For Immediate Release - May 11, 2010

Taunton dam removal project wins $99,000 grant for State and Partners

BOSTON - May 11, 2010 - Department of Fish and Game Commissioner (DFG) Mary Griffin today announced that a Taunton dam removal project co-sponsored by DFG and other partners has received a $99,000 grant.

The project to remove the State Hospital Dam on the Mill River is a partnership among 12 organizations, including two DFG divisions: the Division of Ecological Restoration and the Division of Marine Fisheries. The Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District, the project lead, won the grant from the American Rivers-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Community-Based Habitat Restoration Program Partnership.

"This ambitious project will restore more than 27 miles of migratory fish habitat through the Canoe-Snake-Mill River watershed, including the 266-acre Lake Sabbatia, the 137-acre Watson Pond, and the 152-acre Winnecunnet Pond," said DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin. "The Taunton River watershed has some of the most important natural resources in the Commonwealth, and restoring the Mill River will continue to be a priority of DFG's Division of Ecological Restoration."

A diverse group of partners is working to restore ecological conditions and improve public safety along the entire Mill River in Taunton. The long-term objective of the Mill River restoration initiative is to improve fish passage at the three lower dams and build a fish ladder at Morey's Bridge Dam.

Mill River Restoration partners also include American Rivers, NOAA, Taunton River Watershed Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Save The Bay and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.

In 2005, dams along the Mill River threatened to fail, resulting in the evacuation of residents and downtown businesses and the partial removal of the Whittenton Mill Pond Dam under an emergency order.

"The Mill River gained national attention in 2005 when the Whittenton Dam's near failure forced the evacuation of 2,000 people from downtown Taunton," said Brian Graber, Northeast Director of River Restoration for American Rivers, a national river protection and restoration non-profit with a local office in Northampton. "With even larger storms this year causing more evacuations elsewhere in the state, it is clear that removing outdated dams is critical to improving public safety."

The aging dam owned by Taunton State Hospital was built in the 1800s to power mills and has long since outlived its purpose. Removing the dam is the first of several steps to make sure that Taunton is no longer at risk from a catastrophic dam failure. The Mill River is one of the largest tributaries to the Taunton River and has enormous potential to support herring as well as American eel and other native fish.

"The Mill River team has been extremely effective at raising the profile of Taunton's Mill River, making it a nationally recognized priority for restoration - leveraging thousands of dollars in federal grants and outside funds," said Bill Napolitano, environmental program director of the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District. "We could not have accomplished this work without the leadership and scientific assistance from the staff at the Division of Ecological Restoration, as well as the guidance from the rest of the project team."