The Bristol Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to move forward with a feasibility study on the Bristol Mills Dam funded by a conservation organization during its meeting Wednesday, Oct. 5.
Slade Moore, a member of the Bristol Fish Committee, informed the selectmen during their meeting that The Nature Conservancy, through its Maine chapter, has offered to fund a study, the scope of which would be determined by engineering firm Wright-Pierce and community members.
“I don’t know how long that offer will be on the table, but it’s there now,” Moore said.
The selectmen have been discussing the dam since August, after receiving word that the town did not receive a grant it had applied for to help finance improvements to the fish ladder.
The estimated total cost of the planned repairs and construction, including work on the fish ladder, improvements to the spillway, the development of an emergency action plan for the fish ladder and spillway, and structural improvements to the dam, ranges from $370,000-$470,000, Moore said.
In the time the town has been working with engineering firm Wright-Pierce to develop a new design for the fish ladder, which would hopefully allow more alewives to pass through, funding opportunities for fish ladder repairs and restorations have diminished, according to Moore.
Moore said larger funding sources have shifted their priority to projects that result in dam removal as it is more self-sustaining.
The feasibility study would help determine whether it would be more advantageous for the town to continue investing in the fish ladder and dam or remove the dam, Moore said.
Part of any consideration of removal would be to look at what the dam provides in the way of recreation, a water source for the fire department, and the maintenance of upstream water levels, and engineer ways to continue those uses, Moore said.
“We can’t lose sight of those, no matter what we do,” Bristol Board of Selectmen Chairman Chad Hanna said.
The town will ask engineering firm Wright-Pierce to develop a proposal for the scope and price of the study.
In addition, an advisory committee of residents will assist in the process to determine the study’s goals. Bristol Town Administrator Kris Poland told the selectmen three residents have asked to be on the new committee.
“The interest is certainly there,” Poland said.
Moore said residents would be presented findings and have the ability to give feedback about the direction of the feasibility study while it is being conducted.
“If the local community isn’t guiding it, there really isn’t a lot of value to it,” Moore said.
The date of the meeting to discuss the scope of the project has not yet been set, Poland said.
The selectmen will discuss the formation of the advisory committee during their next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 19.