Beginning next week, a piece of Farmington Valley history will slowly disappear from the landscape in effort to restore the natural tradition of fish migration on the Farmington River.
A demolition project to remove the historic Spoonville Dam, originally a hydropower facility built in 1899, will begin on Monday as part of a long-term effort to improve the lower Farmington River's natural ecosystem and allow several species of fish to complete their journey up the river to spawn.
Farmington River Watershed Association Executive Director Eileen Fielding said the most notable of the species that will benefit from the dam's removal will be the American Shad, the Conn. state fish.
"After Rainbow Dam, Spoonville Dam is where they get stopped," Fielding said. "They're on a tight timetable."
Other fish like the River Herring also have a difficult time at the dam because they don't have the speed to make it past the rushing water where the dam was breached by flooding in 1955.
"Basically it's like having a segment of river that's like a fire hose," Fielding said. Many fish like the River Herring and American Shad don't have the speed needed to make it through the opening in the dam.
The project to remove the 128-foot long remnant of the dam was coordinated by the Farmington River Watershed Association which has partnered with the dam's owner, Connecticut Light and Power, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The FRWA has secured grant funding for the project from the Conn. Environmental License Plate Fund, Connecticut Light and Power, the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, according to the FRWA website.
The demolition will be performed by Gleim Environmental Group engineering design and oversight provided by Princeton Hydro. The total removal project will cost approximately $706,000. The FRWA has received most of the funding but is waiting on one additional grant.
An existing gravel road leading down to the river on the Tariffville side was re-opened in order to provide access for demolition equipment. The tree removal on either side of the river, however, is part of Connecticut Light and Power's transmission line project and is not associated with the dam removal project.
The project was timed to begin when fish are no longer migrating or spawning and will be completed before migrations begin again. Fielding said the project will conclude in early August.
The demolition will use a hoe ram, a large-scale jackhammer, rather than explosives to cut down on the debris that will end up in the river. Fielding said an engineering study determined that the project would yield approximately 500 cubic yards of clean sediment, a small amount for a river that size, most of which will come from behind the dam, Fielding said.
Conn. DEEP evaluated the project before giving its approval and determined that the sediment would not harm aquatic life downstream from the demolition site.
"They have been satisfied that it won't cause any significant damage," Fielding said.
Another concern was the impact the dam's removal would have on the popular whitewater run upstream from the site.
"We were concerned about that ourselves from day one," Fielding said.
After studies were performed, Fielding said they were convinced that the water level upstream would not be impacted while the water levels directly behind the dam would drop by a few feet.
"While whitewater paddlers will lose that incredible chute, they will likely gain a few new exciting spots," Fielding said. "The whitewater community has been really great about this."
Most involved with the sport have rallied behind the overall benefit the dam's removal will have on safety, the wildlife, and the natural scenery of the river.
Once the project is complete, the FRWA will continue work to secure additional funding to plant new native plants along the riverbanks, monitor the passage of fish, and create a pleasant spot for people to visit.
"That site has been important to people since pre-European times," Fielding said. "It has always been a great spot to catch fish."