Meeting Jan. 7, the Coopers Mills Dam Committee voted unanimously to remove the Coopers Mills Dam. The Whitefield Board of Selectmen upheld their recommendation at their Jan. 12 meeting, also voting unanimously to remove the dam.
The final decision on the dam’s removal now rest with voters at Whitefield’s annual town meeting in March. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Whitefield Elementary School.
For the past year, the Coopers Mills Dam Committee, formed by selectmen at the request of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, has met to discuss improving fish passage at the dam. The dam, in a deteriorating condition, is an essential element of fire safety in Coopers Mills, because it impounds water for a dry hydrant used by the fire department.
Due to the condition of the dam, however, the water level is too low for use during the summer months. After several meetings, the committee zeroed in on three proposals for the dam: removing it, repairing it, or leaving it alone.
The determining factor for the committee’s vote was fire safety. The committee did discuss an alternative proposal to repair the culverts at the dam so it could be used for year-round fire protection, according to Selectman Tony Marple, who served as a liaison to the committee.
That proposal, however, did not address the underlying issues with the deterioration of the site, and would have been a temporary fix, Marple said.
The proposal for the dam’s removal not only offered a new dry hydrant system that promises year-round fire protection, but also improvements at the site to commemorate its historical significance and improve its recreational use.
The new dry hydrant system places one dry hydrant at the dam site with two water sources for the fire department to access and a back-up dry hydrant site on the West Branch River in Windsor.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation will not only pay for the dam’s removal, the installation of the new dry hydrant system, and the improvements at the site, the federation will set up funds to be managed by the town to support the maintenance of the site and the dry hydrant system.
In the long-term, the dry hydrant system proposed by the Atlantic Salmon Federation promises to provide secure water access for the fire department, Marple said.
Ultimately, the committee voted unanimously for the dam’s removal, a recommendation which was unanimously supported by selectmen.
“Both the committee and the board thought it was a well thought-out proposal,” Marple said. “It’s a unique opportunity that may not be available in the future.”
In 2007, a warrant article to convey the Coopers Mills Dam to an outside agency so it could be remodeled to improve fish passage was defeated at town meeting. According to The Lincoln County News archives, voters were confused about the meaning of the warrant article.
Proposals to use the dam as a source of hydroelectric power, also, side-railed previous discussions about removing the dam, committee members said. According to Marple, the committee has researched using the Coopers Mills Dam as a source of hydroelectric power and found the proposal to not be feasible.
Marple said he does not anticipate opposition to the warrant article or the recommendation to remove the dam this time around, but the committee and board are providing opportunities for citizens to weigh-in on the recommendation.
Ultimately, the decision to remove the dam will rest with the citizens, Marple said.
A public hearing is scheduled in Whitefield Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Whitefield Elementary School.