Publication Date

2-2010

Committee Members

Frank Sleegers, Chair - Robert Ryan, Member

Abstract

The City of Springfield, Massachusetts, a city set on the bluffs and shoreline of the Connecticut River and home to just over 150,000 people, is seeking to develop a strategic plan for improving the lower reaches of the Mill River (highlighted in yellow) between the Armory Watershops on Allen Street and the river's confluence with the Connecticut River just west of Interstate 91, approximately 1 1/4 miles to the southwest. This section of the Mill River (referred to herein as the Lower Mill River) is heavily urbanized and functions as a barrier between its neighborhoods. Once valued for its benefits to developing industry, the river is polluted and neglected; degraded banks, illegal dumping, poor riparian buffer health, and incompatible land uses are problems present along most of the Lower Mill.

The City seeks a solution that will establish new recreational amenities, revitalize adjacent neighborhoods, strengthen the links between existing cultural resources, foster future development, and restore the river's ecological health. A strategy for improving the Lower Mill River has the potential to revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods by remaking the river as a recreational and ecological attractor that establishes a strong link to the Connecticut River and the CT Riverwalk and Bikeway, the Armory Watershops, and Springfield College. This project establishes a framework to guide future design and planning decisions for the Lower Mill River so that the City may achieve its objectives of revitalizing both the river and its surrounding neighborhoods.

The Lower Mill River has played an important role in the cultural and hydrologic history of Springfield. Its abundant water power and proximity to the developing downtown made it a logical and convenient location for mills and other heavy industry such as the Springfield Armory Watershops, which dammed the river at Allen Street and were constructed as the mill counterpart to the Springfield Armory "Hillshops", the primary campus of the nation's first National Armory on State Street.

The river's contribution to the local economy exacted a steep toll on its ecological health, riparian function, runoff intake, access and aesthetic quality. As manufacturing declined in the mid-20th century, the neglected river was regarded as a nuisance to newer development and largely ignored in the plans for adjacent properties. Because its degraded environmental quality made the land adjacent to the river less desirable, a predominance of auto-oriented uses developed, further contributing to the river's decline with large amounts of impervious surface and contaminated run-off. In order to accommodate the construction of Interstate 91 in the 1950s, the river was piped underground for approximately 350 years starting just west of Main Street. West of the Interstate, the river daylights in a deep concrete channel in a vacant, paved lot and runs beneath the Amtrak rail line before converging with the Connecticut River.

The Mill River is a significant tributary and subwatershed to the Connecticut River. Northeast of the Armory Watershops dam, the upper reaches of the River flow through wide coves and far less urbanized channels surrounded by a healthy riparian buffer, however poor water quality, degraded banks and riparian function are significant problems for the Lower Mill. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and large amounts of impervious surface surrounding the river increase runoff into the Lower Mill, impeding groundwater absorption and overloading the river's natural capacity to cleanse runoff before it joins the Connecticut, which faces similar problems. Restoring the ecological health of the river is a crucial part of any plan to improve recreational access and neighborhood stewardship because the perceptions and realities about polluted, neglected water bodies discourage people from engaging with the river and its banks.

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