At today’s hearing, National Park Service announces endorsement of Murphy’s bill

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) delivered testimony during a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks urging his Senate colleagues to move quickly to pass his Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic River Act – which would create a U.S. National Park Service protective designation for the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook. During his testimony, Murphy called on the National Park Service to endorse the community-driven, bipartisan effort and protect one of Connecticut’s most vital natural resources. Directly following Murphy’s remarks, Associate Director Victor Knox of the National Park Service announced the agency’s endorsement of the bill.

With protective designation as a “wild and scenic river”, the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook – which runs through ten Connecticut towns – could receive as much as $100,000 in funding from the federal government to assist volunteers and officials with conservation efforts. The upper portion of the river was given protected status in 1994.

Murphy, who initially introduced the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic River Act in 2012 as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. U.S. Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) introduced the companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Congressman John Larson (CT-1) are cosponsors of the bill.

A video of Senator Murphy’s testimony can be found here. The full text of Murphy’s testimony is below:

“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. I am here to testify as you mentioned on a bill that this committee has considered before and I thank the committee and all the staffers for their work on the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic River Act. The journey to obtain this designation began over a decade ago, when local residents in the towns of Avon, Bloomfield, Burlington, Canton, East Granby, Farmington, Granby, Hartland, Simsbury, and Windsor, Connecticut, came together to form a unique partnership to protect this river, and it is my hope that, with your help, the amazing, community-driven work that’s been done can be finally be endorsed this year through a federal designation for the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook.

“There really is an amazing ecological, recreational, and historic story to tell about this stretch of river. I just want to briefly mention a few of the highlights.

“Ecologically this is a really important stretch of river. For those of you that care about shellfish, and we care a lot about them in the Northeast, this is the only known river to support all 12 native New England freshwater mussel species, including the only federally endangered freshwater mussel that occurs in New England. It also has some of the highest water quality in all of Connecticut, so it provides excellent fishing for brown trout, brook trout, and salmon. As many fishermen will tell you, the cold-water fisheries of the salmon brook provide some of the most outstanding opportunities for angling anywhere in the Northeast.

“Recreationally, the Tariffville Gorge in Simsbury, which is part of the stretch of river, as well as in East Granby, provides premiere whitewater paddling and has been the location for world class paddling competitions. It’s also one of the very few rivers in the East that has year-round paddling opportunities. The Tariffville Whitewater Triple Crown Challenge just wrapped up a few weeks ago and this event has attracted competitors from all around the world including U.S. Olympic team members.

“Historically this river is also pretty astounding as well. Over 100 prehistoric archaeological sites have been discovered to date in the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook corridors. It’s been continuously occupied, this is really remarkable, it’s been continuously occupied by human settlement for over 11,000 years. And most recently of those 11,000 years, in the 1800s, it was really one of the most active sites of the underground railroad. Farmington was referred to as the Grand Central Station of the railroad because of its robust abolitionist activities.

“This bill began back in the mid-2000s when my predecessor in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, helped enact legislation that initiated the study on which this present bill was based. The study was completed in 2011 and it confirmed the suitability of designating the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook as Wild & Scenic.

“This is also the product of these ten Connecticut towns coming together. They are Republican and Democratic local administrations in all of these towns. They all support it. It does not represent the federal government stepping into manage the river. Rather, the bill serves to complement the independent work of a group of Connecticut communities that are simply looking for a committed partner at the federal level.

“In my mind, this bill really embodies what Congress should be doing: we’re listening to the needs of local residents, and we are supporting their work. It’s a model that’s worked elsewhere in the state. In fact, the upper 14-mile portion of the Farmington River was designated as Wild & Scenic in 1994. So we already have federal designation on the upper portion of this river. This is seeking designation for the lower portion as well.

“Finally, since last year’s hearing on my bill, I’ve worked very closely with the Park Service and one specific dam operator along the river to craft an amendment that ensures the interests of all stakeholders—the towns, and the companies who own property along the river—so that they are taken all into account. So we are here today with full support from all of the stakeholders for this underlying bill and the amendment.

“During last year’s hearing on the legislation, the National Park Service spoke positively about the bill, but stopped short of endorsing it because the Park Service study report had not yet been completed. The study is now complete, and I hope that you’ll today hear endorsement for this bill. Again, I thank the committee for all of its work on this bill. This is the second time before you…hope that this is a fairly non-controversial measure. As I said, we have really wonderful, broad, bipartisan support for this bill. All of the stakeholders are behind it. Given the fact that the upper portion of the river has already gotten this designation, hopefully it makes this bill even easier.

“Thank you for your time.”