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Thursday November 17, 2011 | 03:51 PM

Legislation approving a $500,000 study of whether to designate the York River part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System is a step away from a House floor vote.

The House Committee on Natural Resources today approved by voice vote Rep. Chellie Pingree’s bill authorizing the study, which would take up to three years and would be overseen by the National Park Service and conducted by local organizations.

A Wild and Scenic Rivers designation could mean more federal funding to protect wildlife, and more scrutiny of river projects such as dredging or dams, but wouldn’t interfere with private property rights, Pingree’s office has said.

“We’ve cleared this hurdle because the York River community has done such a great job of showing how important the character of this waterway is to the local environment, economy, and way of life,” Pingree, D-1st District, said in a statement.  “The study will be an excellent opportunity to find out more about the value of the York River, while giving a critical boost to the local organizations and businesses who will do the research.”

The study would determine whether the 11-mile-long river that flows from York Pond in Eliot to York Harbor merits one of three Wild and Scenic River designations: wild, scenic or recreational.

The bill was only passed, however, after an amendment was added by GOP Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the chairman of of the subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands, requiring the study measure the impact of a wild and scenic river designation on such activities as fishing, hunting and bridge building.

Pingree said amendment “makes the legislation stronger. It’s important that community members have all the information they need to decide whether they think the designation should move forward.”

The only other Maine waterway in the 203-river system is the Allagash in northern Maine.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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