Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
SECTION 1. There is hereby established the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley Heritage District, hereinafter referred to as the district, which shall include the towns of Charlton, Dudley, Oxford, Southbridge, Sturbridge and Webster, to recognize the significant historic, cultural, and natural resources of the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley, and the French River, and to preserve and interpret them for the education and inspiration of present and future generations; and nothing herein shall be construed to limit the rights of private property owners, or the towns of the commonwealth to develop the lands, buildings and resources in the manner they determine appropriate. It is the purpose of this act to provide a management framework to assist the commonwealth and the units of local government of the district in the development and implementation of integrated cultural, historical, land and water resource management programs in cooperation with the federal government and the state of Connecticut in order to retain, enhance and interpret the significant values of the lands, water and structures in the district.
SECTION 2. There is hereby established a commission to be known as the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley Heritage District Commission, hereinafter referred to as the commission, which may coordinate the activities and establish cooperative agreements with federal, state and local governments and private business and organizations to further historic preservation, cultural conservation, natural area protection, tourism and compatible revitalization and development; establish guidelines and prepare or assist in the preparation of programs and exhibits including recognition, preservation, promotion, interpretation and economic revitalization of historic and natural resources; advise and assist with loan or grant applications; provide loans and grants from funds appropriated for that purpose to buildings, sites, resources and objects which are included or eligible for including on the National Register of Historic Places, the State Register of Historic Places or for the purpose of providing educational and cultural programs which encourage appreciation of the resources of the district; and prepare and implement a unified historic preservation and interpretive plan for the district consistent with the Cultural Heritage and Corridor Management Plan prepared by the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission in accordance with the provisions of Public Law 103-449 (16 USC 461), and any subsequent amendments or plans insofar as said plans relate to the district.
SECTION 3. The commission shall consist of nine persons to be appointed by the governor, four of whom shall be representatives of local government from the towns within the district, who shall serve for three years, two of whom shall be persons who are residents of the district to represent other interests the governor deems appropriate, who shall serve for three years, and three of whom shall be persons who shall be the commissioner of the department of environmental management, the state historic preservation officer, and the director of the Massachusetts office of travel and tourism or their designees who shall serve ex officio.
A vacancy in the commission shall be filled in the manner in which the original appointment was made. Any member of the commission appointed for a definite term may serve after the expiration of such term until a successor is appointed and qualified.
Members of the commission shall receive no pay on account of their service on the commission, but may receive reasonable expenses for travel when engaged in commission business, provided such expenses are not reimbursed by any other source.
The chairperson of the commission shall be elected by the members of the commission for a term of one year, and may be eligible for reelection to subsequent terms. A simple majority of the members shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. The commission shall meet at least quarterly and at the call of the chairperson or a majority of its members.
SECTION 4. The commission may for the purpose of carrying out this act hold such hearings, sit and act at such times and places, take such testimony, and receive such evidence, as the commission may deem advisable. The commission may adopt such by-laws, and promulgate such rules and regulations, consistent with this act, as it deems necessary to carry out its functions. When so authorized by the commission, any member or agent of the commission may take action which the commission is authorized to take.
The commission may establish and appoint one or more technical advisory groups and subcommittees to provide technical advice in financing, historic preservation, natural resource preservation, recreation, tourism, and intergovernmental coordination. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the commission may seek and accept, and dispose of donation of funds, property, or services from individuals, foundations, corporation, and other private entities and from public entities, for the purpose of carrying out its duties. The commission may use funds to obtain money from any source under any program or law requiring the recipient of such money to make a contribution in order to receive such money. The commission may obtain by purchase, rental, donation or otherwise, such property, facilities, and services as may be needed to carry out its duties. The commission may acquire real property, or interests in real property in the district by gift, by rental or by purchase from a willing seller with money which was given, bequeathed or appropriated to the commission on the condition that such money would be used to purchase real property, or interest in real property in the district.
The commission may establish such advisory groups as the commission deems necessary to ensure open communication with, and assistance from, the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, the commonwealth, political subdivisions of the commonwealth and interested persons.
The commission may enter into cooperative agreements with the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, the commonwealth, with any political subdivision of the commonwealth or with any person.
The commission is authorized to: coordinate activities of and establish cooperative agreements with federal, state, and local governments and private businesses and organizations in order to further historic preservation, cultural conservation, natural area protecting and compatible revitalization; establish guidelines and standards for projects and prepare programs and exhibits, consistent with standards established by the National Park Service for preservation of historic properties including interpretive methods, that will further the recognition, preservation, promotion, interpretation and economic revitalization of the historic and natural resources in the district; provide advice and assistance in preparation of loan or grant application to the commission and application for loan or grants from the federal or nonfederal sources in furtherance of the purposes of this act; make loans and grants, from funds appropriated for that purpose from funds donated or otherwise made available to the commission, for the purpose of conserving and protecting sites, buildings, resources and objects which are included or eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places or for the purposes of providing educational and cultural programs which encourage appreciation of the resources in the district; prepare and implement a study report which shall incorporate in whole or in part the plan prepared by the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley Heritage District Commission and shall present a unified historic preservation and interpretive plan for the district. The report shall include an analysis of the methods and means of inventorying, preserving, and interpreting the historical, cultural and natural resources of the district along with recommendations concerning utilization of these resources and coordination of activities within the district.