NOAA has announced approximately $13.8M in recommended funding for nineteen projects across the country under its Coastal Resilience Grants Program – JRWA’s Elm Street Dam removal project is one of them! It was one of nineteen proposals recommended, out of 167 total applications submitted earlier this year.
This is a culmination of years of hard work by JRWA, the Town of Kingston and our other partners. In 2011 we removed the Wapping Road Dam, just a mile upstream from Elm Street. Wapping Road Dam was our top priority because it was a complete obstacle to fish passage. That project really showed how dam removal can quickly restore the function and beauty of a river. With Wapping Road Dam gone we quickly turned our attention to Elm Street Dam. JRWA coordinated presentations by the Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) to the Kingston Selectmen. DER explained the benefits of removing the Elm Street Dam and the approach to initiating the project. The Town then requested that DER conduct a reconnaissance survey to further evaluate the dam removal option. DER agreed to pay for this effort and hired Stantec Engineering to tackle the work. Stantec dug in deep and produced a report that far exceeded a typical recon report. That analysis helped the Town and JRWA understand exactly what would be needed to make removal a reality. Meanwhile, Patagonia began to fund JRWA’s work at Elm Street Dam. Patagonia’s support has been critical to JRWA’s success. Patagonia, helps fund the some of the hardest parts of restoration work – keeping our heads above water while we try to pull all of the bigger pieces together.
With the recon analysis in-hand, JRWA continued the search for project funding. From our Wapping Road experience we knew that the dam’s owner would have to make a financial commitment in order for any other funders to even consider getting involved. The Town of Kingston stepped up to the plate. With strong votes from the Board of Selectmen and eventually town meeting, the town dedicated $125,000 in funds that could serve as match to other funding opportunities. Once the town put its cards on the table, everyone else was all in too. DER had been helping us all along, but now they assigned “Priority Project” status to removing the dam. That status means that they assign staff to work on the project and can include it in their annual budgets. By the end of 2016 the Mass Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EEA) granted $233,000 to the project through its Dam and Seawall program. That state funding pays for the engineering designs and the permitting process required. With nearly a dozen local, state, and federal permits required the permitting process is by far the most challenging aspect of dam removal.
With Kingston, DER, EEA, and Patagonia onboard we submitted a funding request to NOAA in March of 2017. This was not our first shot at NOAA funding. We had applied a few times over the previous two years but we were never selected. This was mostly because those other commitments had not yet been made and NOAA didn’t feel that we were ready to really pull it off. NOAA funds are highly competitive. They receive applications from all over the country and from very large organizations and municipalities. You really have to have an important project, a solid team of partners, matching funds in place, and be a well-respected organization in order to even get through preliminary proposal reviews. This time around we had all of the pieces in place and found success!
To be clear – the NOAA award has not been made yet. There are still administrative approvals needed at the national level. The current status is that NOAA has recommended us for funding of just over $550K. We will get the final word in another month or two. In the meantime we continue to move forward with the design and permitting aspects of the project. If funding is secured, it is expected that the dam will be removed by 2020.