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West River Economic Study Released (VT)

Posted: 04/22/2005
by Kevin Colburn

Study Challenges State and Federal Agencies on West River Economic Impact

A study that challenges the operation of the West River by the Corps of Engineers and state agencies will be the subject of a public meeting at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 22, at the Town Hall in Jamaica, Vermont.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in cooperation with state and federal agencies releases water from the Ball Mountain Dam in Jamaica for whitewater recreation.  They originally scheduled six paddling days per year for almost 50 years until 1990 when releases were reduced to four days per year, and in 2003 releases were reduced to three days per year.

Michael Crane AICP of Crane Associates, 21 Ivy Lane Suite 202, in Burlington, VT 05401, a well-known regional expert in river recreation planning and community and economic development, prepared the economic impact analysis. It examines the economic contribution boaters make to the local economy and the economic losses resulting from the reduction of paddling days.

The analysis concludes that each lost paddling day costs the local economy $148,000 in foregone revenue. "The total economic loss to the local economy since the first reduction of paddling days in 1990 is over $6.4 million," Crane said. "The financial benefit of returning to the traditional release schedule is over $1.3 million per year."
A public meeting to discuss the economic impact study will take place at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 22, at the Jamaica Town Hall,3735 Main Street, Jamaica (Routes 30/100). Crane will present the information in the study, and three members of the Select Board will attend. Boating representatives, local business leaders, political representatives, and the general public are invited to attend.

The study was funded by New England FLOW, a regional organization that has represented paddlers throughout New England since 1988, and who helped to negotiate landmark settlements on the Deerfield River in Vermont and Massachusetts and on several rivers in Maine.

Crane said the results of the study, using data collected last September during a West River release, challenge the logic behind the reductions by the Corps and state agencies. "It also challenges their willingness to cooperate.  The dialogue with boaters has been cut off and as a result the local economy has been hurt," he said.

Jamie Reid, owner of the Jamaica Market, said his Main Street grocery store has been a beneficiary of the whitewater releases. "Over the past 15 years the whole thing has steadily dwindled," Reid said. "The real death blow was last fall when they made it just one day of releases. On a one-day release the boaters don't stay overnight or go to the church supper.
Toni Bement, a member of the governing board for the Jamaica Community Church, said revenues from a church supper during the whitewater releases have been fading away but they still enjoy putting on the dinner. "It's always interesting in hear how everyone loves Jamaica," she said. "People who have been here for whitewater come back during the summer. They get to know the state park, too."
Margaret Silvia, who owns Margie's Muse gallery, emphasized that the whitewater crowd tends to return. "If we're drawing people for recreational purposes they're more likely to return at other times.  If they like it they'll come back and there's potential for me to benefit," she said.

The Jamaica Elementary School Club operates a parking and food concession during whitewater releases. "We were pretty bummed that they cut the fall release last year," said Missy Buffum, president of the School Club. "We lost lots of money. It's one of our biggest fund raisers." The School Club provides subsidies for field trips, winter sports activities, and pays for museum talks, cultural events, and a visit by a dental hygienist to the school.

Her husband Jeff Buffum, who coordinates parking, estimated the loss of one release last fall cost the School Club $1,000 out of its annual budget of $12,000. In addition, he said, "We've found there aren't as many people when there's only one day of releases. It's not worth the trip for just one day.  They're a friendly crowd.  We see them year after year and I'm starting to recognize faces and learn their names.

Bruce Lessels, owner of Zoar Outdoor, a rafting company in Charlemont, Mass., said his loss of revenue comes to about $13,000 for every canceled release. "A good deal of that revenue goes to Stratton Mountain for use of their facilities," he said. "And our guests tend to stay overnight, eat several meals, and do something else in the area on the extra day."

Contacts: Crane Associates (802) 657-3720                            

Tom Christopher (N. E. FLOW) (508) 331-4889  

Check out the study through the document link to the right.

Kevin Colburn
Asheville, NC

Associated Projects

West River (VT)
Paddlers have long enjoyed and defended the few recreational releases on Vermont's West River. New hydro proposals may offer opportunities or impacts.