Amherst wins state grant to study brook polluted by street run-off

Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2014
AMHERST — A contaminated brook which brings pollutants to the Fort River and may compromise the habitat for threatened and endangered species living in the river will be the subject of a study.

A $36,100 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust will assist Amherst officials in determining how best to clean up Fearing Brook, a Fort River tributary that begins in downtown Amherst near the Town Common and flows east along College Street.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said town officials are happy that the state is providing money to examine the brook, which is known to have a high sediment load and takes runoff from streets and parking lots through catch basins.

“We know the water body is compromised, but we don’t know to what level,” Ziomek said.

Much of the brook runs underground through pipes and culverts, though there are sections along the south side of College Street, including portions in the sanctuary on the Amherst College campus, where it flows above ground. Fearing Brook travels through the east Amherst business community, behind the Florence Savings Bank building at Amherst Crossing, passes below College Street near Belchertown Road, and then flows near the Fort River School before emptying into the Fort River.

Ziomek said environmental experts have indicated that a thorough study of the brook, which has never been done, would be appropriate because of the risks it poses to the Fort River habitat.

“Fearing Brook was identified as the most significant source of pollution to the Fort River,” Ziomek said.

The Fort River features dwarf wedge mussels, a federally endangered species, and other mussels and fish that are on state threatened and endangered lists, Ziomek said.

Ziomek said another impetus for seeking the grant was the acquisition this spring of land adjacent to the Fort River School that will become the Fort River Farm Conservation Area. It is expected to be used as a community educational farm.

The study will primarily include water quality testing to determine what oils, gases and other pollutants are in the brook.

Because the brook passes through its campus, Amherst College is interested in assisting with the study, as is the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, Ziomek said. There may be opportunities for children at Fort River School to do projects related to the study, he said.

The study will produce a series of recommendations for the town, private landowners and the college, Ziomek said.

Amherst was the only community in the Pioneer Valley to get a piece of the $429,239 in grants rewarded across the state for projects to protect and restore rives, watersheds and wildlife.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett said in a statement that the trust has been a critical resource for protecting the state’s waterways for two decades. “By communities and conservation partners collaborating and working together with the commonwealth, we can develop important projects for maintaining and protecting our clean waters for generations to come,” Bartlett said.

Funding for the program comes from the sale of the state’s three environmentally themed specialty license plates, the Right Whale Tail, the Leaping Brook Trout and the Blackstone Valley Mill.