A number of residents attended the Bristol Board of Selectmen meeting Wednesday, Sept. 21 to continue discussions about the future of the Bristol Mills Dam and fish ladder.
After an unsuccessful application for a grant to help finance improvements to the fish ladder, the board has begun discussing alternatives, such as paying for the improvements itself or removing the dam altogether.
During the Sept. 21 meeting, Chairman Chad Hanna provided attendees with the minimum estimates for the planned repairs and construction.
“Right now there isn’t any grant money jumping out at us for fish ladder work,” Hanna said. “These are just the low-end numbers, which are what we’ve been working with. As time goes on, they might go up.”
The estimate for the work on the fish ladder is $270,000; the estimate for improvements to the spillway is $60,000, and the estimate for improvements to the structure of the dam is $35,000.
Hanna said a good portion of the structural improvements will be completed in October, when a contractor, Knowles Industrial Services, grouts, or fills in the gaps and cracks of the dam, with concrete for an amount not to exceed $20,000.
In addition to the development of an emergency action plan for the fish ladder and spillway, the estimated total cost of the project is $370,000.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources had applied for a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fund the work on the fish ladder, as well as similar projects in Augusta, Chelsea, China Lake, and Phippsburg.
The total request was for $2 million, of which Bristol would have received $124,000, almost half of the estimate for the work on the fish ladder alone, Hanna said.
The town could choose to fund the entire project, either by taking out a loan or by setting aside money for the next few years, Hanna said. Bristol has a couple of loans that will be paid off in 2017, Hanna said.
“We’ll be knocking a big chunk of debt off the table, so it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, if that’s the path we want to go down,” Hanna said.
The possibility of organizing a fundraising group was also suggested to the selectmen. Hanna said an individual who wishes to remain anonymous has indicated that they would donate to the project.
“Any amount of money that is raised privately would be a huge help,” Hanna said.
The dam is in no imminent danger of failing, Hanna said, but something will need to be done.
The possibility of doing a feasibility study was also discussed. No studies have been conducted regarding the feasibility of removing the dam or the impact removal would have on upstream water levels, ecological systems, and recreational and fire department usage.
Slade Moore, a member of the Bristol Fish Committee, said a feasibility study could be completed in less than a year. The feasibility study could focus on whatever information the town is interested in, not just the removal of the dam.
“I know there’s a concern that we’re just going to rip it out and walk out, and that will certainly never be our intent,” Hanna said. “There’s too much beyond that.”
Anyone interested in participating in future discussions or possibly a committee about the dam is encouraged to contact the town office, Hanna said.
“That’s our next big step, trying to pull together a group of people who are willing to take this on,” Hanna said. “We want to get as much perspective on this as we can.”