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Release Date: 07/19/1999
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BLACKSTONE, Mass. - Before a star-studded crowd near the scenic Blackstone River Gorge, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency New England Administrator John P. DeVillars today announced that the EPA and 13 other federal agencies have signed an agreement committing the federal partners to marshal all of their resources to bring about the cleanup and restoration of the Blackstone River and the Woonasquatucket River.

DeVillars also announced that his agency will be awarding $237,100 of grants to support the revitalization of the two urban rivers. The grants will be used for water quality monitoring, wetlands protection, River Ranger education programs, pollution abatement projects and a host of other activities.

The announcements were made at a loud and enthusiastic gathering of citizens, community leaders and political leaders to celebrate the designation of the Blackstone and the Woonasquatucket as officially-designated American Heritage Rivers. The rivers were among 14 that were selected nationally from among 126 nominations.

"Bike paths, water parks, riverboats, fishing, Water Fire exhibits - all of it's happening on the Blackstone and the Woonasquatucket," said DeVillars, who was flanked today by U.S. Senator John H. Chafee, U.S. Representative Jim McGovern and a host of other dignitaries. "The turnaround these rivers are seeing is remarkable and the purpose of the American Heritage Rivers Initiative is to take these revitalization projects even further."

"In earning the designation as an American Heritage River, we have been given the opportunity to realize ambitious plans," said U.S. Senator Chafee. "I hope that in a year, this group can reconvene to tick off a list of promises kept and goals achieved for the rivers and communities along this watershed."

"The Blackstone-Woonasquatucket Valley represents our past, present and future," added U.S. Representative Jim McGovern. "The new American Heritage River partnership will make sure that local communities have access to federal funding and support services. And the funding announced by EPA today will help keep the rivers clean and our environment healthy. I also want to commend Administrator DeVillars for his continuing commitment to our region."

The grants that will be awarded in the coming weeks include the following:

    • $100,000 to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to fund nonpoint pollution abatement projects on the Woonasquatucket River and in the Blackstone River watershed.
    • $25,000 of wetlands grants to the City of Providence to help the city develop a plan for restoring a wetlands buffer along the banks of the Woonasquatucket River. The plan is part of a cooperative effort with the R.I. Department of Transportation and the City of Providence to construct the Woonasquatucket River Greenway/Bikeway.
    • $43,000 of American Heritage River Grants to support various activities in and along both rivers. The Providence Plan will receive $26,000 of the funds for use on the Woonasquatucket River and the remaining $17,000 will go to the Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor Commission.
    • $49,100 of Urban River Grants for Save The Bay and the Northern Rhode Island Conservation District to conduct wet weather data gathering and monitoring on the Woonasquatucket and develop multi-lingual education and outreach materials on "Do's and Don't's for the Woonasquatucket River."
    • a $20,000 Urban Environmental Initiative grant to help the Providence Plan expand its River Ranger education program on the Woonasquatucket River.
Community leaders for the two rivers praised the announcement of the grants.

"The communities along the Woonasquatucket River welcome this opportunity to celebrate the American Heritage River program and thank Senator Chafee and John DeVillars for their leadership in this initiative," said Jane Sherman of the Woonasquatucket River American Heritage River Steering Committee. "While we celebrate our rivers, we are challenged by environmental concerns along the Woonasquatucket River. We appreciate the financial assistance from EPA and the cooperation of our federal partners as we work together to reclaim this wonderful river for our communities."

Today's ceremony also included the signing of a four-page memorandum of agreement, in which the federal agencies agreed to work together on the American Heritage River partnership to coordinate local initiatives with federal plans and programs for preserving and restoring the two rivers.

The partnership, which will be headed up by EPA-New England through its recently-appointed River Navigator, Johanna Hunter, includes the following federal partners: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension, Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service; the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service and Economic Development Agency; the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, Geological Survey, National Biological Service and National Park Service; the U.S. Department of Transportation; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Federal Emergency Management Administration.