Public hearing to be held on Warner River state program admittance 

  • An old rail trestle abutment is shown along the Warner River in Warner. Courtesy

  • A culvert on the Warner River. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 7/4/2017 11:29:38 PM

Towns that border the Warner River will have a chance to weigh in on whether residents should have more control of the river’s development, according to regional officials.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the New Hampshire Rivers Management Advisory Committee will be holding a public hearing at the Warner Town Hall on July 11 to gauge community interest in having the river accepted into the state’s Rivers Management and Protection Program. The meeting is for Hopkinton, Warner, Webster, Sutton and Bradford residents, but anyone interested in the river’s welfare is allowed to attend, Durfee said.

According to Sam Durfee, assistant planner with the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission, acceptance into the program would allow residents of the river’s communities to form a Local Advisory Council and have a formal say in how the river is used. According to the Central New Hampshire planning commission, 18 rivers in the state – roughly 1,000 miles of water – are already in the program.

“They can comment on all state and federal development projects,” he said, noting parts of the river come close to Route 103 and Interstate 89. “There’s a lot of rivers that DES doesn’t have the funds or staff to monitor, and this gives locals a stronger, louder, more cooperative voice when it comes to talking about river interests.”

The idea of having the river accepted into the protection program dates back to 2012, when New Hampshire Fish and Game, along with the Basil Woods Jr. Chapter of Trout Unlimited, surveyed the river and found that two-thirds of the river’s watershed can support wild brook trout, indicating a high water-quality levels, according to Durfee.

That’s important because the brook trout population in the state is often supplemented by fish born in a hatchery. State Fish and Game completed its annual brook trout restocking program in mid-June, when the state flies out more than 100,000 trout fingerlings to 50 remote ponds from the Sunapee region north to Pittsburg.

Officials said the practice boosts the trout population in places where natural spawning can bes difficult.

The river also has some of “the best whitewater rapids in the state,” something Durfee said is rare in this part of the state, and many of its dams still have potential to produce hydropower.

Durfee said if the Warner River is accepted into the program, the state will be divide the river into four sections – natural, rural, rural community and community – that will determine what kind of use is allowed in each section.

There has been some confusion, Durfee said, about the nature of the program. Part of the issue is a misunderstanding about the hierarchy of control over the river. Durfee said residents often questioned why the acceptance into the program would be necessary when the state already has the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act in place. But Durfee said local ordinances are more stringent about what can be done on the river.

For instance, in Warner, any development on the river must be have a 75-foot setback, 25 feet more than what the state requires, and 50 percent of the exsisting vegetation must remain as a buffer, according to town ordinances.

“Some people have seen it as a power grab by the state, but it’s the complete opposite,” he said.

Durfee said if DES determines there is enough public approval for the project, the NHDES rivers coordinator and the Rivers Management Advisory Committee will make their respective recommendations to the NHDES commissioner by early October. The NHDES commissioner will review the nomination and must make a determination by November whether to forward the nomination to the General Court for legislative approval.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this story. Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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