Haverhill residents got the chance to ask questions and express opinions about the removal of the Little River dam during an online public forum Wednesday night.
Hosted by the City of Haverhill and environmental engineering firm Fuss and O’Neill, the forum was designed to assess potential benefits and downsides to removing the structure prior to conducting a feasibility study.
Julie Busa, project manager for the study, began by explaining why the dam’s removal is even being considered.
“Because this project is part of a climate resiliency effort, we are thinking about reducing flooding risk for the environmental justice communities or climate-vulnerable population in the immediately adjacent neighborhoods,” she said.
Busa said other benefits could also include greater public green space, increased tree cover downtown and increased marketability of the adjacent Stevens Mill property which has fallen into considerable disrepair. She also explained this could be a first step in the restoration of other city waterways, including the Merrimack River.
On the downside, however, Busa explained infrastructure such as bridges located above the dam are embedded in the sediment that has built up over the years.
“So, when you take the dam out, now suddenly, the sediment can start to move downstream, so we want to think very carefully about the integrity of the infrastructure that is embedded in that sediment to make sure that the movement of that sediment isn’t going to cause any structural issues for any of the bridges,” said Busa.
Phil Moroschi, an environmental engineer for Fuss and O’Neill, also acknowledged some of the sediment appears to be hazardous waste and would have to be removed.
Residents, particularly those with property abutting the river, expressed skepticism about the plan, questioning the impact it would have on wildlife in the area and their property values.
One of those, Patricia Findlay Hamilton, questioned the validity of the possibility of flooding.
“My family has owned land on the Little River for well over 100 years and never has it flooded. So flooding, I think, is a minor issue. I will also say that the lowering of the river, what they’re going to uncover when the water’s gone there. I can’t even imagine the stuff that’s in there,” she said.
The forum was the first in what will be a number of opportunities for residents to express their opinions. Community members are also invited to take learn more about the project by visiting cityofhaverhill.com and clicking on the flyer for the Little River Dam Project.