To the editor:
After serving on the Bristol Dam Advisory Committee for 15 months, I was surprised to discover I had not formed an opinion on the two options arrived at by that study. These are the two options up for a public vote next Tuesday, July 24. Question 1 is to repair the 100-year-old dam and build a new fishway around it. Question 2 is to replace the dam with stone structures called weirs upstream at the Benner Road Stone Arch Bridge. Question 3 is simply authorizing town funds to start the project, whichever option is chosen.
Last spring I was asked to give some public information meetings on the dam so folks could make an informed decision. I made a point of giving the pros and cons of each option. Since then, I have had a number of people tell me they appreciated the meetings and still don’t know which “side” I was on. After doing those sessions and answering a lot of questions, I have come down firmly on favoring Question 2 to replace the dam.
Both options result in fish passage around the dam, maintain water levels upstream, provide water access for the fire department, and create a swim area. So what is the difference between them? For fish passage, Question 1 has a highly engineered fish ladder in the same location as the present one. Fish ladders work, but with varying efficiency and uncertain capacity to pass fish. They also require maintenance and someone to operate the facility.
Question 2 uses the water control weirs as a nature-like fish ladder. This arrangement, which is very similar to the weirs behind the town hall, is more of a “set it and forget it” system only requiring cleaning as needed. It also provides a virtually unlimited capacity to pass fish.
Water levels in the marsh above the dam, as well as in Biscay, Pemaquid, and Duck Puddle ponds, will stay the same. If the dam is retained, it will obviously serve its present function but will need annual operating costs. If the dam is replaced, the weirs will be set at the same level as the dam and will function without much attention.
The dry hydrant for the fire department can be moved to Ellingwood Park or another appropriate location. The present setup could be copied by building out a road shoulder to keep tanker trucks up on Bristol Road while a pumper truck down by the water could feed them. There really is no need for a road through the park, as was shown on one of the engineering plans, making this setup more feasible.
Moving the swim area to Ellingwood Park would have a number of advantages, making it more usable and safer by being away from the dam. A ramp and float like Russ Guibord used to have there could include a swim ladder to get in and out of the water more easily, especially for us older folks. A float out in the middle of the stream would be a great destination to swim to and jump off from. The water is 7-8 feet deep there and the bottom in the whole area is smooth granite. There is no grass on the east side of the area, so there are fewer leeches than at the present site.
Since Question 2 involves removal of the dam, this opens up the possibility of grant funding for the project. Other similar projects have received funds to cover most, if not all, of the project costs. On a project that could cost close to a million dollars, that would be significant.
Question 2 ends up being less expensive to build, easier and cheaper to maintain, more likely to operate correctly over time, and provides a nicer and larger swim area.
Please vote on Tuesday, July 24 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the town hall. I encourage you to vote no on Question 1, yes on Question 2, and yes on Question 3.