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State Awards An Additional $400K Toward Removal Of Pittsfield Dam
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
03:58AM / Thursday, October 25, 2018
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The Mill Street Dam has been eyed to be removed for a number of years.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state has allocated another $400,000 to remove the Tel-Electric Dam on Mill Street, bringing the total money for it to over $2 million. 
 
"This puts us in a much better position to feel confident that when we put this to bid we will have money for the things we want to do," Parks and Open Spaces Manager Jim McGrath said.
 
The project is the largest aspect of a broad vision city and state officials see for the West Branch of the Housatonic River. There have been a number of projects completed, and others in the cue, to improve the health of the river's eco-system and better interaction with the neighborhoods from Wahconah Park to Clapp Park.
 
"The largest and most complicated project is the Mill Street Dam removal. The reason for removing the dam is two-fold: it is an old derelict piece of infrastructure that serves no purpose today. The dam was originally built to service hydroelectric power for the adjacent mill building but also removing the dam will create some connectivity within the river where there currently isn't any," McGrath said.
 
The project received its first amount of funding in 2008 from the Housatonic River Natural Resource Damage Fund. The state's Department of Fish and Game used that to contract a detailed study on the sediment quality and quantity and the report called for up to $4.75 million be spent on removing the sediment built up behind the same.
 
That cost stalled the project somewhat as officials continued figuring out ways to manage what is there once the dam is removed. The Fish and Game won a $1 million federal grant award through the U.S. Department of Interior's Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program for the demolition in 2016.
 
Princeton Hydro LLC began engineering the actual removal and started the permitting process. Engineering such a project isn't so straightforward because for a century, sediment has built up behind the dam and upstream, so engineers need to look at the integrity of the bridges and roads upstream to determine how they'll be impacted when the sediment is gone, the river is flooding in new places and riverbed is changed. Then craft additional plans to reinforce the infrastructure or redirect water flow if needed. 
 
The active railroad bridge was cited as a particular concern. Fish and Game contracted with Gomez and Sullivan for that infrastructure work.
 
Meanwhile, McGrath said concerns were raised through the environmental permitting process about the newer plan to slowly release sediment into the river. Those involved in the project have since tweaked that, and with that comes increased costs. 
 
"The largest price tag within the project is how we handle sediment. Originally we had envisioned sediment being slowly released downstream but now we are re-evaluating that and it looks like now we will be taking the sediment out and disposing of it," McGrath said.
 
"That is going to be expensive so this funding will help support that new approach, a more ecological approach."
 
It isn't quite clear how much much the project will cost but the additional $400,000 helps with what has been an evolving number. McGrath said the current estimates are between $1.5 million and $2 million for the work. 
 
The money is part of Gov. Charlie Baker's administration's $10.2 million in awards released on Wednesday as part of the Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Fund and the governor's capital budget.
 
"The Dam and Seawall program provides vital support to our communities so they can better prepare themselves, their economy and natural resources for natural hazards like coastal and inland flooding," Baker said in a statement.
 
"Our administration was proud to recently pass a $2.4 billion bipartisan environmental bond bill that included over $500 million to help communities improve their resiliency to climate change and protect the environment."
 
Locally the dam has a notable recent history. In 2013, Christian Giovanni Marquez, of Los Angeles, was swimming by the dam when he got sucked into a spillway and trapped against a grate at the bottom of the river and drowned. 
 
The area has also become a place of blight and a nuisance and an area that has attracted criminal activity. So the dam's removal hits on a number of fronts: better environmentally, improved safety, and reduced blight and crime.
 
"This site is a known location where things happened that we don't necessarily want to see in our city," McGrath said. "Shining a light on this site is absolutely something we want to do."
 
The dam is attached to the Hawthorne Mill Building, which used to house the Tel-Electric Piano Player Co. Factory and has been falling apart. In the last 18 years, from when the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety cited it as a dam of concern, no money has been allocated to it since the idea has been to take it down. 
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