State designates Leeds dam removal as ‘priority’
NORTHAMPTON — The city’s plan to remove the Upper Roberts Meadow Dam and restore the upper part of Roberts Meadow Brook to its natural habitat received a boost this week when the state designated the work as a “priority project” eligible for grants and technical assistance.
The dam removal is one of eight river and wetlands restoration projects statewide to earn the designation through the Division of Ecological Restoration.
Rather than grant money, City Engineer James Laurila said the city will likely receive technical assistance and help facilitating the complicated permitting process the project requires.
“This help would be in lieu of money, but it would save us money in other areas and help make the process go smoother,” he said.
The announcement comes on the heels of a $75,000 grant the city received in January from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ dam and seawall repair program that will partially fund engineering firm GZA GeoEnvironmental’s $226,600 design and permitting contract with the city. The overall project is expected to cost about $1.2 million.
Officials have been waiting for months to hear about a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that would cover about $1 million, or 75 percent, of the cost.
Engineers designing the dam’s removal continue to work on an environmentally safe way to remove sediment that has built up behind the structure. Laurila anticipates construction won’t happen until 2015 by the time that design is complete and permits are in hand.
Action on the Upper Roberts dam off Chesterfield Road is necessary because the state’s Office of Dam Safety has declared the structure a “high hazard.” That designation prompted the Board of Public Works in 2011 to vote to tear it down.
The dam removal will be one of more than 60 active ecological restoration projects throughout the state that are designated as priorities.
The eight new projects include dam removals, culvert replacements, streamflow restoration and fill removal that will provide significant social, environmental and economic benefits to the state.
“Healthy rivers and wetlands protect communities from flooding, provide clean drinking water and support critical habitats important to the Commonwealth’s native fish and wildlife,” Richard K. Sullivan Jr., secretary of the state Energy and Environmental Affairs said in a statement.