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YARMOUTH — Town Manager Nat Tupper is recommending that the Bridge Street dam not be removed.
Tupper on Sept. 3 suggested to the Town Council that it vote to keep the dam, despite discussions earlier this year about removing it, which coincided with the dredging of the Royal River. The dredging was completed in February.
“My recommendation is that Town Council drop this and move onto other issues,” Tupper said in a Sept. 3 workshop.
Tupper had been meeting with the Bridge Street Dam Steering Committee since September 2014, and in March he said he would give a report to councilors sometime after April 1.
For the most part, councilors agreed that the dam should be retained, but one had another idea.
“I don’t think councilors should be deciding the fate of the dam,” Councilor Jim MacLeod said. “This needs to go out to the voters.”
MacLeod said it wouldn’t be right for councilors to make a decision on an issue that has left residents divided.
“There are certain things we shouldn’t be deciding on their behalf,” he said.
Most councilors agreed with Tupper’s recommendation, although some said they didn’t want to vote on it at all if nothing would be changing.
Tupper had additional suggestions, too, and councilors decided they will discuss them at a Sept. 10 operations committee meeting before voting on them at a Sept. 17 council meeting.
Two recommendations include leasing the dam to outside organizations or companies, like potential hydro-power investors. Tupper said he has had discussions with an interested party who wishes to remain unidentified while they determine if they’re interested.
“I expect them to come forward pretty soon,” he said.
Another recommendation is to negotiate with environmental organizations instead of hydro-power investors.
“My recommendation is that you don’t shut the door on any such ideas,” Tupper said.
Members of the public at the meeting were opposed to both suggestions.
“Don’t relinquish ownership of the dam,” resident Bruce Soule said. He told councilors it’d be a bad idea if they “want to be able to ensure its future.”
Deborah Delp, president of Yankee Marina at 142 Lafayette St., agreed. Delp, who was on the steering committee, said she is against removing the dam because the silt buildup would flow into the marina.
“If an environmental group took ownership of the dam, marinas wouldn’t be able to fight them,” she said. “Anything that hurts this harbor hurts this town.”
Councilor Andy Kittredge said he doesn’t want to sell or lease the dam, and Councilor Rob Waeldner said the town shouldn’t seek out potential lessees or buyers, but should let them come to the town with offers.
In addition to his suggestion to keep the dam, Tupper also recommended that councilors spend $10,000 or less to test the silt behind the dam. According to Tupper, two chemicals – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and mercury – were found in the water near the dam.
Part of the steering committee’s charge was to work with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find out what chemicals the town should be testing for in the 5,000 cubic yards of material that has built up behind the dam.
Tupper also suggested that councilors put aside $1,000 in the budget each year in case dam repairs are needed.
He also said councilors should consider improving fish passage over the dam, perhaps by fixing the existing fish ladder.
Tupper said if the council votes to keep the dam, it doesn’t mean it can’t be removed in the future.
Town Manager Nat Tupper has recommended to the Town Council that the Bridge Street dam not be removed.