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Dam Removal Enhances Massachusetts Wildlife Habitat

Fifteen hardy New Englanders stood in the cold November rain recently to watch the demolition of one of the largest dams ever to be removed in Massachusetts. The crowd was made up of representatives from a diverse group of public and private partners that have been working together toward this day. The removal of the Briggsville Dam in Clarksburg, a small town near the Vermont border, will restore the North Branch of the Hoosic River.

The 15-foot-high, 145-foot-long dam is being removed to improve wildlife habitat, restore natural river functions and reduce the risk of flooding. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service provided more than half of the funding for the dam’s removal through its Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

The restoration will improve over 30 miles of high quality headwater streams and will benefit native coldwater fish species that rely on cold, swiftly moving, oxygenated water to support their spawning, including Eastern brook trout, slimy sculpin, longnose sucker. The longnose sucker is a state-listed species of concern.

The dam is owned by Cascade School Supplies, which purchased a building on the banks of the Hoosic River, and the dam with it, about five years ago. Shortly thereafter, the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety classified the dam as needing significant repairs. The company faced closing if it had to fund the dam repairs, laying off 150 people and ending a 78-year relationship with the community.

NRCS provided more than $350,000 in financial assistance for the project, as well as technical help. Other conservation partners provided an additional $200,000.

Since it was constructed in 1848 to provide power to woolen textile mills – the last of which shut down in 1970 – the Briggsville Dam has blocked upstream movement of aquatic species, changed the flood regime, increased water temperatures and altered the movement of beneficial sediment downstream.

To remove the dam, a contractor first prepared the site by removing sediment and cutting a notch in the dam to slowly release water. Then11,000 cubic yards of concrete and masonry structure were broken up and removed with heavy machinery. Later the banks will be stabilized and planted with native grasses and other plants.

In addition to NRCS and Cascade, project partners include American Rivers, the Town of Clarksburg, the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, MassWildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many others.

An excavator begins demolition of Briggsville Dam.

An excavator begins demolition of Briggsville Dam.

5 Responses to “Dam Removal Enhances Massachusetts Wildlife Habitat”

  1. Ron Hunter says:

    This is a travesty. The dams have purpose and need to be repaired rather than removed. The trend to remove the dams will have devastating effects.

  2. Timothy P says:

    The dam was high hazard and in poor condition, if the dam remained and eventually failed there would be potential of a loss of property and life. The dam exacerbated flooding and it’s removal will help revitalize an underutilized mill area and support a local business. The hydro potential here is slim and would require a multi-million dollar investment that would not be cost effective. The removal of this dam not only improved ecological conditions for a rare species but was supported strongly by the people of the community that voted at town meeting overwhelmingly to support it’s removal.

  3. Alec says:

    Some of these dams do indeed have societal importance because of the power, recreation, and other benefits they provide, but many do not. Some of them actually are cheaper to remove than repair. The dam removals may have some negatives, such as release of sediment potentially laden with toxins, but I believe the positives outweigh them.

  4. Carl McKinney says:

    You both are right…and you both are wrong. First let me address the bad things about removing this Dam. Our Fire Dept. used to use the water pools to refill their tankers. Kid used to fish, and swim and float on tubes. Years ago, this Dam drove a penstock (water driven driveshaft), which powered machinery. Recently, its flowing water was used for cooling the mill buildings. But the Commonwealth of Massachusetts designated it a significant hazard needing $600,000 in repairs just to keep it the same (with structural improvements). Hydro cost would have been on top of that.
    It will end up costing about $700,000 to tear it down. That money was mostly grants, donations, Town funding and both State and Federal Gov’t help.
    On the other side, even if this Dam fell over…noone was at risk. It didn’t hold any water back because the sediment from the recent viscious rain storms filled in behind the Dam and basically made a ramp out of it made of dirt and rocks.
    The bottom l
    The good thing about removing this Dam is fish habitat restoration, the saving of 30 full time and 150 part time jobs, the business can continue and not saddle the Town with vacant Mill Bldgs in the center of our Town with a $700,000 albatross hung around it. The other argument is it served no purpose and noone stepped up to make it hydro. Clearly the Town does not have that kind of money. So what is…is!

  5. SAW says:

    There are so many dams in US and they all do a lot of damage to habitat. As a country we really need to sit down and evaluate the need for all the dams we have built and tear down the ones that are not needed. Dam building on the East coast has been linked to decreased fish stocks, including salmon.
    Also dams have a limited lifetime and begin to fill with silt which creates a very dangerous situation. Dams should never be considered permanent they all are designed with a certain life span in mind. Most of the dams in the US were built in the early to mid nineteenth century and had intended lifespans of fifty to seventy-five years. More old dams should be torn down especially since so many dams in the US were built as water projects that helped gain political prestige for congressmen rather than to benefit people.

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