Plans to remove the Dana Dam, located on the Norwalk River between Merwin Meadows and lower School Rd., are entering a new phase, with significant tree-clearing about to begin.
The process may not go unnoticed by residents, especially users of the adjacent Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT), but town officials say it’s necessary for the long-term environmental benefits.
Dana Dam, also known as Strong Pond Dam, is one of the last remaining barriers on the Norwalk River. Its removal will reopen 10 miles of the river to migratory fish and allow a more diverse habitat. It will also reduce the potential flood risk to the nearby Metro-North train infrastructure and Wilton Center.
At the Feb. 21 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting, Wilton’s Environmental Affairs Director Mike Conklin gave an update on the status of the project.
“Things are moving along well,” Conkin told the board. “The next step in this process is the removal of the trees in and around the dam area.”
“Approximately 183 trees have been posted to be removed in order to create the road access-way inward for equipment and for the actual deconstruction,” he said.
Conklin emphasized that a tree re-planting plan is also in the works.
“We’re not just leaving it [cleared],” Conklin said. “At the end of the project, the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited has agreed to plant two trees for each one that’s removed, up to 400 trees.”
“They’ll obviously be a lot smaller,” Conklin noted. “Most of the trees that have been marked [for removal] are very tall.”
“It will look devastated for a while,” Conklin warned. “But it’s what we need to do in order to really improve this area for the long term.”
Conklin revealed there is some urgency to complete the tree removal due to federal requirements to protect the endangered long-eared bat species, which begins roosting in April.
“It’s important that we have all these trees taken down between March 1 and April 1 so that no bats nest in them,” he explained.
“It’s going to get a little hectic down there,” Conklin said, as the April deadline rapidly approaches.
He also told the selectmen that the portion of the NRVT between Merwin Meadows and School Rd. will be closed while the work is taking place. (The upper trail which exits onto School Rd. opposite Comstock Community Center will remain open.)
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice noted that e-alerts from the Town would also inform residents about trail closures and other impacts as the project unfolds.
The work on the dam itself will take place over the summer. Conklin said he expected the deconstruction to be completed by the end of September or early October.
Conklin assured the selectmen that the NRVT would be fully restored if any damage to the trail resulted from the project.
GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Conklin after the meeting for more details on the project, specifically to ask where residents might notice the tree-clearing.
Conklin said the greatest visibility of the cleared area would be along the NRVT, but acknowledged the tree clearing would also be visible from the train station and to passengers on the train just north of the Wilton station.
“The bulk of it you’d really have to be [on the trail] to see,” he said.
Photos taken by GMW indicate the area would also be visible from Wilton Commons Senior Housing and the Station Place apartment complex.
Although the trees have all been marked, the exact timing for the start of the removal is not certain.
Conklin explained that while the Town of Wilton is the landowner, Save The Sound is the project manager and recipient of the grant money that is funding the work.
“They are the gatekeepers of the funds and hiring the contractor to do the work. Save The Sound is currently working to engage a contractor but as of [Feb. 23] the contractor is not formalized,” Conklin told GMW.
“We know the tree work has to happen before April,” Conklin reiterated.
UPDATE: GMW reached out to Save The Sound for comment, but did not get a response before this story was published. After publication, the following comments were received from Alex Kroftka, Ecological Restoration Project Manager, on Mon., Feb. 27:
“The likely start date for tree clearing is March 13 — possibly earlier if things move quickly.”
“These trees are being cut for equipment access and worker safety during removal of Dana Dam and reconstruction of the Norwalk River channel… Not every posted tree will need to be cut. Crews will only cut what is necessary to complete the work.”
“Shrub planting and native seeding will be done by the contractor to stabilize banks and any soil on the site. The tree planting effort will begin in the fall, after all construction activities are complete.”
“The planting plan will be developed in collaboration with the local Trout Unlimited – Mianus Chapter, which has led many volunteer planting efforts in the Norwalk watershed. They have committed to planting 2 new trees for every tree cut down for the project.”
“Large-diameter tree trunks will be placed in the forest and restored floodplains for wildlife habitat value.”
Save The Sound also provided the following photo simulation of the fully restored area: