River dams will stay in Milford Souhegan committee ‘horrified’ by selectmen’s decision

MILFORD – Saying the two major 19th-century river dams are important to the history and appearance of downtown Milford, selectmen decided that they will not be dismantled.

The McLane and Goldman dams were the subject of a two-year study, undertaken after the heavy flooding in 2007 and 2010 damaged properties on the Souhegan River.

But a final report from the consulting firm Gomez and Sullivan Engineering indicated that dam removal would have little effect on flooding and would possibly benefit only seven landowners during 100-year flood conditions.

“I see the dams as part of our history. They tell us who we are and where we were,” said Selectman Mark Fougere at the Nov. 24 meeting when the board voted unanimously to leave the structures alone.

“I think removal would be devastating for the downtown,” he said.

The town’s Historical Society and Heritage Commission had come out strongly against removal, citing the dams’ historic value as part of the town’s industrial history and the potential effect of their absence on the appearance of downtown.

The final report takes no stand on the issue but includes the arguments in favor of removal from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration based on ecological and recreation benefits, including the benefits to fish passage.

In 2008 the removal of Merrimack Village Dam became one of NOAA’s largest projects under its Open Rivers Initiative, a national effort to restore the historic river habitat of migratory fish and other species that travel between the oceans and upstream freshwater areas.

If the dams were dismantled it would have
removed the next barriers to fish passage.

NOAA also noted that Milford’s dams no longer have a function, and that they cause a decline in water quality and impeded the movement of fish up the river.

Trout Unlimited, the Souhegan River Local Advisory Committee and other conservation organizations also supported removal.

During a public hearing in September residents who live along the river said they were concerned they might have to look at mud flats instead of flowing water if the dams were no longer holding the water back.

George May, president of the Souhegan River Local Advisory Committee, said he was shocked and horrified by the board’s decision.

“It’s bad for the river and bad for the town … It’s not just the cost of maintenance,” he said, the dams “don’t do anything.”

May called the idea of the dams being historic ironic.

“If there is any history – it’s the river without the dams, which were added later,” he said, and the name of Milford comes from the shallow place where people were able to ford the river – “that’s the real history.”

The selectmen’s decision means the town will have to continue maintaining the dams. McLane, the one closer to the fire house, is owned by the town, but Goldman, downstream from McLane near the stone bridge, is said to be owned by a trust that has no resources to pay for maintenance.

As part of the dam evaluation process, there was an historic structure assessment by the Public Archaeological Laboratory that decided the dams are not eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Goldman is less than 50 years old, and McLane was reconstructed in 1992 “resulting in the loss of integrity of the 1846/1909 structure.

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