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Release Date: 05/18/1999
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and community leaders in Rhode Island and Massachusetts have named a "river navigator" to help coordinate their efforts to restore the historic Woonasquatucket and Blackstone rivers.

Johanna Hunter, who has extensive experience working with citizens groups involved in environmental clean-ups, was chosen to work with communities on revitalizing these now polluted waterways that were central to the American Industrial Revolution and the region's growth.

The Woonasquatucket and Blackstone rivers are among 14 rivers chosen by President Clinton last year as American Heritage Rivers. The American Heritage River program was created to support local efforts towards restoring the historical, environmental, cultural and economic value of abused and neglected waterways.

Hunter, a 16-year veteran of the EPA, was chosen by the communities largely because of her successful record of advocating for citizens involved in cleaning up hazardous waste sites. Most recently, she led a team of five outreach workers involved in cleanups around New England, at the same time she worked directly with citizens living near Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, the largest Superfund site in New England. She was also instrumental in the community work around the cleanup of Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire and Loring Air Force Base in Maine.

"Johanna is an ideal choice to steer the Woonasquatucket and Blackstone rivers into a new era," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "With her past experience in working with citizens, she will be able to help the community create healthier, more vibrant rivers that play a central role in the region's economy."

"I would like to welcome Johanna as the new river navigator for the Woonasquatucket and Blackstone rivers," said Gov. Lincoln Almond. "These rivers represent a rich history that helped to shape Rhode Island and the surrounding community. We must be mindful of the continuing need for preservation, while promoting the many great environmental and cultural opportunities that these rivers offer. I know the river navigator will work hard to achieve these goals."

As the EPA's river navigator for these two rivers, which join to form the headwaters of the Narragansett Bay, Hunter will act as an advocate and liaison to the 26 communities along the rivers. She will help communities identify existing federal programs and resources for revitalizing the rivers and will provide technical assistance to these groups closely associated with the river.

"I am thrilled to be working on behalf of these historic rivers that play such an important part in their communities," said Hunter. "I am particularly excited to be involved with a group of citizens who is so actively committed to creating cleaner, healthier waterways."

Hunter was selected unanimously by a collaboration of local groups that included representatives from the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission and the Woonasquatucket River Greenway Project. Before Hunter was selected, she and other candidates were each given a chance to meet members of the community and take a one-day tour of the watershed area. The 46-mile Blackstone begins in Worcester and the 18-mile Woonasquatucket flows from North Smithfield.

"The Woonasquatucket River communities welcome Johanna Hunter as our river navigator," said Jane Sherman, representative of the Woonasquatucket River American Heritage River Steering Committee. "In partnership with the state of Rhode Island and the New England Federal Partners for Natural Resources, we will work with Johanna to restore the Woonasquatucket to its proud heritage as a natural, cultural, economic and recreational source for all the citizens of Rhode Island."

"This program provides a wonderful opportunity to connect communities and further develop programs focused on the restoration of the river and revitalization of our river fronts," said Ted Sanderson, chairman of the American Heritage Rivers Sub-Committee for the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission. "The great visions developed by many of the Blackstone Valley communities - waterfront vistas, river access, parks and greenways, reuse of historic waterways - may now be realized."

"I'm delighted the river navigator is on board," said US Senator John H. Chafee. "I'm very pleased with the process that was used for selecting Johanna Hunter, especially the input from community groups on both rivers. I look forward to working with her in the future."

Heavy industrial use of the Woonasquatucket and Blackstone rivers has left a legacy of polluted waterways and abandoned waterfronts. Recent cleanup and restoration efforts have begun the work of improving water quality and reclaiming historical areas and buildings. The watershed area for the two rivers includes more than 5,000 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to more than 60 endangered and threatened species, including the blue-spotted salamander and the eastern box turtle