Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Two Dams on the Shawsheen River to Come Down
Project Will Help Restore Fish Passage and Reduce Flood Risk for Town of Andover

December 14, 2016


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Marland Place Dam, Andover, MA. Credit: USFWS

Marland Place Dam, Andover, MA. Credit: Bill Bennett/USFWS

Andover, MA – Removal of both the Balmoral and Marland Place Dams (also known as the Stevens Street Dam) is set to begin in the coming week. Construction crews will work on both dams at the same time in a process that is expected to take several months, starting with drainage of impounded water and excavation of sediment, then dam demolition and, finally, site restoration along the river banks.

The combined removal of both dams will open up 4.1 miles of the Shawsheen River and restore access to 16 acres of habitat for migratory fish such as alewife, blueback herring, American shad and sea lamprey.  In addition to the ecological benefits, removal of the dams will also reduce the risk of flooding to the nearby community. The Shawsheen flows right through downtown Andover, with many businesses and structures directly abutting the river.

“If both or one of these dams were to fail, there would be a huge release of water and sediment that would damage roads and buildings such as the Atria Marland Place assisted living facility,” explained Bill Bennett, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). “Dam removal is a preventative measure that will improve safety as well as water quality and fish passage – it’s a win-win situation.”

The majority of funding for the dam removals comes from a grant to the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (MA-DER) through the Department of Interior’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In total, MA-DER received $4.5 million to remove 10 high-risk dams across the state, including these two on the Shawsheen River. MA-DER, USFWS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and others are collaborating on these dam removals to improve the health of waterways across Massachusetts, for the benefit of wildlife and people.

“We are pleased to be working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Town of Andover in this partnership effort to restore the Shawsheen River and revitalize the downtown area,” said George N. Peterson, Jr., Department of Fish and Game Commissioner. “Our Division of Ecological Restoration is engaged in the removal of many dams throughout the state; these projects reduce flooding risk, improve conditions for migratory fish and other wildlife, and benefit our economy by providing jobs and protecting infrastructure.”

The Shawsheen River runs for 25 miles through seven towns in northeastern Massachusetts, supporting approximately 250,000 people in its watershed. A tributary of the Merrimack River, the Shawsheen was once a highly productive river that supported robust populations of migratory fish, including Atlantic salmon. But dam construction blocked this access off. Balmoral Dam and Marland Place Dam are the first two barriers to fish passage on the Shawsheen River from the ocean, and their removal will restore the lower Shawsheen to a free-flowing state.

"NOAA Fisheries is excited about the imminent removal of the Balmoral and Marland Place Dams on the Shawsheen River.  These two projects will provide alewife, blueback herring, sea lamprey and American eels unobstructed access to important spawning and growth habitat,” said Eric Hutchins, habitat restoration biologist, NOAA Restoration Center. “These species play an important ecological role within the river, but, as importantly, they play an ecological role in the coastal and offshore waters, providing forage for many species of fish, marine mammals and sea birds."  

While the dams have historical significance – both were built to support wool mills – neither serve a functional purpose any longer and also pose a public safety hazard. At Balmoral Dam, a 19-year old canoeist drowned in 1984 when he was trapped by the dam’s powerful hydraulic roller. And Marland Place Dam – the larger of the two dams at 12.5 feet tall – contributes to an increased risk of flooding to nearby structures. In 2006 and 2010, 10-year and 50-year storm events were recorded on the Shawsheen River that flooded many roads, homes and businesses. Removal of the Marland Place Dam will help reduce such flooding by lowering water levels as much as 3.5 feet.

“The Town of Andover is very excited about the removal of the dams – many people see this as the start of a real renaissance of the Shawsheen,” said Bob Douglas, conservation director for the Town of Andover. “There is an increased interest in riverside trails, and the creation of new kayak and canoe launches. Our residents are looking forward to being able to paddle the unbridled Shawsheen from the Ballardvale mill district, through the center of town, all the way to the mighty Merrimack.”

Local groups, such as the Shawsheen River Greenway and Shawsheen River Watershed Association, are working to increase recreational access on the Shawsheen. And, notes Douglas, Andover is home to many fishermen who look forward to seeing their local river become a conduit for migratory fish. 

Partners on the dam removals include USFWS, MA Division of Ecological Restoration (DER), NOAA, the Center for Ecosystem Restoration, and the Town of Andover (owner of Balmoral Place Dam). Additional funding comes from USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife, MA Environmental Trust, MA-DER, NOAA, Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, and Marland Place Association (owner of Marland Place Dam).

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