Water rushes down the narrow embankments where it reaches an historic low arch stone bridge. From there it spills over the Balmoral Dam, creating a small waterfall that collects trash.
For 25 miles through northeastern Massachusetts, water flows down the Shawsheen River from its headwaters in Concord and Lexington to the city of Lawrence, where it enters the Merrimack River.
The goal of the Andover Conservation Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Restoration Center is to re-establish the free-flowing river to create an ecosystem that can support recreational and economic value to the communities of the watershed.
There are plans to take down both the Balmoral and Marland Place Dam, also known as Steven’s Street Dam, within the next two years. The Andover Conservation Commission still does not have the approval to take down the Ballardvale Dam, which is located upstream from the other two dams.
“All of them were mill dams, and what’s important is hundreds and hundreds and thousands of them are around the state but very, very few of them are used for mill purposed anymore,” said Bob Douglas, the director of conservation in Andover. “They are kind of relics of an industrial age that has long since past. Now it’s time for nature to run its course.”
For a river to be healthy it must be able to transport water, sediment, nutrients and organic material, support fish and maintain good water quality. Dams fragment the river, which can cause low dissolved oxygen, high temperatures, high nutrition accumulation and sinks for toxics.
According to Alison Bowden, the Freshwater Program Director at The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, there are about 1,400 recorded dams in the state but about 2,800 dams don’t reach the threshold of height to be recorded.
Bowden said that the controversy behind getting the dams removed is that residents have a sense of loss when the environment changes when they lose a pond or a particular setting. Bowden also said the biggest misconception people have is that dams control floods, but they will only mitigate floods if they are designed to do it.
“As the water level comes up, it gets higher and higher and it will get flooded,” said Bowden. “It is sort of like a bathtub. Once you get to the top of the bathtub it can’t hold anymore water.”
In Massachusetts there are only 43 dams that are designed for flood control. The Balmoral and Marland Place dams in Andover are not designed to mitigate flooding. This is one of the reasons why conservationists want to take down the dams.
Bob Decelle, the special projects manager for Andover Conservation Commission, said that the construction of the Balmoral Dam by William Wood over a hundred years ago for ornamental purposes ended up costing the environment.
“The environmental disaster that he created, other then filling in those wetlands, was that he built these bridges on the other side,” said Decelle pointing towards the Balmoral Dam. “When the water rises above the arch it can’t go through the bridge so it goes around the bridge.”
The last time Andover got struck with a flood was on Mother’s Day in 2007. Decelle said that it caused millions of dollars of damage and a tremendous displacement of people.
The water is channelized, which causes it to rise quickly and then have nowhere to go but out. The removal of the dam will lower the level of the river that will help a little with flooding.
“This will be nice, but it’s not going to improve the flooding issues,” said Decelle. “The bridges do the holding back.”
There is currently nothing that the conservationists can do about the bridges because they are historic.
The Andover Conservation Commission wants to take the lower dams down first in order for the animals and fish to get used to it. The cost of removing the smaller of the two dams, the Balmoral, will cost about $2,000 and the process will include diverting the water through a pipe in order to get an extravator in to take out the stones that make up the dam.
Suzanne Robert, a resident of Andover with a background in technical hydrology and environmentalism, claims that she is the sole person fighting the removal of the Marland Place Dam.
“The whole reasoning if you take down the dams the fish will come back is erroneous,” said Robert. “Because I don’t think the water quality as it stands now will sustain this. This is an urban river.”
Robert’s doesn’t want the Marland Place Dam to be removed because it will flush out the millpond that it is supporting. That ecosystem supports animals including beavers, muskrats, herrings, and snapping turtles. Robert said that when they remove the dam the millpond would turn into a mudflat allowing invasive plants to migrate into where the millpond once was.
Although Roberts is against removing the Marland Place Dam she is still in support of removing the Balmoral Dam because it poses a safety issue.
The Balmoral is a low-head dam that is extremely dangerous because it serves as a vortex. Once you’re in it, it will keep you there until you drown according to Decelle.
Another safety issue concerning the removal of the dams is toxic material that is left behind from industrial times that could be stored in the river’s sediment. Douglas says that the sediment needs to be cleaned before they release the sludge of mercury or some other chemicals down the river.
“You can imagine a dry material doesn’t weigh anything, but you hydrate that with lots and lots of water and it becomes really heavy and hard to move and when its toxic it can only be disposed of in very specific places,” said Douglas.
The cost of removing chemicals can be really expensive. Testing at the Marland Place Dam showed small amounts of cambium that will continue to be tested for.
In Vermont, dams are being revitalized. William Scully, a mechanical worker, restaurant and storeowner recently bought a hydropower dam that will be running by October or November of this year. He hopes the dam will offset Vermont’s energy dependency from other states.
Scully also worked with the community to clean up the surrounding area including trash from a park and conducting a Brownfield remediation of an old paper mill. In order to clean up the PCPs and dioxin chemicals from the site Scully had to borrow $50,000 from the federal government.
When it comes to deciding whether or not a dam should be removed, Scully believes that it is a really complicated question to answer. For him, it’s not just saving the fish but also what the dam has to offer.
“The overarching thing is I think about all of this, great worry about the fish, but you know what, in 50 years that’s the stupidest thing in the world you can worry about because there won’t be an environment,” said Scully. “We actually have to attack the greenhouse gas pollution and green energy problem as much as we attack anything else.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.
The following was submitted by the MSPCA:
The MSPCA-Angell’s Law Enforcement department announced Monday it has charged Dean Manual of Ludlow with 36 counts of animal cruelty after seizing 35 animals from his property last Friday.
Manual, 43, also faces two counts of assault and battery on a police officer and one count of resisting arrest. His arraignment has been scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 12.
The animals seized include: four donkeys; eight ponies; six pigs (including three piglets); four goats; four alpacas; four ducks; two sheep; one goose; one emu and a rabbit.
The MSPCA combined forces with the Animal Rescue League of Boston to remove the animals. Twelve animals — including donkeys, ponies, goats, and sheep — were taken to the Animal Rescue League’s facility in Dedham. The rest were taken to the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen.
The majority of the animals are underweight — including a severely emaciated pony who will be placed on a monitored re-feeding program. Some of the ponies have overgrown hooves and all of the animals will undergo further veterinary exams to assess other health issues that must be treated.
One alpaca was so weak that he could not stand on his own and was sent to the Tufts veterinary center in Grafton. The animal remains in the critical care unit while veterinarians determine the full extent of his health issues and how they may be treated.
The MSPCA-Nevins Farm has set up a donation page to enable members of the community to contribute to the care of animals.
The MSPCA previously charged Manual with 10 separate counts of animal cruelty after a Dec. 9 inspection of his property by officer Christine Allenberg found ponies and donkeys living in pens with no food or water, and no protection from the elements. The animals were wet and covered with ice and snow. Officer Allenberg gave Manual until Dec. 17 to build a shelter and charged him when he failed to meet the deadline.
Manual denied the charges at his Dec. 23 arraignment and was scheduled to appear in court on March 5 on those charges.
“Our primary concern now is the health and well-being of these animals — and we’ll do everything we can to help them regain their health,” said Officer Allenberg. “And, simultaneously, we will vigorously pursue justice as we do with every cruelty investigation we take on.”
The following was submitted by the MSPCA:
A 7-month-old cat named “Marte” is on the mend after he was found tied by his neck to the radiator of a Lawrence home.
The cat, removed from the home on Jan. 24 by the city’s animal control officer and taken to the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in nearby Methuen, had swallowed a string weeks earlier, which had caused severe internal injury.
Marte underwent extensive surgery at the MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston two days after being removed from the home. His owner, whose identity is not being released, is facing felony animal cruelty charges for failing to provide necessary veterinary care.
By the time Marte was found he had been vomiting and was extremely dehydrated, thin and weak. Worse, the string he swallowed had lodged under his tongue and stretched all the way down his throat, wrapping around and damaging his intestines.
At Nevins Farm, director Mike Keiley evaluated young Marte and was shocked by what he saw. “This cat had clearly gone weeks with this string lodged in his body, creating untold damage to his insides,” he said. “The fact that he was tied by his neck only added to his misery.”
Keiley immediately transferred Marte to Angell where surgeon Andrew Goodman evaluated him. Marte was already septic — a condition marked by extreme internal infection — because the string had punctured his intestines in multiple areas. Dr. Goodman concluded that while surgery to remove the string and repair his intestines carried only a 30 percent chance of survival, Marte would certainly die without it.
Dr. Goodman had to remove nearly half of Marte’s intestines and re-route his gall bladder so that excess bile could continue to drain properly from his body. After recovering at Angell for a day, Marte was moved back to MSPCA-Nevins Farm where he remains in foster care.
“He’s definitely not out of the woods yet and we won’t know for at least a couple weeks whether he may need additional surgery,” said Keiley. “But we’re confident that he’s going to make it - so much so that we’re looking for potential adopters to step forward. We want to give him a home in which he’ll know only safety, warmth, and comfort for the rest of his life.”
The MSPCA-Angell’s three statewide animal care and adoption centers take in, and place into new homes, thousands of homeless dogs, cats, and other animals every year. Marte represents just one of the many animals who arrive every day, and whose futures are brighter as a result of the care they receive. Readers can contribute directly toward the care of these animals by clicking here.
About the MSPCA
The MSPCA-Angell is a national and international leader in animal protection and veterinary medicine and provides direct hands-on care for thousands of animals each year. Founded in 1868, it is the second-oldest humane society in the United States. Services include animal protection and adoption, advocacy, humane education, law enforcement, and world-class veterinary care. The MSPCA-Angell is a private, nonprofit organization. It does not receive any government funding nor is it funded or operated by any national humane organization. The MSPCA-Angell relies solely on the support and contributions from individuals who care about animals. Please visit www.mspca.org and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mspcaangell.
The following was submitted by the MSPCA:
Sixty five birds - including a variety of parrots, doves, and finches - were removed Friday from a dirty and overcrowded home in Lawrence and taken to the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen, the organization has announced. The birds, crammed together in a small room that lacked proper heat and ventilation, were surrendered along with three young kittens.
The birds will live at the MSPCA-Nevins Farm until permanent homes can be found. The new arrivals have strained an already overloaded bird room at the facility's Noble Family Animal Care and Adoption Center, which is now housing close to 90 birds ranging from macaws, cockatiels, parrots, parakeets, and more.
The MSPCA came to the birds' aid after the Lawrence animal control officer received complaints about the birds being kept in unsanitary conditions in the home's enclosed porch. The owner of the birds, whose identity is not being released, agreed to turn the animals over to the MSPCA when it was clear that the living conditions posed a significant threat to their health. Nevins Farm Director Mike Keiley has made the birds' safety and comfort the top priority.
"Not only have these birds endured a level of overcrowding typically seen in hoarding conditions, but their socialization and overall health needs have gone unmet for years," he said. "Many of them are fragile and scared ... and you can imagine how bad the conditions were when for their own well-being we opted to take them from the home on a day when the temperature was hovering around 10 degrees."
For the most part the birds are healthy, despite being hungry and cold. Keiley expects all of animals, including the kittens, to recover and be placed into permanent homes.
The MSPCA-Nevins Farm is no stranger to large-scale animal surrenders. In November 2013, 33 guinea pigs were surrendered after living in an overcrowded home in New Hampshire. And 71 birds were taken in on a single day in February 2012.
Keiley stressed the need for both prospective adopters and donors to step forward and help create a brighter future for the birds. "Monetary donations are very important in these times because of the now greatly expanded number of animals who need our care," he said.
Anyone interested in adopting one or some of the animals is encouraged to visit the MSPCA-Nevins Farm Animal Care and Adoption Center at 400 Broadway, Methuen or visit mspca.org. Those who wish to donate to the MSPCA-Nevins Farm can do so by clicking here.
The MSPCA-Angell is a national and international leader in animal protection and veterinary medicine and provides direct hands-on care for thousands of animals each year. Founded in 1868, it is the second-oldest humane society in the United States. Services include animal protection and adoption, advocacy, humane education, law enforcement, and world-class veterinary care. The MSPCA-Angell is a private, nonprofit organization. It does not receive any government funding nor is it funded or operated by any national humane organization. The MSPCA-Angell relies solely on the support and contributions of individuals who care about animals. Please visit mspca.org.
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