Preliminary analysis shows York River a good candidate for ‘Wild and Scenic’ status

Posted June 13, 2014, at 1:36 p.m.
Last modified June 13, 2014, at 6:55 p.m.

The York River could be a good candidate for Wild and Scenic status, according to preliminary findings from the National Park Service released by the House today.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree requested a preliminary survey as part of legislation required to fund a full study, and the House passed the measure.

The legislation is now awaiting Senate deliberation.

The National Park Service’s preliminary report found the York River, located in South Berwick, York, Elliot and Kittery, to “likely meet criteria for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and a full study would be productive and appropriate.”

“What the survey did was basically look at the different criteria of the Wild and Scenic Rivers program and see, in a general sense, if the York River would have a chance of meeting them. Unequivocally, the report said yes,” Pingree said.

“The findings confirm exactly what community groups have been telling me about the river’s value to the area’s economy, environment and character. This is an important step as we continue to work to get the full study bill passed by Congress.”

The southern Maine watershed contains 32 square miles of the York River mainstream, wetlands, ponds and tributaries, as well as drinking water reservoirs, a salt marsh estuary, and 109 miles of streams and rivers.

“The York River feeds the ecology, culture, history, economy and beauty of this region. This new National Park Service survey report highlights the river’s many important attributes and outlines possibilities for its future,” said Carol Donnelly, founder of Friends of the York River. “We are thrilled that the [National] Park Service acknowledges the value of this special place.”

Pingree’s legislation — HR 2197, the York River Wild and Scenic River Bill — passed in the House in March. Companion legislation, S1520, was introduced by Sen. Angus King in the Senate. Pingree originally introduced the bill in the last session of congress after many requests from community groups, businesses and individuals.

If approved by Congress, the full study would determine whether the river is eligible for one of three designations —wild, scenic or recreational — under the Wild and Scenic River program. Community members would then be able to give their input on whether the designation should move forward.

Upon approval, the designation would likely attract more federal funding and assistance for the area to preserve and restore fish and wildlife habitats.

According to the National Park Service report, strong community group and interest group support for a Wild and Scenic River Study and “a demonstrated track record of natural and cultural resource protection [that] supports key elements of suitability,” made the York River a good fit for the Wild and Scenic System.

Congress established The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1668 through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to “protect outstanding rivers from harmful effects of new federally assisted projects such as dams and hydroelectric facilities.” Rivers considered for the system must be free-flowing and posses at least one “Outstanding Remarkable Value.”

Maine has 31,752 miles of river, according to rivers.gov/maine.php. Only 92.5 river miles are designated as Wild and Scenic, making the Mt. Katahdin-based Allagash River Waterway the only designated watershed in the state.

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