State to accept grants for Village Dam removal

CONCORD – The Executive Council will formally accept federal and state grants totaling $180,000 toward the cost of removing the Merrimack Village Dam at the mouth of the Souhegan River, when councilors meet in Peterborough on Wednesday.

Those grants include $50,000 from the state Fish and Game Department, $75,000 from the Gulf of Maine Council, $10,000 from the New Hampshire Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, $5,000 from the Coastal Conservation Association’s state chapter and nearly $40,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The total cost to remove the dam is $524,000, and Environmental Services Commissioner Tom Burack said the remainder will not come from state dollars but from other grants or contributions from Pennichuck Water Works, the dam’s owner.

The project, which began earlier this summer, was intended to remove a safety hazard, improve water quality and increase recreation options on the river, Burack added.

Removing unused dams is rare but is becoming more accepted as a way to improve river health, particularly by allowing fish to move back into historic breeding grounds.

The removal of the Merrimack Village Dam will open about 14 miles of the river, from the confluence with the Merrimack River upriver to a dam in the center of Milford, to fish such as alewife, shad and salmon.

New Hampshire has about 4,800 dams, most of them quite small. A dozen have been removed since 2001 and seven more are being eyed for destruction, according to the Dam Removal and River Restoration Program run by the state Department of Environmental Services.

Nationally, somewhere around 500 dams have been removed this decade, according to national monitoring projects, out of several hundred thousand that exist.

Originally built to serve a mill, and rebuilt at the start of the 20th century to create a water supply, the Merrimack Village Dam had served no purpose for decades. Its owner, Pennichuck Corp., wanted to get rid of it to save maintenance costs and paid half the cost for its demolition.

There were no abutter complaints: Few properties lie along the river between the Everett Turnpike and the Merrimack River, where the water flow would be affected.