Work began Wednesday in the western Massachusetts town of Pelham to remove a public safety threat and at the same time provide an ecological benefit to the region. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Environmental officials, and others celebrated as work began to remove a stone dam on the Amethyst Brook. It will result in better water quality and open a corridor for the migration of aquatic wildlife, according to Wendi Weber, the northeast regional director for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Amethyst Brook is described by state environmental officials as a high quality tributary to the Fort River, which is home to some of the most diverse aquatic life in the state.
The dam, 20 feet tall and 170 feet long, was constructed in 1820 to provide power to mills From the 1960's through the ‘80's it created a local swimming hole and fishing spot. In 2007 state inspectors determined it was structurally deficient. The owner, Bob Carkhuff, publisher of HRD Press, was facing substantial costs to maintain the obsolete structure, as well as legal liability in the event of an accident.
Its estimated it would cost $300,000 to repair the dam. Removing it will cost $193,000. The project is funded by several government entities and private organizations, including Clean Water Action and Fish America Foundation. Funds also come the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, which gets revenue from the three environmentally themed specialty license plates the state issues.
The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration emphasizes dam removal as a river restoration tool according to the division director Tim Purinton.
There are about 3,000 privately owned dams in Massachusetts.
The state has about 30 dam removal projects underway.
Inspectors have flagged about 2000 structurally deficient dams in Massachusetts. State Rep. Stephen Kulik says the legislature has been trying to come up a dam safety bill to repair or remove these structures.
Dam safety inspections were stepped up a few years ago, following the breach of a privately owned rock dam in southeastern Massachusetts that produced the risk of a catastrophic flood.