PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council accepted a $1.5 million state grant to take down the Mill Street Dam.
The project has been years in the making and is now out to bid. The city is hoping to have work start in late June or July and be completed before the winter.
"We need to take advantage of the low flow period of the river," Parks and Open Spaces Manager Jim McGrath said.
The dam is being removed for a number of reasons — public safety, water quality, removing contaminants behind, it and connecting the river for more public use. The river will essentially be piped around the worksite for three to four months as the contractor excavates contaminated soil and then removes the structure during the deconstruction.
The dam is attached to the Hawthorne Mill Building, which used to house the Tel-Electric Piano Player Co. Factory, and had been cited by the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety as being in a hazardous condition nearly 20 years ago.
The first piece of funding for the project came 11 years ago. In 2008, the Division of Ecological Restoration awarded the city $850,000 from the Housatonic River Natural Resource Damage fund. McGrath said after the study and design of the removal, $550,000 remains. In 2015, the division makes another award of $981,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program. There is $950,000 of that going toward construction. In total, the deconstruction is expected to cost $1.5 million, which the state just released, after about $400,000 worth of engineering and studies culminating in a $1.9 total project cost.
The City Council accepted the grant but with a few questions. Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo asked about the ownership. The dam is privately owned by the Nash family and McGrath said the land will remain with the family after deconstruction.
"The site will stay in private ownership and they will be responsible," he said, adding that the site is the river and the river banks only so there is no buildable value being gained. "It can't be developed. It is a river."
But, it will pay a benefit to the city, he said, by reconnecting the river and improve water quality, particularly by getting rid of contaminants that have built up behind the dam.
Nearby, the Westside Riverway Park project is expected to start this summer and Jane and the Jack Fitzpatrick Trust and the Upper Housatonic Valley Natural Heritage Area are gifting the city $110,000 to make the river more accessible. The gift is to fund a footbridge over the river to John Street.
"Now we can include the bridge construction as part of our base bid of the project," McGrath said.
Council Vice President John Krol thanked the Fitzpatricks for the gift.
"This investment will help transform the neighborhood and better utilize this natural resource," Krol said.
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