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Construction of controversial fish ladder in Easthampton back on track after three years of delays

  • This is a view from the south bank of the Manhan River showing the current progress of construction, as of Tuesday, September 24, 2013, of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This is a view from the south bank of the Manhan River showing the current progress of construction, as of Tuesday, September 24, 2013, of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Construction equipment was idle during a noon visit Tuesday to the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Construction equipment was idle during a noon visit Tuesday to the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This temporary shielding creates a dry area behind the dam during construction of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This temporary shielding creates a dry area behind the dam during construction of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This is a view looking downstream from the Manhan Dam showing the current progress of construction, as of Tuesday, September 24, 2013, of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This is a view looking downstream from the Manhan Dam showing the current progress of construction, as of Tuesday, September 24, 2013, of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This temporary shielding creates a dry area behind the dam during construction of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This temporary shielding creates a dry area behind the dam during construction of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • A sign for anglers, illustrating the differences between trout and salmon, is posted outside the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, under construction at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    A sign for anglers, illustrating the differences between trout and salmon, is posted outside the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, under construction at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This is a view looking upstream, toward the Manhan Dam, of the lower portion of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka fish ladder, under construction just east of the Northampton Street (Rt. 10) bridge in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This is a view looking upstream, toward the Manhan Dam, of the lower portion of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka fish ladder, under construction just east of the Northampton Street (Rt. 10) bridge in Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This is a view from the south bank of the Manhan River showing the current progress of construction, as of Tuesday, September 24, 2013, of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Construction equipment was idle during a noon visit Tuesday to the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • This temporary shielding creates a dry area behind the dam during construction of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • This is a view looking downstream from the Manhan Dam showing the current progress of construction, as of Tuesday, September 24, 2013, of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • This temporary shielding creates a dry area behind the dam during construction of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • A sign for anglers, illustrating the differences between trout and salmon, is posted outside the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka the Manhan River fish ladder, under construction at 29 Northampton Street (Rt. 10) in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • This is a view looking upstream, toward the Manhan Dam, of the lower portion of the Manhan Dam Fish Passage Facilities, aka fish ladder, under construction just east of the Northampton Street (Rt. 10) bridge in Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Mayor Michael A. Tautznik said the facilities that will allow migratory fish to bypass the dam on the Manhan River to spawn upstream should be finished by early to mid-November.

The final cost of the project, initially funded by $750,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, has doubled to over $1.27 million because the original contractor in 2010 discovered unforeseen complications at the work site that had to be rectified by the current contractor, New England Infrastructure Inc. of Hudson.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked with the city on the project back in 2010, but a few months after work began that summer, unanticipated drilling added another $100,000 to the budget. Then the contractor, CRC Co. of Quincy, discovered old timbers buried in sediment upriver from the dam, which made it impossible for workers to install a temporary rubber bladder dam, designed to block water to keep the work area dry. Neither the city nor Fish and Wildlife had the extra $447,600 CRC estimated it would cost to remove the timbers, so the project halted.

Finally, last fall, the Fish and Wildlife Service secured nearly $400,000 in federal and other funding to complete the project. New England Infrastructure Inc. was awarded the contract for the $393,600 project in February, but relying on federal funding meant the project had to be completed by the end of the year.

Work began anew in early summer, and Tautznik says it’s been progressing well ever since.

“We had a wet June and that slowed work down a bit, but we’ve had good weather for it as of late,” Tautznik said. He said heavy rains made the river spill over the bladder dam at times.

Over the last few months, workers have removed the buried timbers, installed the bladder dam and removed part of the concrete dam where the fish ladder will be installed, Tautznik said. Concrete that was poured at the site is curing now, according to an update from the contractor.

How it works

The fish ladder that allows the migratory fish to swim up and over the dam is a long concrete channel with wooden baffles in it. “The baffles cause the water to roil and slow down, so the fish can swim up it,” Tautznik explained.

The chute will be open for fish this spring, when they are going upstream to spawn, and closed in the summer and winter. Every fall, when the fish are typically heading downstream, a pipe will be open to allow them to bypass the dam.

Tautznik said state and federal wildlife officials are excited that the project will open up another 10 miles of spawning ground for herring, shad and Atlantic salmon.

“The state has already stocked herring in the upper reaches of the Manhan River to help establish an active population there,” Tautznik said. “They’ve already documented that these fish are trying to come upriver, so now they’re putting in some more to try to encourage the population.”

Show me the fish

Some research in recent years, including a University of Massachusetts study, has suggested that fish ladders are not all that successful in helping the fish get upstream. But Tautznik and Fish and Wildlife officials maintain the fish passage facility will work.

Adrian Jordaan, assistant professor of fish population, ecology, and conservation at UMass, co-authored the study published in the journal of the Society of Conservation Biology, Conservation Letters. He said that he mostly studied bigger, “mainstem” dams, including those on the Connecticut River.

In an email Wednesday, Jordaan said that while smaller fish ladders like the one being built on the Manhan River do help fish migrate locally, it is likely that many fish never get that far because they are stopped at bigger dams downstream.

The truth about the effectiveness of the Manhan River fish ladder will come out this spring, as a video monitoring system will be installed at the facility to keep track of the fish passing through.

Tautznik said the monitoring system will be paid for by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but is not part of the construction project. He did not know how much it would cost and Fish and Wildlife officials could not be reached for comment because their offices are closed as part of the government shutdown.

Tautznik said that after fish scale the ladder, they will pass through a cement chamber called a “video cave” and an electronic recording system that is triggered by movement will switch on and record each time a fish passes through.

“There will be reflective aluminium walls and Plexiglas to allow for viewing of the fish” from the viewing platform, he said.

Jordaan said the effort to monitor the fish ladder’s effectiveness is a “positive step.”

The biggest problem with most fish ladder installations is lack of monitoring, he said. Methods such as video monitoring systems or the coordinated efforts of stakeholders, academic institutions and federal and state agencies should be used to keep track of new fish ladders, he said. “Without doing so, you may be doing good, but may also be wasting money.”

The fish ladder itself doesn’t require any electricity to run, but the video monitoring system will, Tautznik said. While he personally thinks installing a few solar panels would provide enough power, Tautznik said the Fish and Wildlife Service prefers to run an underground conduit to provide electricity.

To do so, the city needs to get permission from Richard Boyle, the owner of an adjacent parcel of land. Boyle and the city have both sued over the city’s use of the former water works property he bought in 2005 as a staging area for the project. The city argued he bought the land with an easement allowing the construction of a fish ladder, while he argued that the permits for the work were not legitimate and that it interfered with his right to use his property. The city won a preliminary injunction in court to start the project in 2010.

Tautznik said he remains hopeful that Boyle and the city will be able to come to a mutual agreement on the electrical easement. “And we’re still trying to settle that court case,” he said.

Boyle did not return a call seeking comment.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

Related

Editorial: Fish ladder lessons in Easthampton

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

After three years of delays, a lawsuit, a federal audit and hundreds of thousands of dollars of cost overruns, migratory fish could soon be spawning upstream on the Manhan River in Easthampton. That’s because the city’s much-ballyhooed fish ladder project is finally nearing completion. There were times when this environmental endeavor seemed like it would never materialize. We must caution … 0

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