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January 30, 2013

Newbury pressured to demolish old dam

NEWBURY — Selectmen are again under pressure to authorize removal of the 138-year-old Larkin Mill Dam.

At a recent meeting, Brad Chase of the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries urged the board to reconsider a previous stance it took against demolishing the dam as a way to improve the viability of migratory fish that rely on the fish passage located there. Selectmen had a lengthy discussion but took no immediate action.

In December 2011, town leaders voted against removing the dam, siding instead with public safety officials who thought the old dam could play a crucial role if a highway accident caused a spill into the Parker River. Interstate 95 crosses over the Parker River a couple hundred yards or so upstream from the dam.

Selectman Chuck Bear told his colleagues last Tuesday that the Fire and Water Departments have not changed their minds about the potential threat to public safety and the water supply that they feel comes with removal of the dam. But Chase contends the structure would “likely not” slow any leakage from the typical types of contaminant spills that occur on a highway.

Migratory diadromous fish — such as alewife, blueback herring, white perch, rainbow smelt, American eel, and sea lamprey — are a crucial part of the food chain upon which fishing fleets in this region depend. The fish runs of the six dams that make up the Parker River system play a key regional role in the sustainability of this marine population.

But according to Chase, impaired fish passage and degraded habitats are fostering the decline of runs of these types of fish in recent years. “Significant local stewardship and cooperative efforts among local, state and federal partners” are needed in order to stem this trend, he said.

Under state law, dam owners are required to maintain fish passages.

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