NORRIDGEWOCK — Breaching of the Sandy River Dam, a project designed to restore salmon and other sea-run fish from the Kennebec, is scheduled to begin this morning.
Contractors will begin the removal of the dam located between Norridgewock and Starks on the Sandy River. The dam is 313 feet long, with splashboards.
Although the dam once provided all of the power used in the town of Madison, in recent years it has provided less than 2 percent. The Sandy River Dam will be decommissioned and the dam/spillway will be completely breached.
Calvin Ames, superintendent of Madison Electric Works, which owns the dam, said that the breaching will restore the natural falls in the small river.
“It will close the floodgate and water will go through the hole and down the river,” Ames said. “It’s actually going to revert back to the falls that it was before, which will be only six feet, because the dam’s built right on where the old falls used to be.”
Ames said that workers will use a backhoe and a hammer hoe to do the partial breaching.
“When they breach it, they’re going to just pick up those granite blocks that the dam is made of, and set them out of the way,” he said. Advocates for a sea-run salmon fishery on the Sandy have been looking forward to this occasion.
“This is another step in a long-term project-restoring sea-run fish to the Kennebec River watershed,” said Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited. “It’s a great day for the river.”
Total cost of the project is $500,000. The powerhouse structure, which is in the National Historic Register, was built in 1893. It was one of the first power stations in Maine built solely to generate power. Because of its historical significance, the powerhouse will remain intact.
“Removing New England dams is a priority for NOAA because of the benefits to migratory fish species and river health,” said Bill Hogarth, assistant administrator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service. “Dams that no longer serve their intended purpose can be removed to benefit anadromous fish who need to reach their spawning grounds, and to provide better public access to local waterways.”
Studies have been conducted by the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission on smolt production and ocean survival. They have shown a significant amount of high-quality salmon habitat above the dam. Removal of this dam will allow for 52 miles of unimpeded passage for Atlantic salmon and other migratory fish all the way to Smalls Falls, according to the study.
The Atlantic Salmon Commission has estimated that the Sandy River can provide up to 80 percent of the salmon spawning habitat on the Kennebec River Basin. Removal of the Madison Electric Works dam also offers significant benefits to American eels, which now have almost full access to the Sandy River thanks to recent improvements on downstream hydro-electric stations. Sponsors of the project include Madison Electric Works, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Trout Unlimited, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Atlantic Salmon Commission