Wilton’s Board of Selectmen is moving forward with recommended steps to get rid of a now-obsolete dam in a section of Norwalk River that runs through Merwin Meadows. The effort will have little affect on river flow, but will allow contaminated sediment that has collected behind the dam to be removed from the river long before the dam might fail.

The selectmen were briefed by Wilton’s Environmental Affairs director Mike Conklin at their meeting last night. Conklin said that while there is definitely no imminent danger of the dam failing, it is a wise time to pursue getting rid of the dam. Engineering studies had been completed in 2008, but Wilton officials ultimately tabled a plan to remove the dam at the time. Now, 10 years later, Conklin says it’s time to revisit the idea of dam removal because there are several environmental benefits to removing it, as well as funding opportunities to help pay for the work.

The move follows a similar effort already underway in Norwalk, where that municipality is removing the Flock Process Dam further south on the Norwalk River, located behind the Hotel Zero on Main Avenue.

Once Norwalk removes that dam, Wilton’s structure would be what Conklin calls the “lead impediment for fish passage in a 14-mile stretch of the Norwalk River,” between Long Island Sound and Georgetown.

Conklin says that the area behind the dam has completely filled in with sediment–approximately 8,000 cubic yards of sediment–and as a result it no longer functions to hold water back. It also presents an environmental hazard, he says.

“That sediment is contaminated with legacy contaminants, material that’s been here a long time, but it’s not clean sediment. You can imagine if the dam were to ever breach, the sediments would become dislodged,” he explained, although adding that engineering studies done 10 years ago showed it to be in good shape at the time.

Removing the dam will allow different kinds of migratory fish to spawn, and will improve current water quality and temperature issues that exist today. It will also restore natural sediment transport to the river.

The dam on a stretch of the Norwalk River that runs next to the walking trail connecting Merwin Meadows and School Rd..

Funding Support

Conklin said that Trout Unlimited has expressed an interest in a “long-term” partnership with the town on the dam removal project. The organization has promised to pay for any costs associated with re-engineering that would be required. Conklin estimates the total cost to be approximately $1.5 million, mainly because the contaminated sediment “has to be handled in a certain way.” Trout Unlimited would pursue grants as funding sources, according to Conklin.

To move forward, the BOS authorized first selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to sign a formal letter supporting removal of the dam., and appointing Conklin and Chris Burney, Wilton’s director of facilities and energy, to begin pursuing the appropriate permits with the state to get the project started.

The effort would kick off in June with a pre-application meeting between town officials, CT Department of Environmental and Energy Protection (CT-DEEP), the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

“The sediment behind the dam is of significant interest to a lot of different groups who would perhaps want to participate in this,” Vanderslice added, noting that there would be no cost to the town. Both she and Conklin said that the Norwalk River Watershed Association is “very supportive” of this project, as are state and federal officials.