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Hunters Pond Dam dam removal paves way for improvements 9-1-17

Hunters Pond Dam dam removal paves way for improvements

By Ruth Thompson
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Wicked Local Scituate

Posted Sep 1, 2017 at 3:45 AM
A road paving project in North Scituate has led to the removal of an antiquated dam, thus improving the area ecosystem benefitting a variety of migratory fish including river herring, American eel, and rainbow smelt – species that have undergone a dramatic decline in Massachusetts over the last 400 years.

The Town of Scituate, in partnership with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has removed Hunters Pond Dam, opening up approximately five miles of riverine corridor and nearly 200 total acres of anadromous fish rearing and spawning habitat.

The dam was in poor condition and was rated as a "significant hazard" dam by the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety.

The project was locally led by the Scituate Department of Public Works.

"It all began when we discovered that a sluice way related to the pond was in serious need of repair," said Al Bangert, special projects director for the Town of Scituate. "This was preventing the highway department from paving the road."

THE ISSUE: Removal of the Hunters Pond Dam

WHY IT MATTERS: Removal of the North Scituate dam has led improvements within the area ecosystem, benefitting a variety of migratory fish including river herring, American eel, and rainbow smelt – species that have undergone a dramatic decline in Massachusetts over the last 400 years.

The dam spillway, culvert and beam needed to be repaired, according to Bangert. Repairs would have included removing all of the trees and vegetation along Mordecai Lincoln Road from Country Way to the end of the barn and installing stone rip-rap on both banks.

"This would have created an ugly gaping hole in an otherwise scenic, historic neighborhood," he said. "Plus, the cost to repair was greater than the cost to remove, and we could get grants to remove, but not to repair."

Bangert said the town was fortunate to be able to obtain state and federal grants to move the project forward over the past several years.

"The only cost we bore was the replacement of the waterline in the bottom of the pond," Bangert said.

Sara Grady, ecologist/South Shore Regional Coordinator for the MassBays - Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program - was involved in particular because she has assisted with fundraising, project support, and monitoring at multiple dam removal sites in the region.

"I helped with grant proposals, provided input on project design, and will be part of the post-restoration monitoring work," she said. "There was an opportunity to work with the Town of Scituate to remove it, which alleviates the burden of maintenance and liability and also has myriad ecological benefits."

Hunters Pond Dam was a head-of-tide dam, which means that it was the first dam up from the Gulf River estuary, Grady explained.

"Now that it has been removed, fish like river herring will be able to reach the headwater pond, Aaron River Reservoir, in Cohasset to spawn," she said. "The removal is also likely to expand potential smelt spawning habitat. In addition, water quality will be expected to improve in Bound Brook now that it is flowing through a wetland instead of into and out of a warm, shallow pond."

Hunters Pond is the 11th dam removal on the South Shore since 2002, and it was removed at a time when these types of projects are becoming more and more common, Grady said. There are currently four additional dams in the region that have received funding to start or continue the process of their removal.

There are more than 3,000 dams in Massachusetts, according to Eric Hutchins, a habitat restoration specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"My job is to support the local level," Hutchins said. "We are there to help them and help them make decisions. My job, really, is to help create more fish. Scituate is a commercial fishing port. We're trying to restore river herring and American eels that spawn or forage in this river system. All you need is a small stream to get these river herring up to their spawning spots."

Hutchins believes there has been a dam on the North Scituate spot since the 1700s. This most recent dam was probably built in the 1960s.

"The dam was originally owned by Abraham Lincoln's great great great grandfather," he said. "There is still a lot of history at the site."

The project went smoothly, Hutchins said, though the dam was covered with trees.

"Trees on a dam are a no-no," he said. "Even if the tree was taken down, the roots are still there. The roots rot and become a conduit for water to flow. If you have a big rain event water can stop running and damage the dam from the interior."

Testing revealed there was no contamination in the sediments, which is a good thing.

"This will be better for the ecosystem," Hutchins said. "The waters will be cooler. It will be easier for the eels to get upstream, and for the rainbow smelt to get to their spawning ground."

Bangert agreed the project went "very well.

"We had a great group of project partners including people from the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, and local, state and federal agencies; we hired an excellent engineering/consulting firm - Princeton Hydro; and the contractor, T. Ford Co., completed the work in a timely and cost effective manner," said Bangert. "Nature will determine the final path of Bound Brook as heavy rains and winter run-off carve new channels. We expect that by next May native vegetation will spring forth from seeds that have been lying dormant in the bottom of the pond."

Next spring the area will be monitored to see if any herring pass the dam removal site, Grady said.

"There hasn't been a population of herring coming up Bound Brook for many years due to the dam, so it may take a few years to see enough return to establish a population," Grady said. "The vegetation in the wetland will also grow, making the site look more like a freshwater wetland with a stream running through it."

Bangert called the project "a very interesting adventure.

"It started as a road paving problem," he said. "Through the efforts of a team of people coming from many different disciplines, it blossomed into restoration of an important ecosystem. But we still need to pave the road."

A celebration of the removal of the Hunters Pond Dam and the restoration of Bound Brook will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6 on the bridge on Mordecai Lincoln Road overlooking Bound Brook.

Follow Ruth Thompson on Twitter @scituateruth.

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