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Work Begins To Remove Dam In Pelham Massachusetts

Work began Wednesday  in the western Massachusetts town of  Pelham to remove a public safety threat and at the same time provide an ecological benefit to the region.  WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

Environmental officials, and others celebrated as work began to remove a stone dam on the Amethyst Brook. It will result  in better water quality and open a corridor for the migration of aquatic wildlife, according to  Wendi Weber, the northeast regional director for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Amethyst Brook is described by state environmental officials as a high quality tributary to the Fort River, which is home to some of the most diverse aquatic life in the state.

The dam, 20 feet tall and 170 feet long, was constructed in 1820 to provide power to mills  From the 1960's through the ‘80's  it created a local swimming hole and fishing spot. In 2007 state inspectors determined it was structurally deficient.  The owner, Bob Carkhuff, publisher of HRD Press, was facing substantial costs to maintain the obsolete structure, as well as legal liability in the event of an accident.

Its estimated it would cost $300,000 to repair the dam. Removing it will cost $193,000.  The project is funded by several government entities and private organizations, including Clean Water Action and Fish America Foundation.  Funds also come the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, which gets revenue from the three  environmentally themed specialty license plates the state issues.

The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration  emphasizes dam removal as a river restoration tool according to the division director Tim Purinton.

There are about 3,000 privately owned dams in Massachusetts.

The state has about 30 dam removal projects underway.

Inspectors have flagged about 2000 structurally deficient dams in Massachusetts.  State Rep. Stephen Kulik says the legislature has been trying to come up  a dam safety bill to repair or remove these structures.

Dam safety inspections were stepped up a few years ago, following the breach of a privately owned rock dam in southeastern Massachusetts that produced the risk of a catastrophic  flood.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.