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Plans to remove two of the three Shawsheen River dams in Andover continue to make headway, thanks to a new round of state funding.
The $50,000 Massachusetts Environmental Trust grant, among 15 awarded for water protection projects, comes during a busy year for dam removals in the state. The funds will be used to complete the permitting and engineering process to remove the Balmoral and Marland Place dams.
Many say removing the dams will invigorate the Shawsheen’s ecology by allowing the flow of fresh water and restoring natural fish runs. But others oppose the removal of one of the dams, Marland Place, arguing that the pond it has created sustains a viable ecosystem that should not be destroyed. It is the same argument used by one of the owners of a third dam in town, the Ballardvale, which was originally part of the removal project, but dropped when its two owners disagreed about its fate.
For Bob Rauseo, taking down at least one of those dams would be what he can only describe as “a huge, personal victory.” Rauseo, who sits on the board of directors of the Shawsheen River Watershed Association, has canoed the Shawsheen for nearly 30 years, including during a 1984 association-sponsored race in which two 19-year-old canoeists flipped over the Balmoral Dam. One of them drowned.
Built in the 1920s for aesthetic purposes, the Balmoral is crescent-shaped and creates a powerful hydraulic backflow that Rauseo said caused the drowning and other accidents. “It’s dangerous,’’ he said. “It’s just a nice waterfall. If it collapsed tomorrow, probably nobody would notice.”
The Marland Place Dam, also known as the Stevens Street Dam, is a tall, rocky dam that sits between a condominium development and a senior living facility near downtown Andover. Rauseo said that although it doesn’t have the same hydraulic effect as the Balmoral, it is still a dangerous drop. Atria Senior Living Group, which owns the dam, is working with the town to remove it.
Suzanne Robert, newly elected vice president of the watershed association, favored the removal of the Balmoral, but not the Marland.
“The Balmoral is a public safety risk. The case for the Stevens Street Dam is not there,” said Robert. “A 3.1-acre mill pond will be gone forever. We’ll destroy this for this small possibility that these target fish will be introduced. . . . It would be a disgusting, muddy, smelly flat if they drain the pond.”
Robert, a hydrogeologist and environmentalist who lives by Stevens Street and walks the bridge over to the Marland twice a day, argued that post-industrial urbanization along the Shawsheen, starting with its headwaters at Hanscom Air Force Base, has degraded the condition of the stream, including water temperature, to the point that water quality will not recover to the levels that were there before the dams were built.
“There seems to be a Wild West mentality out there that if you take the dams out, everything will be better,” she said, referring to an outpouring of federal and state funds over the past decade for dam removal.
“I’m not against dams being removed in general. . . . But no loss of wetlands should be the overriding issue here. I don’t think you can say it’s just one little dam in Andover. It’s one ecosystem being destroyed unnecessarily.”
At Town Meeting in May, voters approved requests authorizing the Board of Selectmen to take control of the Balmoral Dam and granting construction easements for its removal. The Balmoral Condo Association, which owns half of the parcel where the dam sits, is working with the town, which owns the other half.
“You have an opportunity to open up this waterway to help improve this water quality because the water will be flowing and it will help the river fish species,” said Paul Materazzo, Andover planning director. “The impetus was more looking at it as a water quality, ecological improvement, and recreation enhancement, and the dams are an encumbrance to the general public.”
Tim Purinton, director of the Division of Ecological Restoration in the state’s Department of Fish and Game, said there has been a groundswell in favor of removing dams after the 1999 razing of the hydroelectric Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Maine for environmental purposes. Since then, Massachusetts has aggressively sought federal funding, including from the stimulus act, to tear down some of its more than 3,000 dams. Only 50 of those are integral for flood control purposes, Purinton said.
In the last five years alone, the state has leveraged close to $20 million for dam removal projects, much of it federal funding, he said.Continued...