YARMOUTH — Town councilors, meeting as the Operations Committee, said they intend to support the removal of two Royal River dams.
Now they have to gather more information, consider funding and take public comment.
Although Councilors Erv Bickford and Carl Winslow were not at the committee meeting on Monday, Dec. 5, the other five councilors agreed to move forward with an option to remove the Bridge Street and East Elm Street dams.
Town Manager Nat Tupper said whether the council decides to maintain the dams, remove them or do nothing, it’s time for the council to take action.
He noted the town owns the dams, and they will not last forever.
“They will cost us some money to repair or remove them and at some point if we do nothing, Mother Nature will and we’ll have (to deal with) the cost probably on our own,” Tupper said.
Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, said the two dams are among about 1,000 remaining that were built from the 1600s through the 1800s. She said a fraction of those dams produce a small amount of power, but the benefits of a small amount of power does not outweigh their damage.
“Removing these two dams will not in itself revitalize the entire gulf of Maine, but it’s the kind of thing where every little piece is really important, and if I can help this community do it, I’d be happy to,” she said. “It’s a really good thing for the river and I don’t see a lot of downsides to it.”
In 2009, the Royal River Corridor Study suggested conducting an assessment of the dams and their impact on the community and to the environment. In 2010, the study was incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan.
In 2010, a study was conducted to look at the Bridge Street and East Elm Street dams and the fish ladders. The study included a preliminary look at river morphology, engineering and structural issues, funding sources and liability, costs of dam removal or modification, recreational and scenic impacts, wetland draining, groundwater and water quality issues. The study also looked at sediment analysis, hydro-electronic generation and any archaeological, cultural or historic structures.
After the Bridge Street dam was drawn down in August, the town was able to create a photo-simulation of the upstream pond conditions. Then, the Royal River Conservation Trust and Maine Rivers held two public meetings to give residents information about the dams.
Councilors agreed that removing one dam would not make much difference because they are in such close proximity to each other.
“When you remove Bridge Street, Elm Street doesn’t look any different, and when you remove Elm Street, Bridge Street doesn’t look any different,” Tupper said.
Tupper said Town Planner Vanessa Farr will send a letter of intent to the Gulf of Maine Council for study money to develop more detail on the removal of both dams. The local match for engineering and permitting and construction has not been determined at this point.
The council is expected to hold a workshop on removal of the dams next month.