PEPPERELL — Soon, the Turner Dam across the Nissitissit River will be gone. Project supporters and local residents gathered by the dam last Friday to celebrate the removal.
Tents and information tables welcomed the crowd. Construction equipment was staged, ready for work to begin the next week.
Federal, state and town officials praised the project, saying the dam removal will improve ecological conditions, eliminate a public safety hazard, reduce flooding risks, and enhance climate change resiliency.
“It’s a fantastic win-win for the community,” said Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Commissioner George Peterson.
“The Nissitissit River contains important habitat for rare freshwater mussels and native brook trout,” he said. “The removal of the dam will reconnect almost a hundred miles of stream that will benefit these and many other types of fish and wildlife.”
Projects like this dam removal support the goal of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to make communities more resilient to increasingly intense future storms that are the result of a changing climate, said Rick Bennett, regional scientist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region and lead for the agency’s Hurricane Sandy resilience and recovery program.
“The removal of the Millie Turner Dam has countless benefits for local communities,” said State Senator Eileen M. Donoghue (D-Lowell). “Not only will it improve ecological conditions for the rare species that inhabit the Nissitissit River, but it will also make our region more resilient to the effects of climate change and give local residents the opportunity to enjoy the river’s beauty.”
“I think it’s going to be a wonderful, wonderful place to come,” she said.
The funding and support for the removal came from federal and state governments and from local agencies, Peterson said.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife purchased a 17-acre parcel of land surrounding the dam site for $475,000 in 2010.
The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration invested $90,000 for engineering and design of the dam removal. The U.S. Department of Interior and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation contributed $200,000 for dam removal.
The estimate to fix the dam was $2.8 million, Peterson said.
The Squan-A-Tissit and Boston chapters of Trout Unlimited contributed $10,000.
“The removal of the dam fits nicely with our mission to conserve, protect and restore North America’s cold water fisheries and their watersheds, and we are happy and proud to partner in this effort,” said Michael Rosser, the vice president of the local chapter.
The Nissitissit, a highly regarded fly-fishing stream, is a tributary of the Nashua River and is in the Nashua River watershed.
Marion Stoddart, who began the effort to reclaim the Nashua River in the 1960s, attended as a guest. The dam removal is one more step in taking the region’s waters from the highly polluted waters she saw as a young woman, to a national resource.
Areas of the watershed, including parts of the Nissitissit, might receive a federal Wild and Scenic designation.
“The Turner Dam removal will restore the Nissitissit River to its naturally free-flowing state just as the Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study is beginning, said Elizabeth Ainsley Campbell. “It’s an auspicious start.” She is the executive director of the Nashua River Watershed Association, which Stoddart founded.
Scientists will study the effects of the planned dam removal on the river’s restoration over the years. Volunteers will relocate populations of a rare freshwater mussel.
Scientists will study the changes in the sediment and the changing habitat. Others will count fish populations and study water quality.
The dam is expected to be breached on Sept. 28. The Squan-A-Tissit chapter of Trout Unlimited has a webcam at the dam and information about volunteering to move mussels at www.squanatissit.org.
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