Following a Board of Alders meeting at City Hall last night, city officials will likely agree to put support behind the West River Watershed Coalition’s effort to designate the West River site a greenway.
Three members of the coalition — a group of organizations and individuals working to improve the West River area — called on the four alders in attendance to sign off on their push to nominate the site as a greenway. Under this designation, the West River site, located in the West River neighborhood of New Haven, two miles west of Yale’s campus, could more easily apply for grants from various federal and private funding sources to further develop the area.
“It’s basically just a little mark to show we all work together to improve the watershed,” said Martha Smith, a member of the WRWC Steering Committee.
According to the Department of Energy and Environment of Connecticut’s website, the greenways program defines a greenway as a “corridor of open space.” Smith said that the West River Watershed qualified as a greenway because it was located along a natural feature, the river, fulfilling one of the four possible criteria for designation.
Once a site is designated as a greenway, that area will receive special signs to post at trailheads and road crossings and be included in future plans for greenway development.
In asking the Board of Alders to sign off on their nomination, the WRWC made it clear that it would require no financial commitments from the city.
Stacy Spell, a member of the coalition and a resident of the West River neighborhood, said he was highly enthusiastic about the continuing work on the watershed. He said he believes this designation is one further step in the coalition’s work to improve the site and encourage more residents to use the river.
“It’s given us all a chance to speak with one voice,” he said. “Historically, there have been children who have lived there, but never had the chance to be on it.”
In the 1920s, tide gates were installed to control flooding and mosquitoes, eventually causing stagnant conditions in the park area and poor water quality in addition to blocking the passage of migratory fish upstream. The work on the river is part of a continuing effort to restore the area following a project, finished in 2012, to replace three of the West River tide gates with self-regulating tide gates. These tide gates have allowed for more tidal flow to improve water quality, fish passage, recreational use and habitat for wildlife.
He specifically cited how transformative it would be for a resident to get on a canoe in the river for the first time.
Ward 18 Alder Salvatore E. DeCola also responded positively to the development.
“I just like what you [Spell] said about opening the eyes of the kids,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Joel Tolman, a member of the WRWC, noted that the river is being used as a service activity for students in nearby schools such as Barnard Environmental Studies School, echoing the sentiment that the river was a site for community development.
Close to 100,000 people live within the West River watershed, which extends to parts of East Haven.
Correction: Nov. 21
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Tolman saw the West River Watershed as a potential site for students of nearby schools to perform service activity. In fact, he stated that such activity was already happening.