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Good news for fish: Norwell dam's days are numbered 11-14-16

Good news for fish: Norwell dam's days are numbered

By Lane Lambert
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Nov 14, 2016 at 12:53 AM
Updated Nov 14, 2016 at 7:15 AM

NORWELL – The narrow stream of Third Herring Brook gurgles softly over the rocks beneath the old Tack Factory Dam, on its way south to the North River.
An earthen dam has been at the spot since settlers put one there in 1674, but sometime in December the structure will be gone, and eight miles of the brook will flow freely to the North River for the first time in centuries.

"It's quite a thing," said Samantha Woods, executive director of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association. "We're really excited."

The dam and spillway are on private property owned by the Cardinal Cushing Centers. Their removal has been in the works for a decade, with the help of the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program. The work could begin within the next couple of weeks.

Taking down the Tack Factory Dam is one piece of a long-range plan to reopen the brook all the way from Jacobs Pond to the river, and Woods said it's "the most critical piece" of the whole project, since Tack Factory is the first dam upstream from the river and ocean.

"The herring can't go any further (for spawning) without the removal," she said.

The brook is home to river herring, American eels and sea lampreys. Watershed association ecologist Sara Grady said rainbow smelt have been seen downstream, and wild Eastern brook trout have been found in the brook's tributaries. She said removing the dam will open up 86 percent of the brook's habitat to the fish.

The Tack Factory Dam, named for a long-gone horseshoe tack factory, is one of four small dams that 17th-century colonists erected along the brook to create ponds for fishing, and water power for sawmills and grist mills.

Upstream from there, they built dams that created Mill Pond, Peterson Pond and Jacobs Pond. Mill Pond, on property now owned by the South Shore YMCA, was drained in 2014 when that dam was taken down.

Peterson Pond and its dam are on Hanover Mall property. Woods said the watershed association hopes to eventually get the go-ahead for the dam removal from the mall's new owners, PECO Real Estate Partners. She said the association had discussed removal with the previous owner, CW Capital.

The head of Third Herring Brook is Jacobs Pond, which is within sight of the Route 53-Route 123 intersection. Woods said that dam will stay in place, because the 59-acre pond is partly bounded by conservation land that's used by the public.

The association hopes to build a fish ladder there, but that would require state and town approval since the work would be done under Route 123.

"It's a big project," Woods said.

For now, the Tack Factory Dam removal is big enough. Watershed association staffers have already taken out old wooden boards that were used to control the brook's flow. That and this year's drought have already taken most of the water away.

A fresh, 3-foot-wide channel has already formed through the muck – a hint of what the restored brook will eventually become.

"We didn't want the (dam removal) contractor to cut a new channel," Grady said. "We're letting the brook do that itself."

The public will get to see the free-flowing brook for the first time on New Year's Day 2017, when the association hosts a walk from the Cushing Centers to the Tack Factory Dam site.

Soon after that, Grady said, "we hope abutters will be able to hear the sound from their back yards."

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