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Pelham dam removal project to start next week

KEVIN GUTTING
Ken Sprankle, left, and Melissa Grader of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Amy Singler of American Rivers meet Thursday at a mill dam on Amythest Brook in Pelham that is slated for removal.

KEVIN GUTTING Ken Sprankle, left, and Melissa Grader of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Amy Singler of American Rivers meet Thursday at a mill dam on Amythest Brook in Pelham that is slated for removal. Purchase photo reprints »

“From Amhert’s standpoint, this is an effort to restore both the natural flows and sediment flows and the possibility of improving the habitat,” said David Ziomek, the town’s director of Conservation and Development.

The dam was built in the 1820s and once used to power a fishing rod factory.

Its long-awaited removal will begin with a kickoff celebration at HRD Press, 22 Amherst Road, Wednesday at 10 a.m.

This is the culmination of three years of planning that began in 2009 when the dam, 172 feet long and 22 feet high, was identified as both “structurally deficient” and a “significant hazard potential” by the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Office of Dam Safety.

The following year the dam became a priority project for the state’s Department of Ecological Restoration and since then there has been extensive engineering and permitting done at the local, state and federal levels.

Alex Hackman, project manager for the state department, said the benefits will include improving fish passage in the brook, enhancing the flow of sediment below the dam, and sparing the costs of repair and removing a liability for the property owner.

SumCo Eco-contracting of Salem is handling the $193,000 project. Portions of the dam will remain intact, Hackman said, as a way of honoring the historical nature of the site. Hackman said he expects the project to be finished in about five weeks.

Fish from Long Island Sound, such as Atlantic eel, as well as the brook trout native to the brook will benefit from the dam’s removal.

“Our hope is those fish, both migratory fish and the resident fish, like trout, will be able to use Amethyst Brook more,” Hackman said.

Ziomek said ecologists and biologists note that the brook below the dam is “sediment starved.” When the dam goes, the federally endangered dwarf wedge mussel, which is found in and near the brook, will have a better habitat, he said.

Jenks Street residents will also have more peace of mind. “This removes a potential flood hazard for those people live just down the street,” Ziomek said.

The removal is less expensive than repairing the dam, which could have cost $500,000 to $700,000, Ziomek said.

Hackman said several Pelham committees have been instrumental in the project, notably the Conservation and Historical commissions.

Funding sources include $47,000 from a Massachusetts Environmental Trust grant, $75,000 from a Fish America Foundation grant made in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and $25,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Massachusetts Natural Resource Damage Program and Clean Water Action also made contributions.

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