Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Dam demolition begins
By Staff Reports
Jul 17, 2014, 15:22

JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Crews work on demolishing the Harvell Dam on the Appomattox River on Wednesday afternoon.
PETERSBURG — Work is underway to remove the Harvell Dam on the Appomattox River — with removal of the concrete spillway beginning earlier this week.

An excavator could be seen Wednesday tearing into the damn as other workers paced around, examining other parts of the dam.

As the first obstruction on the river, which flows east to join the James River near Hopewell, the Harvell Dam has long been deemed the most critical fish passage site on the Appomattox and one of the highest priority sites for migratory fish restoration in Virginia. The project will re-open 127 miles of upstream habitat for migratory fish, such as American and Hickory Shad, American Eel, and river herring. Once complete, the dam removal is also expected to enhance recreational boating and fishing, providing an estimated $68 million economic boost to the area.

“Removing the Harvell dam will provide migratory fish like shad and herring greater access to their historical spawning grounds and will return this section of the Appomattox to a free-flowing river,” said David K. Whitehurst, Director, Bureau of Wildlife Resources, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Hopewell Councilor Wayne Walton, who has been chairman of the Friends of the Lower Appomattox River for nearly 12 years, said removing the dam could also make it easier for canoes and kayaks to use the river.

He said people currently have to pull their boats out of the water to get to the other side of the dam. He said small boats can travel about six miles upriver past the dam now.

Walton said the project had been somewhat controversial though.

“It’s a long, drawn out process to get to this point,” he said.

Walton said some people were worried that the water level would drop too low and ruin fishing on both sides of Petersburg and Colonial Heights. It could also create more rapids for boaters.

The project is a collaborative effort of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), American Rivers, and the Harvell Dam Corporation, with support from the City of Petersburg, to restore migratory fish populations.  

Both American Shad and river herring populations have drastically declined from their historical numbers due to over-fishing and loss of habitat. Access to spawning and rearing grounds within the watershed is a critical component in the effort to restore these valuable migratory fish species.

“The removal of Harvell Dam is a great example of the benefits of river restoration for wildlife and people, with the project reopening more than a hundred miles of important river habitat, improving recreational opportunities and providing millions of dollars in economic benefit,” said Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director. “This work is a high priority for our agency, and we are proud to collaborate with our partners to conserve the region’s natural resources.”

The Harvell Dam, originally constructed to generate hydropower, will be the sixteenth dam removed within the Chesapeake Bay drainage in Virginia since 2004.  Its removal will contribute to the nearly 1000 miles of river and stream habitat already reopened to migratory and resident fish species, and help to attain the Chesapeake Bay fish passage overall goal of opening an additional 1000 stream miles by 2025.  Removal is expected to be completed in early September.

“Together, we have been able to make real headway in restoring this important fish habitat,” said John Bullard, regional administrator, NOAA Fisheries. “Providing fish with the right places to breed, grow, and mature represents our single best opportunity to recover aquatic ecosystems.  During restoration, jobs are created.  When the work is done, we have a healthy ecosystem for local residents and visitors to enjoy that supports new recreational and commercial businesses, all benefiting the local economy.”

Funding for dam removal implementation is made possible by grants from the Service’s National Fish Passage Program and NOAA’s Open Rivers Initiative program. Feasibility and additional engineering funding was provided by VDGIF and the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.

The Harvell Dam is just one of more than 84,000 dams in the U.S., many of which require significant repairs or upgrades. As these figures continue to climb — groups like the American Society of Civil Engineers estimate a repair bill of more than $21 billion — there has been a shift toward removing dams that no longer serve their intended purposes or where the dam’s costs outweigh its benefits. As a result, more than 1,143 dams have been removed across the U.S. over the past 100 years.  A good example of successful restoration is the VDGIF’s documentation of American Shad and Blueback Herring utilizing over 28 additional miles of the Rappahannock River after Embry Dam was removed in 2004.  Furthermore, Hickory Shad, Alewife and Striped Bass have been documented, and significant American Eel population increases in the upper watershed have been directly linked to the dam removal.  

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