact wetland communities, leaving little opportunity for restoration. Mass Audubon is working with DER on a site within their Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary to restore 15-acres of former agricultural fields to a high-terrace floodplain forest community. Funding from this grant will support permitting, design, and early implementation tasks.

Foothills Preserve / West Beaver Dam Brook Restoration Project, Plymouth

Award: Town of Plymouth, $1,055,000 (Federal)

This grant supports the Foothills Preserve and West Beaver Dam Brook Restoration Project, which involves comprehensive wetland restoration across 42 acres of retired cranberry farmland owned by the Town of Plymouth and 5 acres of downstream degraded floodplain owned by Mass Audubon. A total of six small dams will be removed as part of the project to restore free flowing conditions along 1.27 miles of stream channel and reconnect this sub-watershed to the ocean. When complete, the site will be transformed into a mosaic of natural habitat types within protected public open space, including open water, marsh, fen, forested wetland, restored coastal stream, and sand plain grassland. This sub- grant award towards project construction, consists of federal funds: $1,000,000 from the United State Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant (NCWCG) Program, and $55,000 from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

I’m grateful to the Town of Amherst for initiating efforts to secure support to preserve our natural resources,” said State Representative Mindy Domb (D-Amherst). “Their stewardship is outstanding and I am proud to represent their efforts.

The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is responsible for promoting the conservation and enjoyment of the Commonwealth’s natural resources. DFG carries out this mission through land protection and wildlife habitat management, management of inland and marine fish and wildlife species, and ecological restoration of fresh water, saltwater, and terrestrial habitats.

I’m very pleased to see state funding made available to improve Fearing Brook in Amherst, and to help restore the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary,” State Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “Thanks to the Department of Fish and Game for working with the towns in my district to manage and restore these crucial ecological sites. State and local partnerships like this are crucial for preserving the rivers, floodplains, and open spaces that we value so highly.

DFG promotes enjoyment of the Massachusetts environment through outdoor skills workshops, fishing festivals and other educational programs, and by enhancing access to the Commonwealth’s rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.

Photo of West Beaver Dam Brook Restoration Project courtesy of Massachusetts DER.

See Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration website.

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