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Bill would establish Merrimack River Commission

A new panel — whose funding has already been secured through a budget earmark — would be created to study the health of the Merrimack River and given guidelines to govern its work under a bill the Senate passed Monday.

The bill, based on legislation originally filed by Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, establishes a Merrimack River District Commission made up of state officials and members of regional and environmental groups, and an advisory panel of local officials to work with it.

There are several state agencies, environmental advocacy groups, and local entities working to keep the 117-mile river clean and addressing issues related to contamination and pollutants, DiZoglio said, but there has “never really been a formalized group of experts coming together consistently for the purpose of agreeing to basic facts surrounding the health and wellness of the Merrimack River.”

“We really need everybody to come to the same table, and we really need our legislators to be at that table as well, and our local officials,” DiZoglio said.

The Merrimack River flows from Franklin, New Hampshire into Massachusetts, through the cities of Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill and nearby towns before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean in Newburyport. It provides drinking water to about 500,000 people in Lowell, Methuen, Andover, Tewksbury and Lawrence, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and its watershed covers 5,010 square miles across 200 communities, with almost 2.6 million people.

On Wednesday, lawmakers and community group representatives from the Merrimack Valley plan to embark on a four-day kayak and camping trip from the start of the river in New Hampshire to its end at Plum Island to draw attention to environmental conservation of and recreational access to the Merrimack.

Participants include DiZoglio, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Lowell, Reps. Linda Dean Campbell of Methuen, James Kelcourse of Amesbury, Christina Minicucci of North Andover and Andy Vargas of Haverill; Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera; Northern Essex Community College President Lane Glenn; and Charlotte Harris from New Hampshire Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s office.

The group plans to kayak 22 to 35 miles each day, with stops in the New Hampshire cities of Concord, Manchester and Nashua, and in Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill and Newburyport. Glenn, in a statement, predicted that one of the most difficult stretches will be through the “urban canyon” of class 1-3 rapids in Manchester.


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