January 15, 2009

Whitehouse Joins Rhode Island, Massachusetts Lawmakers to Commend Passage of Bill to Protect Taunton River Under the National Park Service’s “Wild & Scenic” Program

Washington, DC – Senators Edward M. Kennedy, John F. Kerry, Jack Reed, and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Barney Frank, James P. McGovern and Patrick J. Kennedy today commended Congress for the passage of legislation by the United States Senate to support the protection and community-based management of Taunton River as part of the Wild & Scenic River system.

Senator Kennedy’s spokesperson Melissa Wagoner said, “Senator Kennedy is extremely pleased that Taunton River will now be part of the national Wild & Scenic River system. The river’s unique history and biodiversity eminently justify this national recognition. Many volunteers in the cities and towns in the Taunton River watershed have worked hard for this day, and they deserve great credit for this important achievement.”

“The Taunton River’s natural beauty, important ecology and cultural heritage make it one of our state’s most treasured natural resources. It is the longest coastal river in New England without dams, making it a haven for countless species of fish and other wildlife. The communities and associations have done a great job of maintaining and preserving the river over the years and now this legislation will permanently protect it for future generations,” said Senator Kerry.

Congressman Barney Frank said, “The people of Southeastern Massachusetts owe Senator Kennedy a great debt for having this bill pass the Senate. Since we were able to pass the Taunton River bill in the House last year – over partisan opposition – I am confident that we will be able to do so again this year. I am also pleased that we now have a President who will sign this important bill into law.”

“I’m very pleased that the Taunton River is coming closer to receiving this designation,” Rep. McGovern said. “The communities along the Taunton deserve enormous credit for all of their hard work and advocacy on this issue. I will continue to work with my House colleagues to bring this process to a successful conclusion.”

“The Taunton River is Narragansett Bay’s second largest tributary and is vital to the environmental health of the Bay. By securing this “Wild and Scenic” designation we will protect the Taunton River and take steps to improve ecosystems that are critically important to the region,” said Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).

“The Taunton River is part of the larger Narragansett and Bristol Bay watersheds and its health directly affects Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island’s precious coastal areas,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. “This measure ensures this beautiful stretch of river will finally be protected, as it deserves to be, for people to enjoy long into the future.”

“Today is a victory for every community that depends on the Taunton River and its surrounding waterways. This designation will ensure environmental and ecological protection of the river and will help encourage economic development throughout the region. I commend Senators Kennedy, Kerry, Whitehouse and Reed and Representatives Frank and McGovern, for their leadership on this significant environmental conservation accomplishment,” said Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy.

The Taunton River is the longest coastal river in New England without dams. It supports 45 species of fish and many species of shellfish, including seven types of freshwater mussels, and its archaeological treasures date back 10,000 years. The watershed is a habitat for 154 species of birds, including 12 rare types. It is also home to the river otter, mink, gray fox, and deer.

The legislation designates as “Wild and Scenic” the Taunton River between the confluence of Town River and Matfield River in Bridgewater to Mount Hope Bay in Fall River. Federal funds available under the designation will help protect the river.

Kennedy and Kerry introduced legislation in 1999 with former Congressman Joe Moakley (D-Mass.) to authorize a study of the Taunton River for consideration for a Wild and Scenic River Designation, and that legislation was signed into law on October 19th, 2000. The Study identified six special values relating to the river: Agriculture; Ecology and Biodiversity; Estuary; Fisheries; History and Archaeology; and Recreation and Scenery.

The Taunton River Stewardship Council will serve as the principal partner of the National Park Service in implementing and overseeing the Wild and Scenic River designation. The Council will have representatives of the towns of Bridgewater, Halifax, Middleborough, Raynham, Berkley, Freetown, Dighton, Somerset, the cities of Taunton and Fall River, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, the Natural Resources Trust of Bridgewater, the Taunton River Watershed Alliance, Save the Bay, the Nature Conservancy, and the Council Oak Wampanoags.

The National Park Service will implement its responsibilities for Wild and Scenic River management in consultation and coordination with the Council. All expenditures of any federal appropriations resulting from the designation will be coordinated and reviewed with the Council.

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