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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

Sad Shad: Still blocked by Milburnie Dam after all these years

[This article was written in 2010, there is another public comment period open until Wednesday, December 14, 2011. You can view it here]

Shad close to home
BY JAVIER SERNA – Staff Writer
Raleigh News and Observer
April 16, 2010
Published in: Outdoors

RALEIGH A 2-pound American shad hen danced along the Neuse River’s surface and spun line off a medium-action spinning reel like a spool of kite string at the other end of a steady Atlantic breeze.

The scene is most common toward the coast, but there’s no need to truck down to the coast to satisfy the saltwater fishing urge.

For a couple of weeks, American shad have been concentrating at the Milburnie Dam in Raleigh, nearly 230 river miles upriver from the Pamlico Sound.

“They’ve come a long way,” said John Ellis, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who spends many spare spring hours pursuing American shad for the fun of it. “We’re pretty high up in the watershed.”

The American shad is one of several species that have been able to reach their former spawning grounds ever since a downstream dam was removed 12 years ago.

An electroshocking survey conducted near the Milburnie Dam last week by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists turned up several dozen American shad and even a couple of striped bass, typical of spring sampling for the past 10 years.

“It suggests that these fish are taking advantage of the spawning habitat in the upper part of the river,” said Bob Barwick, a state fish biologist.

Earlier in the spring, hickory shad, the smaller cousin of the American shad, also ran up the Neuse, the longest river that is completely within the state’s boundaries.

Ellis and several of his colleagues aren’t the only ones who get a kick out of fishing for shad during a run that typically lasts into May. Others use fly rods to cast brightly colored “junk” flies with success.

There’s no telling how many fish are kept, but state law allows a combination of 10 American and hickory shad to be kept per day, unless the angler is fishing the Roanoke River, where only one of those may be an American shad.

“They’re tasty,” said Ellis, who said he would like to see the limit for American shad lowered on the Neuse to help protect the species.

The state has considered doing so but has decided it against for now, Barwick said.

In North Carolina, American shad tend to spawn more than once in their lives. On the Neuse River, American shad could go only as far as the Quaker Neck Dam near Goldsboro until 1998, when the dam was removed, opening up 78 more miles of river.

The low-head dam had been built in 1952, and its removal reopened old spawning grounds primarily for American shad and striped bass.

The American shad population in the Neuse is viable enough that, until this year, state biologists removed shad from below the Milburnie Dam to be used in hatchery efforts to stock the Roanoke River, which has a struggling population of the species. Striped bass and hickory shad are more abundant on the Roanoke.

The collection stopped this year because, although there are still a few 4-pound females, considered good breeders, the numbers of bigger fish are dwindling in the Neuse.

“We’re worred about removing too many fish from the Neuse River,” Barwick said.

New water

A chance exists that more of the Neuse could be opened soon. An open comment period is being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding a proposal to remove the Milburnie Dam, which would add 15 free-flowing miles to the Neuse, making the Falls Lake dam the new dead end for migratory fish. The comment period closes April 22.

Read more

Carbonton Dam removal: A 6th Anniversary Look Back

Hard Hat News, 2006. Demolition of the Carbonton Dam, by Gwen Laird Pernie

In the Central Piedmont Region of North Carolina an effort is underway to restore 10-miles of the Deep River, a tributary to the Cape Fear River Basin. The river has been environmentally damaged for the past 200 years, when the first dam was built at Carbonton to power a mill on the riverbank. This $8.2 million dam-removal project, the largest ever of its kind in North Carolina, is also the first dam removal in the state to be done primarily for mitigation purposes. This project is the culmination of a five-year planning effort by Restoration Systems, LLC, of Raleigh, NC (owner of the dam) to re-establish the native aquatic ecology of the Cape Fear River Basin to gain “mitigation credits” under the North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program. It was planned and is being implemented in close coordination with multiple county, state, and federal regulatory agencies. The dam is a former hydropower generating facility that is licensed under the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission. Site contractor for the project is Backwater Environmental of Pittsboro, NC, a subsidiary of Osborne Company General Contractors of Eden, NC. Osborne will handle the physical demolition and heavy work of the project, while Backwater will handle the earthmoving, grading, site restoration, and softer work. Restoration Systems retained Milone & MacBroom Inc. (MMI), of Cheshire, Connecticut and Greenville, South Carolina to investigate the existing dam and assist with agency permitting, and to design the removal strategy, prepare construction documents, and handle inspection during demolition. MMI is also designing a future public recreation park that will occupy the south riverbank at the dam site. According to Ken Kloeber, branch office manager of MMI’s southeastern regional office in Greenville, the most challenging aspect of the project was to design a dam removal sequence and methodology that will get heavy equipment in and out of the river quickly. “The challenge is to minimize the exposure of the removal operations on the Deep River system and the aquatic critters that this entire project will benefit,” Kloeber explained. “We wanted to avoid short term effects while accomplishing the greater good in the long term.” “An additional challenge was that much of the planning involved working with and getting approval from many county, state, and federal agencies–sometimes with overlapping authorities–on a fast-track schedule,” Kloeber continued. “Hydropower dam demolitions involving FERC approval typically take years in the planning and design stage. With the owner, contractor, and agencies cooperating, this one took a matter of months.” “Every dam removal is unique because no two are constructed the same,” Kloeber said. “We had to first evaluate and understand the structural components of the spillway and the powerhouse before designing the demolition methodology and sequence. It’s typically easiest to demolish dams in reverse order of their construction sequence.” “The planning of the particular project has been especially interesting because we were able to locate original 1921 construction photos of the powerhouse and spillway in their de-watered state, which gave us insight into how the facility was constructed,” Kloeber stated. “It literally painted a picture of what was hidden under the water, and allowed us to anticipate in order to save time.” “Typically, dam removals involve starts and stops as structures are uncovered and new situations need to be assessed, Kloeber said. “Having the right information and evaluations of the structures up front has allowed this demolition to proceed very smoothly. To the credit of Restoration Systems, the owners recognized the need for adequate investigations right away, and they provided us the resources to make that happen.” “Because of its age and type of construction, the Carbonton Dam is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places,” stated Kloeber. “So, Restoration Systems has taken extra care to preserve the history of the structures.”

Read more

Mag: RS Dam Removals Restoring Life to Once Drowned Rivers

Wildlife in North Carolina recently published an article on a subject dear to the Swamp Merchant’s heart. Lynette Batt of American Rivers has written a wonderful piece on the benefits, history, and challenges of dam removal in the Old North State. RS’ removal of the Carbonton and Lowell dams figure prominently in the article. We were particularly gratified to see crack river ecologist and RS contractor Tim Savidge, of the Catena Group, quoted regarding the terrific ecological results from the two projects. Both of our removals have resulted in the recolonization of formerly stagnant, deep water impoundments with federally endangered river species. The staggering ability of these rivers to renew themselves (with a little help from RS) is a story that cannot be told too many times:

Savidge notes that “the removal of the Carbonton Dam has resulted in recolonization of the former impoundment by a number of rare freshwater mussel species such as the yellow lampmussel, Savannah lilliput and notched rainbow.” He reports another major success for a federally endangered species, the Tar River spiny mussel, which was found in August 2010 in the former impoundment of the Lowell Dam on the Little River. That makes it the second endangered species found in any stream restoration site in North Carolina.
— Quoted in “Removing Dams, Restoring Rivers”

Removing Dams Restoring Rivers-Feb 2011- FINAL

Nice Note: Janet MacFall of Elon University thank you for Milburnie Dam removal talk

I’d have to say this is the nicest thank you note I have ever received. Very well written.

I hope Janet and her classes make us a regular stop. We hit both the Milburnie and Lowell Dam removal sites that day and I enjoyed it as well. I am “guest lecturing” again at Duke tomorrow (sniff, snoot ).

Letter From Janet MacFall to George Howard re: Milburnie Dam Removal

Video: RS makes case for removing the Milburnie Dam on the Neuse in Raleigh

Tweet This! http://mync.com/site/50660/ RALEIGH, N.C. –
A group of residents is fighting against proposed changes to the Neuse River in Raleigh.
Raleigh-based Restoration Systems is proposing to remove the Milburnie Dam, which sits about 15 miles downstream from Falls Lake.

But some residents who live along the river say they don’t want to see the dam removed.
“Canoeing isn’t going to be as much fun. There’s not going to be any boating possible any more,” said resident Gina da Roza, who fears water levels in the river will drop when the dam is removed.

She said there are also concerns about changing the water quality if the dam is removed.
“The water moves freely here. It’s very wide, the water’s clean,” she said.

She also said there are more Greenway trails planned for that area of Raleigh, and she said changing the environment there will discourage people from using the trails.

Restoration Systems President George Howard said the river is just going to be restored to its original state.
“The river’s not going anywhere,” he said.

Howard, who said his company has had success with other dam removal projects, said removing the Milburnie Dam will create a more free-flowing body of water that will help the fish population and improve water quality.

He said the company will pay for removing the dam, and then plans to sell credits to developers.
Howard admitted the river level might drop during the summer months, but said the river probably won’t look much different in the winter.

“In the summer it’s going to get somewhat lower, and that might keep you from getting motor boats out on the river, but the river wasn’t intended for motor boats originally,” he said.

In 2002, a group of state agencies said removing the dam was a priority.

Public comment is due by April 22 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will have to approve removing the dam.