Woolen Mills Dam Destruction: One Year Later

It was about mid July 2007 when the Rivanna Conservation Society (RCS) destroyed the Woolen Mills Dam, so it seems an appropriate time to look back and see what has resulted from their deed.

Dam Removal-

For some inexplicable reason, when the Dam was removed (apparently  without a permit), they left a chunk of it. This collection of rock is now large enough to snag large trees brought downstream during heavy rains (see arrow in photo above). With each tree limb hung upon the Dam remains, the likelihood of future debris being caught increases.

Last July, like this July, the water level was very low. When the Dam was torn down the water level in the Rivanna at the end of East Market street was lower than other areas of the river due in part to its width at this point. After the initial period of curious visitors, the majority of river users were dog owners taking their canines for an extended walk in the park via the now stream-like Rivanna. Many a happy dog was found romping in the foot deep water with one or two explorers hopping or walking along.

I saw one canoeist attempt to navigate the now extremely rocky river but he was mostly walking his canoe. Since the water is slightly deeper after the former dam site as the river narrows, a kayaker or two was seen putting in the river at the end of East Market Street.

It was claimed by RCS that canoeists and kayakers would now put into the river at the Woolen Mills park rather than at the end of East Market and thus our traffic problems would be alleviated. This is not at all what has happened. No one puts in at the park as it is too steep and rocky and they still attempt to put in at the cul-de-sac and park at the end of E. Market.

Since the water is so shallow for the majority of the year, save spring, it is easy to see aquatic life. I have diligently looked for fish for the last 12 months. There are few, if any, fish, in the river at least at the location above where the Dam once was. I have seen a small fish or two below the Dam where the river is a bit deeper but still walkable. Tony Woodson a native arborist and naturalist from Crozet, said he thought he saw some fish from the river bank. However, Tony has only one eye. Last week, I saw a school of 6 small fish by the southern shore at the end of E. Market. But the last 3 visits I saw no fish. In the past, one could see fish jumping and feeding at any moment.

Jim Brewer reported their were shad in April/May upstream at the base of the Rivanna Reservoir dam. One would think that a passage of that many shad would be noticeable and elicit some excitement coming and going but I did not see any nor did I hear reports of others spotting shad coming up the river through the former Dam site. Perhaps they all came during a very short period of time and at night.  Jim said they like to travel during higher water periods so perhaps the migration was during a rainy period. He said most of the shad were Gizzard Shad which are bait fish but a smaller amount were the protected American Shad.

Fishing activity by the locals is about 5% what it was pre-Dam removal. Very few individuals now come fishing and those that do have little luck. They still try their skills at the Dam site where the river is a bit deeper and occasionally there are fishermen further upstream near the Pantops bend. Gone are the days when groups or whole families would come down and fish at the Dam and proudly return with huge stringers of fish. This group was granted no say in the Dam’s removal.


Bird activity is about 20% of what it was in the immediate vicinity of the Dam and the first 200 yards above the Dam. I have seen no turtles, heron nor beavers. There had been two families of geese although starting mid-June they have not been seen. Deer, however, are now able to cross the river from Pantops and are now almost every evening in our backyards. This is the first time since 1982 that I have seen deer in the backyard.

River Debris-
RCS members collected pieces of metal pipe and the like from the River on two occasions: once last July of 2007 when they are dumped all this debris in one place in the River (where the Water Street Creek enters the Rivanna-at the boundary of 1907/1909 E. Market and the River) and once this June when they decided to move all this trash from the River onto my back yard instead of properly disposing of it.

Vandalism and Trespassers-

As predicted, privacy has been reduced. Jon Fink had four trespassers in his back yard the first seven days after the Dam removal last July. This summer his canoe has been stolen. Other trespassers took his rowing shell and dumped it in the River. At least that was retrievable. I keep less down by the River but last July my only chair was stolen. This is what we predicted, but were told by RCS that they would guarantee that measures would be taken to prevent such activities.

Bank side regeneration-

R. Savage sent me a letter stating that they were going to plant trees along the river bank (how far upstream I do not know) but they would not plant any along my property unless they heard from me that I wanted this. I did not contact them. They did it anyways. They planted twigs/sticks every 6.5 feet.  I did sow some native grass seeds along the bank which is now growing and protecting the bank. It was predicted by J. Halbert that within a year the entire river bank would be regenerated. (Photos).

Previous story, 2007,  found in archives of News Articles.

Metal trash dumped together in one place by RCS members,  july/august 2007

same trash moved/dumped on land at end of east market street by RCS members

june 2008. Dam was not totally removed and is now catching river debris.

Same-different angle. july 2008. Dam was not totally removed and is now catching river debris

northern bank May 2008

Jon Fink’s scull thrown into the river.

Unsolicited email received September 8th from a woman in Maine…. “Name: Mary Ellen Fletcher Organization: private citizen/SOS member Email: Message: Dear Mr. Voisinet.  We just lost our local “hydropower dam” here in Winslow, Maine this summer 7/08 after a 7 year fight. We were strong opponents to the destruction of this dam and it has been an environmental disaster. You have described in your radio interview much of what we have experienced. We are planning to start up a website to share what has gone on. We live along the river and it went from a 414 acre beautiful lake to a free flowing trickle. Our story involves much more than this. When we get our website going we can share it with you. We can appreciate what you are talking about. Do you know of other communities that have fallen victim to dam removals? I know they are doing this on the west coast in some areas. Our dam was right in the middle of our little town and was a scenic view. You can imagine how it looks now. The town fathers rolled over to let FPLE have their way in spite of our town ordinances so they wouldn’t get sued or so they were intimidated to think they would be sued. It may take us a little while to get up and running but we’ll let you know.

Our story is a long one and I won’t bend your ear now, but the reason we lost our dam was due to an ill-fated private contract signed by the dam owner, Florida Power and Light Energy, along with state agencies…..Dept. of Marine Resources, Inland Fish and Wildlife, US fish and wildlife, State planning office, and the Kennebec Coalition which is made up of four environmental groups (Trout Unlimited, Natural Resource Council of Maine, American Rivers, and Maine Salmon Federation) whose sole purpose is to take out dams and return rivers to the way they were 200 yrs. ago.

This bad deal called the KHDG (Kennebec Hydrodeveloper Group) agreement was penned confidentially behind closed doors back in 1998 and we citizens didn’t have a say in the decision nor was there any legislative oversight. Our dam was 100 yrs. old and eligible for the National Historic Register. Being an active hydropower dam, it produced enough electricity equivalent to light 1 out of 3 homes here in Winslow. This has been such a senseless act considering the energy crisis we are in and taking out clean renewable energy is just insane. The enviro smoke screen was about passing searun fish, (shad, salmon, sturgeon etc.) but the hidden agenda was all about taking out dams. The “damino” effect.

There are no shad or salmon present to pass, just alewives which come each Spring and they end up as lobster bait. There is another dam 5.2 miles upstream from this one with a fish lift. They didn’t gain anything except another notch on their belt, another dam destroyed. FPLE could easily have afforded a fish lift to pass the searun fish and there was another buyer wanting to purchase the dam, transfer the hydro license and put in a fish lift. Our dam ended up being the sacrificial lamb in a deal to buy time for the dam owner for fish passage at their other bigger dam sites. Our state is very liberal and has a strong well funded environmental lobby with national connections. Our little, no money grassroots group has been a David and Goliath seven year up hill court battling challenge. We lost the dam but we are determined to get the truth out. Our website has not been created yet, but when it is ready I can let you know. I found you by testing domain name sites. We are not sure what to call our website yet. (any suggestions?)  By the way, SOS stands for “Save Our Sebasticook” which is the name of our river.We called our grassroots group of citizens SOS. We are just sick about losing it. Before we looked out over a beautiful lake. Now it is like staring at a dead corpse each day. This is still very new and raw for us as it has only been six weeks since the breach. Well, as you can see I am passionate about all this and I’ve raved long enough. Have a good evening.

Sincerely, Mary Ellen Fletcher

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