Haverhill Asks Public to Consider Potential Impacts and Benefits of Removing Little River Dam

Little River dam and falls at Winter Street in Haverhill. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill firefighters respond to Stevens Street blaze during September 2015. (WHAV News photograph.)

Even before a seven-alarm blaze in 2015 destroyed a Stevens Street Mill building, Haverhill was in talks to redevelop the sprawling industrial site. Today, the Little River Dam near Lafayette Square remains an impediment to development, but has also been named as a “climate-related hazard.”

The city is now seeking the public’s opinion on potential benefits and impacts of removing the dam during an online forum Wednesday, March 24, at 6 p.m. A link to the forum will be provided by the city closer to the date. The state’s Energy and Environmental Affairs Department awarded Haverhill $70,600 to conduct a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness study after city councilors approved the climate change grant application last June.

The dam, which was originally built in the early 1800s, provided power to a long-gone flannel mill. It is believed to contribute to upstream flooding along Apple Street and Little River Street.

An artists’ representation of Little River near Winter Street with the dam removed. (Courtesy photograph.)

A year ago, Haverhill conducted a day-long Community Resilience Building identified potential benefits of removing the dam. These included reduced flooding risk in an “environmental justice neighborhood,” potential addition of a river access point and public green space, increased tree cover downtown, increased marketability of the Stevens Mill property and removal of a barrier to fish passage along the Little River.

The workshop also noted recent extreme weather patterns ranging from drought to flooding.

“In a city accustomed to hurricanes, there is a sense that Haverhill has been through this before, and knows how to handle storm-proofing, but there is also a sense that modern storms are different in important ways,” reads part of a summary prepared by consultant Fuss & O’Neill. It quoted former Fire Chief William F. Laliberty as saying storms are now “more powerful and quick hitting.” The Mother’s Day Flood of 2006 flooded parts of the south side of the city, and the Merrimack River rose to within two feet of the top of the floodwall protecting downtown.

Back in 2016, Winn Development first proposed a $30 million redevelopment of Stevens Mills. A year later, city councilors approved a special permit for the company to build to 82 apartments and a restaurant on the Pentucket Mills site, 14 Stevens St. Following further approvals, the expanded district would allow 701 units to be built.

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