WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed a bill Tuesday evening asking the federal government to determine whether the York River should be the second waterway in Maine to be given a special status as a wild or scenic river.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, would order a multiyear study of the York to determine whether the 11-mile river between Eliot and York Harbor meets the criteria for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system.
A designation can lead to additional federal funding for projects such as fish and wildlife habitat restoration but could also subject proposals for dams or dredging to additional scrutiny. Designation does not prohibit development along the river corridor or give the federal government control over private property, however.
The study would seek public input on the proposal before making a final recommendation.
The National Park Service’s National Wild and Scenic Rivers program was established in 1968 with the aim of protecting free-flowing rivers that are deemed to have “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values.’’ Rivers can be classified as either wild, scenic or recreational, depending on access the river, the history of damming and the extent of shoreline development.
The Allagash River is the only river in the state included in the federal program. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway, which is classified as a “wild” river with limited access and development, runs for roughly 92 miles in far northern Maine.
Pingree, who represents the 1st District, predicted that the designation could help protect the York River and support jobs that depend on it.
“The study will be an excellent opportunity to really document the value of the York River, while boosting local communities and organizations who already know how special it is and are working to preserve the river,” Pingree said in a statement.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville.
This is the second year that the House passed Pingree’s York River legislation by unanimous vote, but the earlier bill died after the Senate failed to take action on it. This year, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has co-sponsored an identical bill in the Senate.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: