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Monday, October 3, 2016

Clearing the Air about Wyoming Dam - Carolina meeting, October 13

What should be done?
From the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association newsletter

 The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) and its long list of partners are developing a Flood Resiliency Management Plan to help communities in the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed become more resilient to the impacts of flooding, while also benefiting water quality, fish and wildlife, and habitat.

The history of flooding and flood damages in the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed is well-documented. The landmark 2010 flood remains the flood of record for the region, and an example of extreme precipitation and flooding events becoming more frequent in the northeast as a result of climate change.

The primary objectives of this watershed planning project are to:
  • Assess the vulnerability of the Wood-Pawcatuck River watershed to flooding and storm-related damages,
  • Develop a comprehensive, watershed-based management plan to help communities become more resilient to the impacts of flooding (i.e., enhance flood resilience) and
  • Focus on strengthening natural ecosystems that also benefit water quality, fish and wildlife, and habitat.

WPWA has retained the engineering firm of Fuss and O’Neill to assist in the research and development the management plan. As part of this project they spent the summer of 2015 conducting field work to assess structures in the rivers that contribute to flooding concerns, particularly bridges, culverts and dams.

When the draft technical report was introduced it indicated that some of the structures, particularly several dams, may in fact worsen flooding impacts. All of the dams in the watershed were constructed in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to power various mills.

They were not constructed to retain storm water or provide drinking reservoirs. Where the mills are no longer functioning, and in most cases have been destroyed, the dams now primarily provide recreation and aesthetic values.

Because the high hazard classified Wyoming Dam is on the schedule for immediate repair, WPWA contacted RIDEM, the dam’s owner, with the information included in the draft technical report.

 This information indicates that the Wyoming Dam could be contributing to the periodic flooding of the Valley Lodge area in Richmond, located less than one mile upstream of the dam.

Before spending large sums of tax payer’s money, WPWA suggested RIDEM should study alternative options to addressing the failing dam. Alternatives could include a partial breach or full removal of the dam, replacing the dam with a rock ramp, or repairing the dam.

The study would have looked at the benefits and disadvantages of each option. This would include both social impacts – recreation, water quantity, fire safety, and aesthetics- as well as environmental impacts –water quality, habitat health, fish passage, and flood resiliency.

RIDEM’s response was that they had already decided to repair the dam and could not provide any evidence that an alternatives analysis had been conducted. WPWA then meet with the town officials from Richmond and Hopkinton, the two towns immediately impacted by the dam. It was agreed that WPWA would ask both town councils consider sending a letter to RIDEM requesting a study of all alternatives be done at Wyoming Dam before a repair was implemented.

The Richmond Town Council considered the request on Sept. 6 and agreed that the process merited further study. They unanimously voted to send a letter to the RIDEM Director requesting a study.

The Hopkinton Town Council considered the request on Sept. 19, 2016. At that meeting many misinformed Hopkinton residents expressed strong disapproval at any consideration to removing the dam.

Consequently the Hopkinton Town Council unanimously voted to submit a letter to RIDEM requesting the dam repair be expedited. WPWA has repeatedly stated that if both towns did not agree to the request for a study of alternatives to repairing Wyoming Dam, we would not pursue the matter any further. Alternatively, the Richmond Town Council did vote to make such a request and thus they do intend to pursue the matter under their own jurisdiction.

To learn more about the process used in developing the flood resiliency management plan, the public is invited to attend either of two community meetings where engineers and scientists will present the information from the draft reports and technical memos. 

They will be held on:

Thursday, October 13, 2016 from 10 a.m. to noon at the H.L. Arnold Fire & Safety Complex, 208 Richmond Townhouse Road, Carolina, RI 02812.

Thursday, October 20, 2016 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Westerly Library, Third Floor Terrace Room, 44 Broad Street, Westerly, RI 02891. Public parking is available on the street (2 hour intervals) or the lot next to the Post Office located on High Street.

Local knowledge and suggestions for improving flood resiliency and related issues in the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed were an important component in developing the watershed plan and will continue to be as the plan is finalized. Therefore, we urge all concerned citizens and WPWA supporters to attend these October community meetings.