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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 have named a "river navigator" to help coordinate their efforts to restore the historic Blackstone River.

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

The Blackstone River is 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 cleanup of Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire and Loring Air Force Base in Maine.

"Johanna is an ideal choice to steer the Blackstone River 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 a healthier, more vibrant river that plays a central role in the region's economy."

Hunter was chosen as EPA's river navigator for both the Blackstone and the Woonasquatucket rivers, which were chosen jointly as American Heritage Rivers. Hunter will act as advocate and liaison to the 26 communities along the two rivers, which join to form the headwaters of the Narragansett Bay. 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 rivers.

"I'm 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 American Heritage Rivers Initiative has focused national attention on the Blackstone and Woonasquatucket rivers and has sharpened local attention on the issues surrounding the rivers," said Michael Creasey, executive director of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. "With Johanna at the helm, we can begin to work through those issues, to restore the health of the rivers and open the rivers for safe public use."

Heavy industrial use of the Blackstone River 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 both the Blackstone and Woonasquatucket 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.