Aging Dams In Central And Western Massachusetts To Be Removed In $25M Project

BOSTON (AP) — Eight aging dams in central and western Massachusetts will be removed as part of a $25 million initiative announced Friday by state environmental officials.

The structures to be dismantled include the abandoned high-hazard Bel Air Dam in Pittsfield.

Removing the dams will restore fish and other wildlife habitats, increase biodiversity, improve water quality, promote climate resiliency and make communities safer, officials said.

“This summer, we saw firsthand the catastrophic impacts of severe flooding and the stress and pressure it puts on our dams," Gov. Maura Healey said.

The floods earlier this year put a few dams at risk and raised concerns that the structures may increasingly be at risk as the region is hit by stronger and wetter storms.

There are thousands of dams across New England and many were built decades if not centuries ago, often to help power textile mills, store water or supply irrigation to farms. The concern is they have outlived their usefulness and climate change could bring storms they were never built to withstand.

Of the $25 million, $20 million will support the removal of Bel Air Dam, and $5 million will go toward the removal of the remaining seven dams.

The removal of the Bel Air Dam will reduce the risk of downstream flooding that could affect nearly 500 parcels of land, including residential, business, commercial, and industrial areas.

As part of the dam's removal the state will dispose of contaminated sediments off-site to reduce health risks, officials said. The dam's removal should also improve fish passage and improve ecological restoration of the west branch of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, where the dam sits.

The remaining seven dams are: Cusky Pond Dam in New Braintree; Schoolhouse Pond Dam in Sutton; Patrill Hollow Pond Dam in Hardwick; Thousand Acre Reservoir Dam in Athol; Arnold Pond Dam in Sutton; Salmon Pond Dam in Brookfield; and Weston Brook Dam in Windsor.