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Editorial: Update info on dam

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

That may seem like a flippant view of where Greenfield Mayor William Martin sits with regard to the Wiley & Russell Dam on the Green River.

But whichever way the decision goes, someone is going to be unhappy.

If the most recent public hearing is any kind of indication, the town remains essentially split on whether to proceed with the dam’s removal, and comments seem to say that you’re not going to convince either side to change their thinking on the matter.

Those in favor of removal include various groups with a vested interest in a free-flowing river, such as the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the nonprofit American Rivers and Trout Unlimited. They argue that removing the dam would be a significant step environmentally toward “river restoration,” one that will lead to economic benefits for the region as well.

On the other side are those who see the dam’s removal as a loss historically, creating a gaping hole that won’t be filled by observation platforms and signs explaining how this dam used to fit into Greenfield’s industrial past. And there are those who believe that the old dam creates a peaceful, idyllic spot near the Meridian Street bridge. Others argue that any “fishery” on the river will never include migrating species.

And then there’s the issue of the investment of time and money.

Can anyone really say that they believed this issue would still be in front of municipal officials 14 years after the Army Corps of Engineers first broached the subject of removing the Wiley & Russell and Mill Street dams back in 2008?

During the process of devising a plan and getting the necessary permits, the Mill Street Dam was removed from the equation since the town couldn’t afford to take it down.

Money continues to loom large here. Repairing the a 178-year-old timber crib dam comes with a considerable price tag, estimated to be between $500,000 and $1 million. Removal is seen as being between $300,000 and $350,000, with the promise that grants would cover the bulk of the expense.

But as the mayor pointed out, some of that information, like the process, is old. While it does delay a decision, Martin is right in wanting to have the most up-to-date financial figures available, especially if those numbers change — leaving the down with a bigger percentage of the cost.

Martin is also right is seeing that with a limited wallet, this project has to be weighed against the others. “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,” he said at a recent hearing.

Dam removal supporters may be feeling frustrated. But given what’s at stake, it’s better to get it right — once that dam is gone, it’s not coming back.

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