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Norton Paper Mill Dam

 Before and after photos show the removal of the Norton Mill dam on the Jeremy River.


A privately-owned dam that once powered a paper mill was removed from the Jeremy River this past fall – and for the first time in over 300 years, migratory species of fish including Atlantic salmon, sea lamprey, American eel, and eastern brook trout are once again able to reach their historic spawning areas.  While the dam that was removed a few months ago was only about 200 years old, it was built, presumably, to replace a dam built in 1726 just a very short distance upstream.

The 1.5-acre former mill property, including the dam, was sold to the Town of Colchester by the Wasniewski family for $1.00 in April 2016. As the building was already partially collapsed, the Town was awarded $860,000 in state grants to demolish the building, clean up the site, and convert the area to a riverfront park. The dam removal efforts, which took place in November 2016, were led by Sally Harold of The Nature Conservancy, in consultation with Steve Gephard, a biologist at Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection’s Fisheries Division. Funding was primarily through the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Hurricane Sandy Mitigation and Resiliency Fund ($537,000), and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, which partners with the Long Island Sound Study ($39,000). Now that the dam has been demolished and the stream habitat restored, this project reconnects nearly 20 stream miles in the Jeremy River, Meadow Brook, and other tributaries to the Salmon River and the Connecticut River – opening up nearly the entire watershed to Long Island Sound. Also benefiting from this project are the many species of resident fish that utilize these streams, such as white sucker and native cyprinid fish.

Dams prevent the passage of fish and prevent migratory species from reaching their historic spawning areas, sometimes many miles upstream of the Sound. It is estimated that there are between 4,000 and 5,000 dams in Connecticut alone, and the upper end of this range would translate to about one dam per square mile. In addition to the environmental benefits stated above, removal of this dam eliminated a dam safety liability and protects downstream property.

This article was written by Harry Yamalis, the Connecticut Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study.


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