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Chicopee and Northampton among grant recipients for dam removal projects

State grants announced last week will accelerate a high-risk dam removal project in Chicopee’s Szot Park and allow Northampton to restore a creek and wetlands on a former golf course.

Department of Ecological Restoration officials awarded $11.8 million in grants to 24 different communities to remove aging dams, restore wetlands and replace culverts.

The projects will “strengthen community preparedness for major storms, improve climate infrastructure, protect fish, wildlife and river and wetland habitats,” according to officials from the Department of Fish and Game, which oversees the Department of Ecological Restoration.

Chicopee will receive $2 million, one of the largest grants, to help fund the project that will eventually remove the two earth dams in the park, eliminating lower and upper Bemis Pond and restoring Abbey Brook in a free-flowing creek.

The project will also eliminate a “goose problem” and create nature trails along a large grassy area that is largely unused, said Lee Pouliot, director of the city’s planning department.

Engineering plans for the first phase of the project are about 90% complete, which will allow the city to bid for a contractor around January or February and begin construction in the spring, Pouliot said.

This phase will remove a dam, which is considered a public safety hazard due to its age and condition, and convert Lower Bemis Pond to a creek. The project, which will take approximately 18 months, involves technical work such as fine grading, silt and sediment removal, and planting of native trees, shrubs and plants to restore the area. A trail will also be built along the creek, he said.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia for the pond, but people are aware that this area didn’t have a lot of features,” he said.

The dams were originally erected around the 1920s for a company that harvested ice before modern refrigeration. Later there was a public bath and people swam in the water and skated in it in the winter, Pouliot said.

But for years there has been a problem with Canada geese grazing on the lawn of the pond and the water itself is contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Because geese like to see in all directions and want to swim in calm water, the changes will mean the park will no longer be attractive and they will go elsewhere, he said.

No one is certain, but Pouliot said the last time people bathed in the pond was in the 1960s or possibly early 1970s. Officials discovered chlorine pipes leading to water that would have been installed in response to polio outbreaks and later used to keep water clean as it can stagnate.

A rough estimate puts the total cost of the project at $17 million. The city also received at least two other state and federal grants to pay for the engineering and design of the first phase of the project, Pouliot said.

The city has set aside $5 million in federal pandemic relief funds to pay for the cost of the first phase, but Pouliot said the deals were unpredictable with the current economy, so the $2 grant million dollars gives the city a contingency if the cost is higher.

The money will also allow phase two design work to take place while the lower dam is removed and allow the project to move quickly to the next stage, Pouliot said.

The second phase will consist of enlarging a culvert under Front Street through which the creek crosses and removing a pipe so that it has a natural sandy bottom. The creek will also be rerouted so it no longer passes through a second culvert under a Chicopee Electric Light parking lot before discharging into the Chicopee River, he said.

“We are diverting the creek. We don’t know where he originally went. It was lost over time,” Pouliot said.

The culvert will be widened to allow more water to flow under Front Street and prevent flooding when the third phase, which will remove the second earth dam that creates the upper pond, is complete, it said. -he declares.

Northampton received a $250,000 grant to help plan Nashawanuck Creek Restoration, a project that aims to restore the creek and wetlands at a former 18-hole golf course the city now owns.

The city’s planning department is working with the Division of Ecological Restoration to find the best way to restore the site for passive recreation, said Sarah LaValley, deputy planning director.

When the site was developed into a golf course, it was designed to drain water from the course. “The wetlands have dried up and are no longer there,” she said.

As part of the project, the city will likely remove a dam on the river that was used to reduce water on the property and create a pond on the golf course, she said.

Other communities in Western Massachusetts that have received grants are:

  • Monson: An $800,000 grant will help fund the removal of the Church Manufacturing Co. dam and reconnect a section of Chicopee Creek, which is a coldwater fish resource. The removal will improve public safety and eliminate the need for costly repairs.
  • Chester: A $350,000 grant will replace a culvert and remove a second on a tributary of Kinne Creek to allow full relocation of native brook trout and other aquatic species. It will also prevent flooding that damages roads.
  • Great Barrington: A total of $150,000 has been awarded to Bard College at Simon’s Rock to fund preliminary design work to remove three dams on campus and restore Long Pond Creek.

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