Milford will hold hearing on removal of two downtown dams

MILFORD – Several years ago the town hired a Henniker engineering firm to study whether removing the two dams along Milford’s stretch of the Souhegan River would be good for the river and good for the town.

Now Gomez and Sullivan has prepared a draft feasibility report on whether removal of the two 19th century dams would be “feasible, prudent, and cost effective.”

Next week there will be a public meeting on the report, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10, in the Milford Town Hall auditorium.

The Goldman Dam is the one close to the Stone Bridge, and the McLane Dam is downstream about a quarter mile and behind the Granite Square Apartments.

In 2010 the town was prompted to study the removal issue after the historic floods in 2007 and 2010. Town officials wanted to see if the dams were a contributing factor in more than a million dollars’ worth of damage to the Brookstone Manor Apartments, the Boys and Girls Club, and buildings along the west side of the Oval.

Both dams also require ongoing upkeep and maintenance costs that are borne by the town, even though only McLane is owned by Milford. The Goldman Dam is owned by the Helen Goodwin estate, held by a college student who has no means to maintain it. The estate has authorized the town to act on its behalf.

Environmental factors, specifically water quality and the health of the river as a fishery, are the third factor, because dams serve as barriers to migrating fish and the free flow of water. That’s the reason Trout Unlimited and other conservation organizations are helping pay for the study.

The Merrimack Village Dam was removed in 2008 so the two Milford dams are the next barriers to fish passage.

“In addition to contributing to a risk to Milford residents and their property, these dams require ongoing upkeep and maintenance costs that are expended in perpetuity,” according to a summary on the town’s website, “these structures inhibit the ability of fish to move naturally up and downstream and cause water quality issues within the impoundments.”

The dams’ impoundment area, the water that backs up behind the dams, also does not meet state water quality standards and the town and the Department of Environmental Services wanted to know if removal would make the water cleaner.

The McLane Dam was originally constructed in 1846, and the Goldman Dam in 1810.

Long ago they helped power the mills, but no longer have a function, a Gomez and Sullivan engineer told residents of the Mill Apartments during an outreach session in 2010.

Neither of these dams produces electricity, and an independent study has shown that their ability to produce cost effective power is highly unlikely, according to the report.

Selectmen have made no decision about dam removal, but if the removal option is selected, Phase II would begin – the development of engineering plans, construction-ready site plans, and all the required permits for initiating dam removal and river restoration. If Phase II proves successful the town will move into the third and final phase.

The Sept. 10 meeting will also provide information on an historic evaluation of the dams, and a question and comment period will follow the presentation.

Other agencies partnering with Milford in the study are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

Copies of the report are available at the Wadleigh Memorial Library and at Town Hall. The report also is on the town’s website at: www.milford.nh.gov/departments/community-development/active-projects/dam-feasibility-removal-study. The meeting will be televised on local cable access channel 21.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.