Conservancy plans dam removal in 2023

WESTMINSTER — The Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) recently announced that the organization has received funding for the removal of a dam on the Saxtons River.

(1)The Conservation Alliance, a national organization that awards grants to projects that protect our nation's most vulnerable species and habitats, determined the CRC's work to remove the old Blake Higgins Dam to be a crucial component of restoring the Connecticut River Watershed.

“Many conservancy groups across the U.S. vie for grants such as The Conservation Alliance's, and we are honored to have been nominated by Darn Tough Vermont to receive significant funds needed to see this project through,” the CRC said in a news release.

The Saxtons River is a major tributary of the Connecticut River, flowing into the river just south of Bellows Falls, Vermont. Just 850 feet north of this confluence is the old Blake Higgins Dam, which is owned by the state of Vermont. It is estimated that the 90-foot long concrete structure has held back about 4 feet deep of sediment, extending approximately 280 feet upstream of the dam. Not only that, the Saxtons provides crucial habitat for migratory fish species, specifically the sea lamprey.

Staff at the CRC say they have observed an abundance of potential habitat upstream of the Blake Higgins dam unused by lamprey, “despite the fact that the same habitat just south of the dam has been observed to be heavily populated during the spawning season. The impediment of natural flows of the river, the cycling of sediments and nutrients that that flow provides, and the inability of migrating species to access crucial habitat were all factors that led CRC and the state of Vermont to identify this project as one of utmost importance in terms of restoring stream health in the watershed.”

“CRC's partnership with the State of Vermont, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont River Conservancy, and local entities is a strong indicator of the importance of this restoration project,” said Ron Rhodes, CRC's interim executive director. “We are proud to be part of the team and look forward to the eventual removal of this old dam."

“Nominating the CRC to receive funding to remove the dam on the Saxtons River was the easy part,” said Courtney Laggner, brand and community marketing manager at Darn Tough Vermont. “The next piece of the puzzle is educating people on the importance of free-flowing water and the impacts that it has on wildlife and beyond.”

The funding provided by the Alliance will allow CRC to address these concerns while also improving public access and recreation in the area. For decades, this portion of the Saxtons has been used for fishing, swimming, and hiking, but poor access has always been an obstacle in providing these benefits to the public.

As part of this project, Connecticut River Conservancy is working with Vermont River Conservancy (VRC), Island Corporation, and regional partners to explore opportunities to improve public access following dam removal. Additional funding and permits are being secured in the months ahead.

Work is estimated to begin in 2023, with dam removal likely in 2024.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates