NORTH ADAMS -- Removing the concrete flood chute walls and replacing them with more attractive tiered steps that allow access to the Hoosic River along River Street was just one of several ideas floated by the Hoosic River Revival Coalition and its consultants during Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
"Our work is to connect the community to the river once again, while maintaining flood protection," Judy Grinnell, coalition founder and chairwoman, said. "Up until now, this has just been a dream."
While still in the early stages of creating preliminary designs for 10 segments of the river, including land along Route 2 near the Eclipse Mill and along the Noel Field Athletic Complex on State Street, she said the coalition is once again looking to engage the community in its discussions.
Steering Committee member Cindy Delpapa, a river ecologist with the state Division of Ecological Restoration, said that while the flood chutes were designed to prevent flooding, they were not designed for longevity or to sustain an ecological system.
"The flood chutes are getting old and are made of concrete, which doesn't last forever," she said. "If we continue to have more Hurricane Irene-type storms, their life span will decrease even faster."
Delpapa added that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently has no known provisions for the upkeep of the aging structures and does not know the life span of the flood chutes.
"The city is in a good position, as a lot of people with similar flood chute systems have paved the way, with the goal of making the rivers healthier while maintaining flood protection with more modern designs," she said. "They have also made the river the focal point of their cities."
She cited Providence, R.I., and Fitchburg as key examples of cities that have modified their flood chutes in recent years.
Among the designs presented was an option for redirecting a portion of the north branch of the Hoosic, above the Eclipse Mill Dam, and channeling it across the street to what is now the location of the NoAMA Mill building.
James MacBoom, a hydrologist and senior vice president of Milone and MacBroom, the engineering firm working with the coalition, explained the preliminary design would incorporate the existing flood chute as a means to divert flood waters while reconnecting the river with an isolated wetland.
"We have several options available to us in all of these locations," he said. "We can change the river's form and do away with vertical concrete walls to make more playful areas. We will need to do it carefully. There is a type of option, used in more modern urban areas, where the design is built into the flood way. Another option is to slope the channel banks back."
Mark Arigoni, a landscape architect with Milone and MacBroom, said the design for Route 2 could "create a gateway to the city" and the preliminary designs were drawn to incorporate the social needs of the community.
"The design for this area garnered a lot of excitement," he said.
Councilor John Barrett III asked how the changes to the river would bring economic development -- a key goal of the coalition.
"We're looking at what -- $50 million to $100 million in engineering?" he said. "Is there a job creator? Is it going to create jobs besides construction?"
Grinnell pointed to communities, such as San Antonio, Texas, which have done similar projects and have seen new businesses crop up and new residents move in because of the changes.
Councilor Marie Harpin asked how much money had been spent on the project over the last four years.
"We've spent $60,000 to $70,000 so far, which has been in the form of state and federal grants, as well as private donations," Grinnell said. "We have a lot of interest from private donors, as well as state and federal agencies, who have been waiting to see something on paper."