Funding flows in for $1.8m removal of downtown Exeter's Great Dam
|<b>February 14, 2016</b> - Exeter, New Hampshire is going after a dam right in the middle of the historic community with support from the Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grant Program, which aims to create healthy and sustainable coastal ecosystems through habitat restoration. Another antiquated dam.<b></b> - <b></b> -|
|Jason Schreiber, Coorespondent|
|The Great Dam in downtown Exeter will soon be removed as part of a $1.8 million project. (JASON SCHREIBER)|
EXETER — The end is near for the Great Dam.
A $1.8 million plan to remove the 17th-century dam in the heart of Exeter’s historic downtown recently got a big boost when the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved $610,960 of funding for the removal project through the Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grant Program, which aims to create healthy and sustainable coastal ecosystems through habitat restoration.
According to the town, the project was one of only six habitat restoration projects in the country to be picked.
The project is expected to begin in July after voters in 2014 OK’d the removal of the dam, which dates back to 1647 and sits at the point where the Exeter and Squamscott rivers meet. While they’re part of the same river system, the Exeter River is the freshwater portion while the Squamscott River is saltwater.
After years of debate and study, the 136-foot-by-16-foot concrete dam is being removed to restore the Exeter River to its natural condition, reduce flooding and stop environmental damage.
Officials said the dam has contributed to low dissolved oxygen and thermal stratification in the lower Exeter River and has been a barrier for fish migrating between fresh and saltwater.
Town officials were told by state Department of Environmental Services in 2000 that the dam wouldn’t be able to hold up in a 50-year storm and would need to undergo improvements or be replaced.
“Not many projects that I’ve worked on have had this detailed level of commitment at the local volunteer level,” NOAA fisheries biologist Eric Hutchins told the Exeter River Study Committee at a recent meeting announcing the grant approval.
The town already received $190,060 in other grants, bringing the total to $801,020.
While the dam has become an Exeter landmark, Steve Kaneb is among those looking forward to its removal.
In 2013, Kaneb and his wife purchased the former Loaf and Ladle restaurant, which sits along the river next to the dam and has experienced flooding in the past during severe rainstorms.
“It’s basically putting nature back to the way it was built before humans altered it,” he said of the dam removal.
Kaneb has invested in a major renovation of the building and a second-story addition and is now discussing leasing options with potential restaurant operators.
In addition to the environmental benefits, Kaneb said the dam removal will also improve aesthetics.
“It’s more pleasant to have rustling water outside, especially if you’re on the deck,” he said.
Great Dam is the latest dam to face removal in a state with approximately 3,100 active dams.
More than 20 dams have been taken out across the state since 2001. Most recently, deficiencies forced the removal of the 52-year-old Labin Ainsworth Dam in Jaffrey last year. The Tannery Brook Dam in Boscawen was also removed.
According to a state list, several other dams are being considered for removal, including the Gonic Dam and Gonic Sawmill Dam on the Cocheco River; the Union Village Dam in Wakefield; the Israel River Dam in Lancaster; the Macallen Dam on the Lamprey River in Newmarket; and the McLane and Goldman dams on the Souhegan River in Milford.
“We’re always working with dam owners. If they don’t want to maintain it they have the option to remove it,” said Steve Doyon, administrator of dam safety and inspection for the state’s Dam Bureau.
In some cases, owners simply don’t want the expense of bringing old dams up to standards so they choose to remove them. Other times, Doyon said, it may be more cost-effective for the owner to maintain the dam rather than shoulder the high cost of removal.
“The issue really is funding, and that’s a major nut to crack,” he said.
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