The old Tel-Electric dam — a safety hazard for years — is being removed.
The river will be piped around the dam so it can removed over the next few months.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The demolition of the Mill Street — or Tel-Electric — dam will begin on Monday.
The project has been years in the making and the dam has been failing for years.
The defunct dam is attached to the Hawthorne Mill Building, which used to house the Tel-Electric Piano Player Co. Factory. It was cited by the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety as being in a hazardous condition nearly 20 years ago.
"This is the city's biggest dam removal project we've been involved in," said Conservation Agent Rob Van Der Kar.
The project will cost some $2.8 million — up from the $1.9 million estimate just a few months ago — after the bids for removal came in about $1 million more than anticipated. Some six different funding sources are being used to make up the funding package. The first work on it began 11 years ago when the state Division of Ecological Restoration awarded city $850,000 from the Housatonic River Natural Resource Damage Fund. About $300,000 of that award was used for the removal study and design.
In 2015, the division made another award of $981,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program. The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs released a dam and seawall repair grant to the city of $400,000. The owner of the dam, the Nash Family, has also chipped in for the removal.
The deconstruction was expected to be $1.5 million but the bid came in at about $2.5 million, Van Der Kar said. The difference was made up though additional funds being released.
Now, it is on pace to begin.
"This is an exciting project that offers enormous ecological and recreational opportunities not only now, but for generations to come," said Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said in a prepared statement.
The dam is located on the West Branch of the Housatonic River within a developed mill complex at 105 Hawthorne Ave. The goal is to protect the surrounding infrastructure, eliminate a public safety hazard, and reduce area flooding. It will restore river ecological conditions by removing a barrier to fish and wildlife movement, improve water quality, and dredge polluted sediments.
The project had taken years to design as concerns were particularly had about the sediment and where it would flow without the dam holding it back.
The project is the largest aspect of a broad vision city and state officials see for the West Branch of the Housatonic. There have been a number of projects completed, and others in the queue, to improve the health of the river's eco-system and better interaction with the neighborhoods from Wahconah Park to Clapp Park.
McGrath envisions a walkway connecting West Housatonic Street and West Street in the future. Additionally, the area has been known to attract illicit activity and McGrath said the project will help "shine a light" on the area.
"The dam has been collecting contaminants for some time and this is an opportunity to get that out of the river," McGrath added.
The project will improve the water quality and wildlife habitat in the area.
The Nash family owns the dam and McGrath said they've been supportive of the project and have contributed toward the removal by shouldering the cost of some of the studies and the permitting and engineering fees.
The planning for the removal of the dam was particularly troublesome because of the sediment and water disbursement that is expected. Engineers had to figure out how to best mitigate that new flow so that it wouldn't impact any nearby infrastructure. Beyond the condition of the infrastructure, the removal is eyed for ecological reasons, as it is expected to increase the water quality.
Further, it will shed light on an area that has attracted a bad element at times and that also has been public safety issue because of its attraction to swimmers. A young man drowned in 2013 after the current pulled him into the spillway pipe.
The 18-foot high and 40-foot wide dam is expected to be deconstructed over three or four months. The river will essentially be piped around the work site as the contractor SumCo Eco-Contracting of Peabody excavates contaminated soil and then removes the structure. But residents should not expect any major impacts.
"It is out of the way for the most part," said Van Der Kar.
The Division of Ecological Restoration released this video on the dam.
pittsfield.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.