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Speakers split on fate of Wiley & Russell Dam

GREENFIELD — The fate of the Wiley & Russell Dam near the bridge on Meridian Street is in the hands of the mayor.

Town Council’s Community Relations and Education Committee held a public hearing on whether to remove or repair the dam this week, where at least a dozen people spoke about the issue — half in favor of removing it and half in favor of saving it.

Those who want to keep the dam as is and just do repairs said it is “probably one of the most important pieces of history” the town owns. They also said that the dam has educational benefits and that removing it will actually reduce recreational opportunities on the river and will ruin the stable environment the dam has created over almost 200 years.

Those who believe the dam needs to be removed said that would create all sorts of recreational opportunities along at least that stretch of the river.

Members of the town’s Historical Commission said they’d like to see the site, with its dam, become a National Historic Site.

Mayor William Martin listened and he took detailed notes and said he would consider everything all speakers had to say.

Martin said, though, that he has paused the project to review all of the facts before removing a dam that would never be able to be replaced.

“This whole process has taken more than a dozen years,” said Martin. “We now need to look at what makes the most sense in 2014. Many of the reports we have are several years old.”

Martin said over about 14 years, the town and its partners in the project have spent about $1 million to do studies, analyses and permitting.

Connecticut River Watershed Council and American Rivers have both spent many hours to get to the stage the project is at.

Andrea Donlon, a river steward with CRWC in Greenfield, said the project is very close to the removal phase.

“We’ve done the studies and the permitting,” said Donlon. “We can’t ask for the remainder of funding we need if we don’t have a project. We’re possibly going to lose some grants or opportunities for them.”

Martin apologized and said that if some of that money includes salaries for people who have been working on the project, he is sorry.

On the other hand, he said if the money is earmarked for the project itself, there will most likely be more grants available in the future if the town decides to move ahead with removal.

“The dam needs to wait,” said Martin. “There are more pressing issues for the town, including the bridge that sits just feet from the dam. That is in desperate need of repair. That’s where we need to put our money.”

Some suggested that if the Wiley & Russell Dam stays, a fish ladder should be built there, but Conservation Commission Chairman Alex Haro, who spoke at the hearing as a resident, said it would “not be inexpensive” to do so.

John Haigis of Pennsylvania, formerly of Greenfield, who was visiting the area this week, attended the meeting and said that Wiley & Russell Dam is a look back at the past, and a look into the future.

Representatives from Trout Unlimited, a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds, said removal of the dam would increase fisheries and bring money to the town for recreation.

Local historians said the town could also see money from cultural and educational events.

Donlon and others who want to see the dam removed said that action would restore the river to its natural flow and would be good for the environment there.

Original plans were to remove both the Wiley & Russell and upstream Mill Street dams, but the town decided about a year ago that it would cost too much to remove the Mill Street Dam because it would have to protect sewer and water lines there. Estimates to do so went as high as $1 million.

So, it was decided that the town would take the first step in the project and remove the Wiley & Russell, which is about 1,100 feet from the Mill Street Dam.

It was estimated that it would cost the town $40,000, plus an additional $150,000, to remove the Wiley & Russell. CRWC had planned on trying to offset some, if not all, of the $150,000 with grants.

Martin said he will take all comments into consideration and make a decision at a later date, after current studies are received and reviewed.

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