No Rest for the West


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Boaters flocking to Vermont’s popular West River now need to play hooky from work and school rather than bag the run on a weekend.

The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) recently announced that the spring release on the river will now be made during the week rather than on a weekend as has been the practice for decades. Paddling representatives at American Whitewater and others were shocked this week to receive a letter from the Corps’ Richard Carlson. The news follows an ACOE decision last fall to move the release earlier into the spring when the state park that provides access is closed. In combination, says AW, these two decisions render the releases almost recreationally useless.

“The elimination of the spring West release by the Army Corps of Engineers is clearly part of a strategy on their part to gradually shut down whitewater releases on all their projects in the Northeast,” says Bruce Lessels, owner of Zoar Outdoor in nearby Charlemont, Mass. “We’ve gone from having six West release days a year 15 years ago to having just one now.

“Similarly on the Millers River just south of the West in Massachusetts, we have gone from having four release days a year to one,” he adds. ”By pulling away the releases over a decade or more, the Corps has avoided a major outcry from the boating community, but they have nevertheless eroded what used to be a major boating resource in New England. I hope boaters will mobilize and let their congressmen know that this is not good management of a public resource.”

AW adds that this news is especially shocking because paddling representatives walked away from a meeting with the ACOE last fall feeling that a productive course of action was finally underway. Opportunities were discussed to shift the spring West River release into May to benefit salmon and paddlers alike instead of the ACOE proposal for an early April release. Also discussed were opportunities to delay natural pulse flows to provide weekend boating opportunities. Now, without discussion, the releases will occur during the week in early April when use will be severely limited.

AW asks that West River paddlers take action on this issue. The two most important steps:

Call, write, or email the Governor of Vermont requesting that he encourage the Vermont Department of Natural Resources to support whitewater boating on the West River.

Call, write, or email your Senators or Representative (no matter whether you live in Vermont or just paddle there) and request that they ask the Army Corps of Engineers why they are not supporting whitewater boating on the West River at Ball Mountain Dam, near Jamaica, VT.

AW also asks that paddlers consider and share the following points:

* The Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the Vermont Department of Natural Resources, has eliminated both natural and planned recreational opportunities below Ball Mountain Dam without justification.
*Whitewater releases have an important economic value to local economies and had occurred historically
*There is no conflict between salmon or other environmental issues and whitewater releases if the releases are scheduled to avoid impacts created by the reservoir during the outmigration period.
* Whitewater releases resemble natural flows in their timing and magnitude.
* The West River system is highly manipulated for reservoir recreation and flood control. In this context the whitewater releases represent a miniscule departure from natural conditions.
* The Army Corps has communicated poorly and in a misleading manner with the paddling public.
* The Army Corps was supposed to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement on their project operations several years ago, which has yet to happen, so these arbitrary decisions to curtail public recreation have no official record to justify them.

“There are easy solutions for providing whitewater recreation, flood control, and environmental protection,” says AW’s Kevin Colburn, adding that paddlers should ask for releases to be immediately resceduled to occur on the weekend of April 11 and 12. “It can and should be done.”

For more information, or visit Friends of the West River Website.

Staff Post
Staff Post
Paddlers writing about all things paddling.


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