Agreement reached on Neponset dams

Months of community meetings and planning have created consensus on a new plan that would tear down one dam and lower and build a fish ramp over another—the Baker Dam at Lower Mills—restoring an ecology that has been absent in the Neponset for hundreds of years.

“Here’s a good example of the state, the city, watershed activists and historic preservation activists and community members coming together to tackle some challenging issues about what the future of the Neponset can be,” said Jim Hunt III, the Menino administration’s chief of environment and energy services. “We have a good consensus approach to restoring the ecology of the Neponset River, particularly in the Baker Dam and the Tileston and Hollingsworth Dam areas.”

Hunt and a number of state legislators were on hand Tuesday evening at the Baker Square Condominiums along with representatives of over two dozen civic groups and environmental organizations from Dorchester, Mattapan, Milton and Hyde Park to sign a list of recommendations to the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation which owns the two dams. Funding has not been identified for the work, nor has legislation made it a certainty just yet.

Specifically, the recommendations include a cleanup of PCBs that have been discovered at both sites; a teardown of the Tileston and Hollingsworth Dam, which neighborhood groups agreed can’t be seen well from a number of neighborhood vantage points; and the removal of around six feet of “flash boards” from the Baker Dam.

The flash boards were designed to be removable from the dam, and the lower height would make possible a fish ramp that could help herring and shad get upstream to potential spawning areas. Smelt, another species that might use the river, would not be able to climb the ramp but the species already spawns annually near Baker Dam. The new fish ramp could be as long as 150 feet, rising only four feet to the dam’s top, and could potentially be designed and built using grant money from any of a number of federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I didn’t think it could happen, I didn’t,” said Steve Pearlman of the Neponset River Watershed Association. “But it did, and we’re very happy about it.”

The next steps for the project, according to Pearlman, will be coming up with a design for the ramp and estimating the costs of the cleanup, both in preparation for applying for grant money.