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Mayor decides town might keep dam

GREENFIELD — The mayor has decided at the 11th hour that it might be better for the town to repair a 178-year-old timber crib dam near Meridian Street, instead of removing it as the town and Connecticut River Watershed Council have been working toward for more than a decade.

Mayor William Martin has asked that the town do another study on the dam, but this time to see if it is feasible to repair.

“This project started many years ago,” said Martin. “I want to see what the best course of action is in 2014, not 2001.”

Martin said the original idea was to remove the Wiley & Russell and the Mill Street dams to allow fish to swim upstream. He said plans have changed so drastically, he believes the town has to look at the entire picture before removing the dam.

“It has been determined that we can’t remove the Mill Street Dam,” said Martin. “It’s only 1,100 feet from the Wiley & Russell, so removing one and keeping the other isn’t going to do much for the river.”

Martin said he has talked with neighbors of the Wiley & Russell.

“They don’t want it to go,” he said.

According to Watershed Council River Steward Andrea Donlon, a previous study indicated that it would cost the town $40,000 to $150,000 to remove the Wiley & Russell, while it would cost the town between $500,000 and $1 million to repair it. She said the actual cost to remove Wiley & Russell would be between $300,000 and $350,000, but grants would pay for most of the work.

Martin said he believes those figures may have changed over the years.

“I want to know exactly what it would cost the town to repair and maintain the dam,” said Martin.

The town’s Community Relations and Education Committee will hold a public hearing Monday at 6:30 p.m. in 114 Main St. to discuss what might eventually happen to the Wiley & Russell Dam.

The town has spent almost 14 years discussing whether to remove the dams, but last summer decided it would cost too much to remove the Mill Street Dam, so decided it would only move ahead with plans to remove the Wiley & Russell.

“The mayor has said he wants current cost estimates to repair the (Wiley & Russell) dam,” said Donlon. “We’re disappointed, because we would have liked to have known this before we put so much time and grant money into the project.”

Donlon said it cost her council about $500,000 in grants to date to study, analyze, design and get permits for the two dams. She said the cost for each dam is about equal.

Donlon said the next step would have been to begin the removal of the Wiley & Russell.

“That’s how close we were,” she said.

Donlon said the purpose of removing the dam would have been to restore the ability for fish to move up and down the river. She said the dam no longer serves a purpose and is a safety hazard.

Donlon said the Wiley & Russell Dam was a timber crib dam, but has been repaired so many times over the years that is has become mostly a concrete dam at this point.

She said removal of the dam would also reduce water pollution in the river and protect surrounding properties from flooding. She said it would also open the river up to recreational activities.

Late last year, local historians began a signature campaign to stop removal of the Wiley & Russell, saying the dam would provide great educational opportunities to residents, tourists and area students.

The Army Corps of Engineers came to town in 2008 with the idea to remove both dams, which are located about a quarter of a mile apart.

The town decided last year that it would cost too much to remove the Mill Street Dam because removal would end up exposing town sewer and water mains there, which would then have to be protected, so the town would have to build a structure to cover the pipes.

“We’ll be meeting with the mayor next week,” said Donlon. “We’re not sure why he withdrew his support of this project, but we’d definitely like to stay in the loop.”

Donlon said she is “a bit frustrated,” because the mayor was fully behind the project after he was elected in 2009 and until just recently.

“All I want is to do is have more discussions in 2014 about what the best path for the town to take is, not just continue on this one and be sorry later,” said Martin.

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