Sunday December 23, 2012

LENOX

When he comes to town, it is always a good thing. Even his title evokes optimism -- Director of the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (DER).

He is Tim Purinton and he is usually checking out a new candidate for restoration, or calling a public meeting to officially announce the completion of a wonderful project and to thank those responsible for getting it done. On Friday, December 14, he showed up at the Cheshire Town Hall to do the latter.

The project referred to was the removal of the 10 foot reservoir dam on Thunder Brook in Cheshire which had once been the town's primary drinking source. The water behind the dam had become increasingly shallow because of siltation and the reservoir was no longer being used. Maintenance of the dilapidated 80 year old dam was becoming a financial burden and liability threat to the town. Another part of the project was the replacing of a failing downstream culvert with a new larger, open-bottom span.

Because of this project, there is 2.5 miles of reconnected stream which flows into Kitchen Brook and then into the South Branch of the Hoosic River. The wild native Eastern Brook Trout are able to frolic and to traverse up and downstream in the crystal clear water to do their fall migration and spawning.

Purinton's statement, "We're with the state and we want to help", drew chuckles from the audience, but he finished his sentence saying, "but it only works if the local effort is there."

And the effort was certainly there from the Town of Cheshire and its DPW, Hoosuck Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU), the Hoosic River Watershed Association (HooRWA), Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Mass. Division of Fish & Game (DFG), DER, local staff of the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW), Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).

"It's been a busy year for the state in terms of dam removals", said Purinton. "Thunder Brook marks the ninth project this year, and another 30 are in the works. An additional 3,000 dams exist within the state, with less than 10 percent of them useful and most are ecologically harmful".

Massachusetts ranks third nationally in how quickly these dams are being removed.

The project cost $245,000. Some $137,000 of it was spent on engineering, permitting and oversight which were entirely covered by grant funding: ($10,000 from TU, $50,000 from MET, $60,000 from USFWS, and funds from other organizations such as Converta Energies).

Some $150,000 of the implementation cost was provided by town in-kind services and grant funds. Martha Naley, Chief, Branch of Habitat Restoration USFWS said the removing of old decrepit dams and reconstructing poorly constructed culverts is good for the environment and economy and makes hunting and fishing better. It also reduces flood damages. She named DER Priority Projects Coordinator Nick Wildman and Tim Purinton "super heroes" in the project.

State Senator Ben Downing said: "We are always excited to play a part and our role is to ensure that we budget funds to help protect and preserve such streams for future generations. We look forward to many future projects".

State Representative Gailanne Cariddi said that she is working with Judy Grinnell of the Hoosic River Revival as well as HooRWA and is looking forward to working with them on other projects.

"This was an important project for the town of Cheshire," Cheshire Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said. "I want to thank the partners -- you were the best."

"In addition to the environmental benefits, ecological restoration projects like this also provide jobs and have a 75 percent return on investment" said state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan in a press release. "This is another great partnership involving multiple agencies and private conservation organizations that enhances one of Berkshire County's freshwater gems and benefits the many fish and wildlife species that inhabit Thunder Brook and the Hoosic River watershed," (DFG) Commissioner Mary Griffin also by press release. 

After describing the characteristics of the 70 mile Hoosic River and this important tributary, Steve McMahon, HooRWA Executive Director summed up his comments by saying; "Projects like the Thunder Brook dam removal and culvert replacement continue to be vital. Our river doesn't remain clean without our local legislator and state senator's continued commitment to preserving the environment. Fish habitat doesn't improve without the dedication of trained staff and local specialists from DFG, DFW, DER, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and our own Monitoring Coordinator Kelly Nolan.

"These projects don't happen without the Town of Cheshire Selectboard and Highway Department saying that we can complete this dam removal in our town. Cooperation and partnerships like this is what it takes to get the job done and HooRWA is involved in similar projects throughout the watershed. Thunder Brook seems like a small project compared to the Briggsville Dam removal in Clarksburg a short time ago but it is vital to the health and vitality of this special watershed."

Afterwards the group went with Nick Wildman to witness the new culvert replacement on Thunder Brook and later walked upstream to where the dam had been removed. It is a pretty spot with a clear riffled brook flowing through there now. "It's not only great for the ecology of the stream, but we've taken on a great infrastructure project that would have needed to be done anyway," Wildman said.

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True to its word, last week the DFW stocked the 124 broodstock Atlantic salmon into Goose Pond, Stockbridge Bowl, Onota Lake, Windsor Pond and Laurel Lake. They were in the 5-to-12 pound range.

Here's wishing everyone a safe and joyous holiday season.

Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone/fax: 413-637-1818.