Our recent flood has spawned controversy over what should or should not be done to/with/in the AuSable River in an effort to avoid further disaster. It is an emotional topic, to say the least, that sadly holds the potential of dividing our townspeople who recently found such unity after Irene's wrath. As with most topics worth getting angry over, there are always two sides and multiple facets on each. Here is mine.
I think back to 25 years ago, when I did not have to spend my entire summer earning the tourist dollar in an effort to sustain myself in "beautiful downtown Keene." I was a "river rat" who stayed waterlogged most of each sunny day from the time the ice left in May until school started in September. I frequently put my inner tube (donated to me and my summer fun by Lawrence's Service Station) into the East Branch at "Blueberry Point." (If you're not local enough to know where that is, it is above "the Mill Dam," below "Champagne Falls" on the corner of "the Gorge.") I would drift on my tube from there to Arto Monoco's, where I would hang out with Arto, play in the remains of the Western Village, and call my mom to come get me. I swam with the natives native fish, that is - yes, there were some back then that thrived in the deep pockets and cold waters of the AuSable. There were no sand bars to block my path, and there was a clear channel to follow the whole way there. Flooding happened once in a while in the spring, and it only broke the channel by a foot or perhaps two. People were prepared for that.
Why was the river so different then? APA rules and regulations were new, and their result not yet determined. Their intent was to keep the river clean and natural, an honorable intent but one that does not take into account that towns were built along these rivers during a time that allowed dredging and containment. Their rules took humans out of the circle of nature with the idea that anything human was unnatural. Why should we not be PART of the circle, I ask?
Before such rules, towns removed the yearly fall-in of gravel and silt from gathering spots that naturally occurred within the rivers and brooks. This sand and gravel was retrieved from the river, stockpiled and used for various projects within the town. This completely logical practice saved the taxpayer money which is now spent to purchase and truck in such materials. As a bonus, the pockets left behind - along with the larger, heavier rocks that were left because they were too difficult to move - provided the perfect habitat for fish to live and breed. Rivers were not "straightened," as opponents to dredging suggest; they were utilized without harm and flowed freely in a deep, narrow channel so unlike the wide, shallow rock bed we see now.
Mother Nature has proven we are no match for her but has reminded us that we are PART of her cycle. Can we return to past practices in which silt and rock were regularly removed and utilized, and the river was allowed to be maintained? I certainly hope so, but the return of strict rules and regulations that forced the necessary action in John's Brook and other places to be swift and less picturesque than would have been preferred suggests not.
It is my sincere hope that the towns of Keene, Jay and AuSable will do their best to compromise between environmental concerns and property concerns. I have no doubt that they will if they are allowed to. They have done a stellar job up until now under battle-zone circumstances and deserve more support than criticism. It is unfortunate that critics speak so loudly while the rest of us stay silent. Perhaps this, too, should change.
Kristy Deyo lives in Keene.