In The News

In 1st bill as a new delegation, Sanders, Welch and Balint seek to explore ‘wild’ designation for 2 NEK waterways

Feb 15, 2023

From left, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint; and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., meet voters at a rally in St. Albans on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022. Photo by Shaun Robinson/VTDigger

In their first bill introduced as Vermont’s new congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., are taking the first legislative step in seeking wild and scenic designation for the Northeast Kingdom’s Nulhegan River and Paul Stream.

“We’ve heard from a lot of the folks up there that the wild and scenic designation is flexible in its meaning, but at its core it’s about designating a river that has special, unspoiled environmental qualities,” Welch told VTDigger Wednesday. “And it’s intended to preserve that and continue to allow for the public use for recreation, scenic beauty and preservation.”

Commissioning a congressional study is most commonly the first step in what can be a yearslong process to achieve the designation, according to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, which operates under the federal Bureau of Land Management, National Parks Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service agencies. Dating back to 1968, the system seeks to “preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”

Vermont has been through the designation process once before. Just over 46 miles of the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers achieved the designation in 2014, nearly six years after a study was first commissioned.

Welch said he hasn’t yet taken his kayak out on the Nulhegan or the Paul himself, but he did paddle the Missisquoi during the region’s “big long community effort” to achieve the designation. Backing this week’s bill on the Nulhegan and the Paul is a laundry list of nearby municipalities, conservation groups and regional organizations, including the Abenaki Nation.

One such group in support of the bill is the Vermont River Conservancy. Noah Pollock, a representative of the conservation group, said in a statement Wednesday that “the Nulhegan is one of Vermont’s most wild rivers” and celebrated the potential for a study “to better understand the river’s values and to explore community interest in Wild and Scenic River designation.”

The bill is the first that Vermont’s newly sworn-in congressional delegation has introduced in tandem. It’s also the first that Welch has introduced as a member of the U.S. Senate and Balint as a member of the House. Welch said he sees it as “a reaffirmation of the commitment that Vermonters have to the protection and preservation of the beauty of Vermont. And this bill is an indication of our desire to be very, very supportive of that.”

What’s “really wonderful about being a part of the delegation here for Vermont,” Welch said, is that “Bernie, Becca and I are all doing this together and are totally excited about doing something that’s good for the environment and allows us to preserve and protect this wonderful stream and do it together. So I think it’s a clear statement of our continued interest in doing all we can to protect Vermont’s environment.”

Sanders said in a written statement Wednesday that Vermont’s rivers “are some of our most precious natural resources, and we must do everything we can to protect them for future generations.” Balint said in a statement that for her first piece of federal legislation, she was ”proud to work with Senators Welch and Sanders to prioritize preserving our state’s natural resources.”

Story Written by Sarah Mearhoff, VTDigger

Story Link: