The U.S. House of Representatives has decided that the urban-industrial lower Taunton River in Massachusetts should become part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. And yet, lots of people think that calling this stretch of the Taunton "wild and scenic" is just about the most bizarre thing they've ever heard.
Situated south of the Boston metro area, the 44-mile long Taunton River drains 562 square miles, making it Massachusetts’ second-largest watershed. It is also the longest undammed coastal river in all of New England. If you’d like to review the river’s many virtuous characteristics, visit the home page of the Taunton River Watershed Alliance.
The Taunton is formed by the confluence of the Matfield and Town Rivers in the town of Bridgewater (pop. 25,000). It is the upper part of the river’s watershed that possesses the scenic characteristics that are touted by preservation advocates. We’ll leave it for others to decide if this upper area of the river is “wild.” I don’t know, myself.
The lower Taunton River is a very different matter. This downstream segment has an unmistakable urban-industrial character. It is the blue-collar sort of waterway that prompts geographers to call it a “working river.” Like all of its working river brethren, this one should be treated with respect.
The lower Taunton even has a certain amount of charm. It is charming, that is, if you ignore the bridges and factories and piers and shipyards and houses and roads and urban skyline and other stuff that span the waterway, line its banks, and tell you in no uncertain terms that this river has been tamed.
Look at the photo accompanying this article and tell me if the lower Taunton has a “wild and scenic” character. Have a look at this video clip and tell me if the lower Taunton deserves to be called a “wild and scenic river.” While you’re at it, attend to the political discourse, which is instructive.
So, then, why did the U.S. House of Representatives just pass a bill -- H.R. 415 (Frank) -- declaring that the whole length of the Taunton, including the lower, urban-industrial portion, should be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System? Why is Ted Kennedy pushing a similar bill through the Senate?
Because Weaver's Cove Energy, LLC (a subsidiary of Hess Corporation) wants to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Fall River (pop. 92,000) on the banks of the lower Taunton. You can get more details at this site.
The proposed site is in a densely populated area that has about 10,000 people living within a radius of one mile. Most locals and state boosters most emphatically do not want an LNG terminal in Fall River, or anywhere else in the vicinity. Everyone is worried about the really bad things that can happen to an LNG terminal. It might blow up by accident, or terrorists might blow it up, or the target might be an LNG carrier in transit nearby. It is NIMBY times ten.
The thing is, if you (wink-wink) extend federal “wild and scenic” protection to the lower Taunton, you can’t put an LNG terminal there. Pretty neat, huh?
I don’t know about you folks, but when our ethically challenged Congress starts using the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in so blatantly political a fashion it makes my flesh crawl. Where is this all going to end? When Congress declares downtown Boston a federally protected wilderness? When Congress declares my gluteus maximus a National Scenic Landmark?
Here’s something else for you to think about. Last year a National Park Service draft report concluded that the lower Taunton River meets eligibility requirements for wild and scenic status. If you don’t think some political pressure was exerted there, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas I’d love to sell you.
Meanwhile, it’s party time over at the Taunton River Watershed Alliance. TRWA wembers and friends are being urged to write their elected officials and thank them for granting federal protection to the entire 40-mile length of the Taunton River -- all the way to the mouth, and including the anything-but-wild-and-scenic lower stretch.
This “end justifies the means“ sort of thinking is familiar to all politically engaged individuals and organizations. Heck, there was a time in my life when I would have made a pact with the Devil himself to save the river bottom hardwood forest of the Congaree from the loggers. (Fortunately, getting Congaree National Park established did not, as far as I know, require anybody to make a Faustian Bargain.)
So you see, I do understand TRWA’s love for the river. I do appreciate TRWA’s elation. And I do congratulate TRWA for working so long and hard in behalf of saving that lower stretch of the river from further debasement.
But make no mistake about it. When you get in bed with a skunk, the odor clings. What is the environmental movement coming to in this country? Is this all we are about – getting the job done, no matter what damage we do to the truth? No matter if we turn the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act into a joke?