That Ain’t Right!: Critic of dam removal fails to disclose conflict

I came into the office this morning (Saturday!) and was surprised to learn I had missed a News and Observer article earlier this morning about our proposal to remove the Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River.

Anyway, I found the article, “Firm Again Asks to Remove Dam,” a mixed bag.  I appreciated seeing the support of the Neuse River Association, and the accurate comments of Dickie Harrison of the Deep River Parks Association about the Carbonton Dam.  But I was shocked and disappointed to see a name from Restoration Systems past make nutty statements about the Lowell Dam project — and fail to be identified as someone with an ax to grind.

David Grady is quoted saying,

 “The fish that they were supposed to spawn were going to have to grow legs, because they dried the river up,” he said. “They absolutely decimated the river.”

— David Grady

I’ve got two problems with that silly quote. One, it is demonstrably inaccurate that the Lowell dam removal failed to enhance the spawning opportunities for migratory fish (more on that in a moment) or that we, “dried the river up.”  And two, David Grady is the disgruntled son of a fine man RS was involved in a purchase of land from well before the Lowell Dam was removed, making him a score settler — not a source of good information.

I suspect his beef has less to do with the river — and more to do with…..his beef over the earlier transaction.

As for the Little River after the Lowell Dam was removed, here is what N.C. State and 876 fish have to say:

Prior to the removal of Lowell Mill Dam on the Little River, resident upstream fish could migrate downstream by spilling over the dam, but upstream migration, including that by anadromous fish, was precluded. Following dam removal, both resident and anadromous fish species were captured at the weir moving upstream and downstream. In total, 876 unique fish took advantage of the unobstructed migration and some migrated past the former dam site in both directions. American shad and gizzard shad utilized the entire extent of restored habitat as they migrated up to the impassable Atkinson Mill Dam. Increased spawning migrations by American shad following dam removals have been documented in previous studies (Walburg and Nichols 1967, Burdick and Hightower 2006). In addition to utilizing upstream habitat for spawning, the reconnected river allows fish to move freely for food, cover, and preferred water temperatures, flow, and depth in the Little River, but also in tributaries and the Neuse River.

Annual Report

Joshua K. Raabe
Joseph E. Hightower
United State Geological Survey
North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
North Carolina State University, Department of Zoology
Raleigh, North Carolina
February 20, 2008

If 876 fish seems a bit low, consider that this was in 2007, one of the worst droughts in recent years (see video).  The fact remains that removing the Lowell Dam was good for the Little River and good for fish — if not David Grady.

As for the Little River “drying up,” consider this quote from Dr. Josh Raabe of N.C. State:

“That’s what excites me, when we catch huge fish, the big catfish.
We’ve caught a couple of 40-pound-plus catfish,” Danesi said. “I like seeing the dynamics of the river, too. Just a couple of days ago, this was a trickle, and now it’s seven feet.”  Josh Raabe, Researchers Study Little River Migration, Goldsboro News Argus, July 15, 2010

Josh gets it.  Natural river levels fluctuate. Sometimes the river is low — sometimes it is high.  That’s what healthy rivers without dams do.

Finally, make certain to check out this fabulous video produced by N.C. State regarding the recent ecological history of the Little River following the dam removals.  If removing the dam was an environmental disaster — I’ll take another helping:

 

Firm Again Asks to Remove Neuse’s Milburnie Dam

Raleigh News and Observer

December 10, 2011

RALEIGH New plans are rising to demolish and remove the 15-foot Milburnie Dam, the last man-made barrier along the Neuse River between Falls Lake and Pamlico Sound.

Restoration Systems, the Raleigh-based firm seeking approval, argues that pulling down the dam will release more than 32,000 linear feet of water and return the Neuse to a more natural state.

In their prospectus submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, they predict water quality will improve and migratory fish such as striped bass and American shad will get to swim and spawn farther upriver.

“If you just remove the dam, you open up a whole new world of habitat,” said Adam Riggsbee, consultant to Restoration Systems. “It’s almost instantaneous.”

But residents along the river see a grim future for the Neuse without the dam, which dates to 1855. Water levels would drop so drastically that Raleigh’s river would become a trickle, they say, spoiling the scenery just as the city is working to draw people there with greenways and pedestrian bridges.

They recall that the Corps turned down Restoration Systems last year, asking the firm to provide more data on the potential for draining wetlands and spreading toxic sediment.

“If they remove the dam, instead of having a nice beautiful river above the dam for the enjoyment of everyone, what we’re going to have is a meandering little muddy steam that you and I can wade across,” said James E. Smallwood, who lives just above the dam.

Meanwhile, the public has until Dec. 14 to comment.

Based in Raleigh, Restoration Systems has a long history of environmental mitigation banking, which means the firm does work to improve ecology and receives credits for that work. Those credits can then be sold to public and private developers doing construction projects that negatively impact wetlands.

As proposed, those credits could be used in a territory following the Neuse basin and its immediate surroundings, an area that stretches roughly from Person to Craven counties.

‘Decimated’ river

In recent years, Restoration Systems has taken out dams on the Deep and Little rivers nearby. Reviews are mixed.

Kenly Mayor David Grady said the Little River is narrow and shallow enough to jump across within three miles of the spot where the dam was removed. “The fish that they were supposed to spawn were going to have to grow legs, because they dried the river up,” he said. “They absolutely decimated the river.”

On the Deep River near the Chatham-Lee county border, taking out the dam rid the river of oil slicks and algae blooms in the lake-like water, said Dick Harrison of the Deep River Parks Association.

“Everything has turned out very good for us,” he said. “The water quality, the fish, the wildlife. I actually had five teenagers baptized down there.”

The firm’s prospectus is more than six times longer than its 2010 proposal, and it addresses the wetlands concerns by estimating that roughly 11 acres would be threatened by removing the dam.

As to the sediments, Restoration Systems points to a study conducted in August by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Raleigh. Data from the study were not included in the firm’s prospectus, but a draft report of the findings was provided to The News & Observer.

Dr. Tom Augspurger, ecologist and contaminants specialist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, reported pollutants in the samples collected both above and below the dam were lower than the level of concern.

Also, he said pollutants in sediment below the dam were typically higher than above, concluding that removing the dam is unlikely to increase pollution downriver.

Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Alissa Bierma said she supports removing the dam to make the Neuse more free-flowing. But she thinks the area where mitigation credits could be used should be smaller.

If the Corps approves Restoration Systems’ prospectus for the Neuse, it would still have to issue a permit later. Taking out the dam, if approved, would take years.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818
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