Group protects land straddling New Haven River in Bristol

BRISTOL — A consortium of groups has joined forces to purchase 40 acres of land along the New Haven River in order to conserve it and donate it to the town of Bristol.
The land, which straddles the river in the Bristol Flats area and was previously owned by Alan and Todd Saunders, will be used with the best interests of the river and environment in mind, its new owners said.
“These newly conserved 40 acres downstream of Bristol Village allow for the river to move, flood and change course naturally,” the Vermont River Conservancy said in a statement.
The town of Bristol, the New Haven Anglers’ Association, the Agency of Natural Resources Rivers Program, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the Vermont River Conservancy worked in concert on the $69,000 purchase.
State grants and funds contributed by those organizations were used to buy the property from the Saunders brothers and give it to the town.
Lydia Menendez of the Vermont River Conservancy said the majority of the land will continue to be farmed by the Saunders brothers. Per an agreement with the town of Bristol, the Saunderses can grow perennial crops, such as hay or alfalfa, but not annual crops, such as corn or soybeans. They are also prohibited from using herbicides or pesticides.
Bristol Town Administrator Bill Bryant described the agreement as beneficial to both the town and the Saunderses.
“For us, it’s a good thing, in that it keeps the land used,” Bryant said, adding that since the Saunderses will continue to farm the land, the town will have to do little to maintain it.
The Saunders brothers wished to part with the property because it was in an active flood plain, and difficult to turn a profit on. Menendez said Alan Saunders told her that he wanted vegetation to be planted on the riverbank to protect his neighbor’s house from erosion.
Menendez said it is important to allow rivers room to flood, as they naturally do. It is when humans interfere with a river’s natural course that more damaging floods occur in the future, she said, when there is nowhere for the water to go.
“If a river can flood, it dissipates a lot of its energy, and limits potential damage both upstream and downstream,” Menendez said. “Permanent access to flood plains is important. It’s almost an insurance program.”
Menendez said the land at that location is particularly susceptible to flooding.
“Water comes down the slopes of the Green Mountains very quickly, and hits the agricultural soils of Addison County that are flatter,” Menendez said. “Because of the steep gradient change, the New Haven River is most powerful there.”
By putting vegetation along the riverbanks, the conservancy will slow the flow of the river, strengthen the riverbanks and lessen the amount of sediment that is washed downstream. Without these buffers, farmers lose part of their land to erosion with every flood. Tropical Storm Irene, for example, drastically changed the course of the river.
“By conserving the flood plain and planting vegetation, we’re taking the long-term view of helping the river, and the water quality in and around the river is going to get better,” Menendez said.

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