Pictures and full article on Wicked Local Kingston  |  Video: Asking selectmen to explore Elm Street Dam options

The Jones River Watershed Association is advocating for removal of the Elm Street Dam to the Board of Selectmen.

When selectmen meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, JRWA Executive Director Pine duBois will ask selectmen to
investigate the advantages and disadvantages to keeping the dam.

Instead of continually making emergency repairs as the dam deteriorates and paying to maintain it, duBois proposes that the town seek grant funding to explore its options.

“There are grant opportunities coming up in October and November that would allow the town to do the appropriate studies to determine the best course of action from an economic and an environmental perspective,” she said.

DuBois approached selectmen last week to make an appointment to make the case for seeking grant funding. She makes no secret that removing the dam is her preference, with the goal of improving water quality for habitat restoration, namely the health of native trout, shad and juvenile river herring.

From her perspective, the 10-foot high dam serves no practical purpose and only costs the town money, with more disadvantages than advantages. The town owns the dam, she said, and has to support a restoration strategy.

“What is the benefit to the town of keeping the dam? There’s none,” duBois said.

According to Water Commission Chairman Robert Kostka, the dam is in some degree of disrepair and has no current use other than maintaining water in the pond and possibly helping to prevent damage to the Water Department building. There are, however, people who have a historical connection to the dam.

Kostka said he’s open minded about it and will make his opinion based on the evidence, if the Board of Selectmen wants to investigate its options.

The town owns the dam. One factor for selectmen to consider is the recent replacement of the Elm Street Bridge. The new bridge opened last October after a lengthy closure.

In addition to serving no useful purpose, duBois said the dam is in the way of nature, including the fish that have difficulty making their way up river despite the presence of a fish ladder. She said it impacts the overall water quality and health of the Jones River ecosystem.

“It makes all of us healthier by allowing nature to maintain its balance,” she said.

Stream gauges from the Jones River Watershed Association have been used to monitor the flow in the river since the 1960s. JRWA installed storage tanks next to the river for the town in the early 1990s to clean up the water quality. Water flows downhill into the tanks.

The Water Department wants to replace the trash racks under the building, duBois said, because the water flows through the building, a former pump station, and the old one rotted out. The boards inside the building that regulate the flow going through are also deteriorating, she said.

A 2007 Dam Safety report concluded that the spillway is not big enough to handle all the water coming down the river, so there will flooding. DuBois said the town spent $250,000 addressing the rot in the building.

“Why not stop the water from going through the building?” she asks.

The lower wing wall is collapsing and poses a threat to the historic building close to the embankment, she said. It’s a condition is caused by major storm events that force water over the dam because the water can’t easily flow.

With the water quality of the Jones River above the dam seriously impaired, resulting in the river’s placement on the federal 303D, or “dirty waters list,” Kingston needs to address it, duBois said. There are different options, she explained, including treating the water or stormwater remediation upstream, but removing the dam would accomplish the same goal and stop the accumulation of nutrients and sediments.

Oxygen being taken out of the water “makes it impossible for the native fish to survive,” she said.

In 2011, she said, another impediment to healthy river life was removed. Removal of the old dam on Wapping Road was supported by a $248,850 grant from the Open Rivers Initiative, a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In addition to federal funding, several state agencies, including the Division of Ecological Restoration and the Division of Marine Fisheries, provided financial and technical assistance. The town also contributed to the project, acquiring a half-acre historic property on the Jones River and Wapping Road from property owner Jones River Realty Trust for $59,600.

“Water quality greatly improved, flooding was significantly reduced to the adjacent property owners, and now we have trout spawning and river herring passing through that area for the first time in 100 years,” duBois said.