BRADFORD — Less than a year after the work began, the removal of the Bradford Dam is expected to be completed by the end of December.
Heavy equipment is still moving boulders into position to create the weirs that will allow fish to swim upstream, something they have not been able to do since the mid-1800s when the 200-foot-wide dam was built. Not only will the project benefit fish, canoes and kayaks will also be able to pass through a newly-created channel, avoiding a portage.
A joint effort by The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the removal of the Bradford Dam is part of a larger effort to open 31 miles of the Pawcatuck River to allow the passage of migratory fish such as blueback herring, alewife, American shad and American eels, which breed upstream. The initiative has also involved the removal of the White Rock and Kenyon Mill dams and modifications to the fishway at the Potter Hill Dam.
The $2 million project is being funded with federal superstorm Sandy recovery money as well as grants from the Champlin Foundation, the Bafflin Foundation, the Horace A. Kimball and S. Ella Kimball Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, and other donors. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Coastal and Estuary Habitat Restoration Fund also contributed funds to the project.
Scott Comings, associate director of the Rhode Island chapter of The Nature Conservancy, toured the site Monday, accompanied by Nature Conservancy Marketing Manager Tim Mooney and Suzanne Paton, supervising biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As the river flowed briskly through a bypass channel that will soon be removed, Comings described the work that remains to be done. There was a minor setback during a storm on Oct. 29, when the high volume of water damaged the two cofferdams that divert the river, but the project is still on schedule.
Local engineering firm Fuss and O’Neill is responsible for the design of the project, which has also involved building a bank to protect the historic mill on one side of the river.
“This area where the bypass is will be restored and become flood storage, so when the river goes up, it will go away from the factory [mill] first,” Comings said.
SumCo Eco-Contracting is now building a series of rock weirs that will act like steps, allowing fish to swim upstream. Working in tandem, two giant earth-moving machines manipulated the eight weirs into place with surprising delicacy.
“Each one of these weirs equals eight inches in elevation, so basically this will allow the fish to swim up without reducing the head pond, because there’s significant wetlands and other potentially impacted features above the river,” Comings said. “Each of these weirs is between five and 12 tons. They have an angle so it deflects the water. There’s resting pools in between.”
Paton said the removal of this and other dams had created an opportunity for a new project to monitor fish movement in the river.The study, which has received $300,000 in federal funding, will involve the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States Geological Service, the DEM and the University of Rhode Island.
“We were able to secure monitoring funding to actually tag some fish,” she said. “In the spring, we’re going to tag a couple hundred shad and river herring. There’s going to be a PIT [Passive Integrated Transponder] tag under the skin, but also a telemetry tag and at the base of each previous obstruction or current obstruction, there will be a telemetry tower that records the fish as it swims by, so we get an idea of how long it takes them to navigate each obstruction.”
One of the things that has distinguished the Bradford Dam project from other dam removals is its high visibility. The Nature Conservancy installed an interpretive sign on the bridge overlooking the river, and there is almost always someone standing there watching the work. Local residents have embraced the project, and someone even hung a large sign from the bridge thanking the workers.
“We’ve never had a project on this scale and with this visibility,” Mooney said. “We, with the fish and wildlife service, took out the White Rock Dam, which, unless you’re accustomed to paddling on the river, is an unknown feature. This couldn’t be more different. There’s on the verge of stadium seating here.”
“This group of residents has been just unbelievable,” SumCo site superintendent Steve Fuller said. “Very supportive, always a kind word … It’s made us feel really good.”