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Franklin Township: Weston Mill Dam Removal Project Launches

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ -  A project launched today which will remove the Weston Mill Dam between Franklin Township and Manville, according to officials. 

As a result of the project, a stretch of the Millstone River will open up to migratory fish and make it easier for residents to use the river for recreation. 

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, and other partners will execute the project. 

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According to officials, the removal of the Weston Mill Dam, also known as the Weston Causeway Dam, is the latest in a series of dam-removal projects undertaken by state, federal, nonprofit, and private partners to make waterways in the Raritan River Basin free-flowing again.

“This project advances our goal of removing old dams in the Raritan basin and in other parts of the state that are no longer necessary, benefitting fish and the overall ecological health of our waterways, while making them safer for kayaking and canoeing,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “We are grateful to our partners – including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association – for working with us to make this important project possible.”

“This is an important project to restore the Raritan River to a free-flowing river," Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club said. "The removal of dams helps improve water quality, prevent flooding, and for our fisheries. Dams on rivers hold back the water causing water to warm up mixes with nutrients in the water leading to lower oxygen levels and polluting our rivers. This also causes harmful algae blooms. By removing dams, we allow the River to return to its natural free flowing state improving water quality and reducing pollution. When you remove dams, the water is cleaner and cooler helping water quality and fish. Also what happens is that water backs up behind the dam causing localized flooding. Areas next to the river and lake bottoms will become wetlands, which will help with filtering our water.”

The DEP issued the statement below today:

“The Weston Mill Dam removal illustrates what can be achieved when governmental and non-governmental organizations, citizens, and businesses come together to restore natural resources harmed by pollution,” said Eric Schrading, Supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New Jersey field office. “Through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program, this dam removal—funded by the responsible party and driven by partners with shared conservation goals—will benefit water quality, fish, and recreational opportunities for local communities.”

“Removal of the Weston Mill Dam is an important step in long-term efforts to restore habitat in the Raritan River watershed,” said David Westerholm, Director of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. “Cooperative resolution of natural resource damage liability benefits everyone - the public, industry, and the ecosystem. These collaborative efforts lower damage assessment costs, reduce the risk of litigation, and – most importantly – shorten the time between injury and restoration of public resources.”

The project will open a 4.5-mile stretch of the Millstone River upstream of the dam to species such as American shad and river herring that spend much of their lives in the ocean and estuaries but need to return to freshwater rivers and streams to spawn. American Eel, which spawns in the ocean but spends much of their lives in rivers and streams, will also benefit.

Funding for the project was secured by the DEP’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of the Interior through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement agreement. It is occurring in an area purchased by the DEP’s Green Acres Program as an addition to the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park as well as for the purposes of removing the dam.

Structures such as the Weston Mill Dam, which is 5.5-feet high, are known as low-head dams. These small dams were built many decades and even centuries ago to power mills, generate electricity and create lake-like sections of impounded water.

However, they have long prevented migratory fish from accessing important spawning habitats. As early as the late 1700s, it was reported that construction of dams and overfishing were causing the shad population in the Millstone River to decline rapidly.

The original dam at Weston Mill was built around 1844. The current concrete dam at the same location was built in the mid-1930s.

The Weston Mill Dam site today contains the remnants of a gristmill and sawmill. Measures will be taken to protect the remnant structures as well as any artifacts that are found.

“Removal of the Weston Mill Dam represents an important step in the restoration of the Millstone River and the larger Raritan River Basin,” said Jim Waltman, Executive Director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.  “We are proud to be working in partnership with federal and state conservation agencies to restore migratory fish, improve water quality, and remove a dangerous obstacle to the recreational use of the Millstone River.”

Low-head dams create stagnant stretches of rivers that can be low in dissolved oxygen that aquatic life needs, while exacerbating excessive algae growth that can diminish recreational and scenic enjoyment. In addition, kayakers and canoers who are not aware of the dams can find themselves trapped in a vortex of roiling water should they accidentally tumble over them.

After the 112-foot-wide dam is removed, the river channel will be restored. Studies are underway to assess benefits to fish and improvements in the river’s overall ecological health.

The Weston Mill Dam is located about 1.5 miles upstream of the Millstone’s confluence with the Raritan River. Using funds from other Natural Resource Damages settlements, the DEP and partners have removed three dams on the Raritan, making some 10 miles of that river free-flowing again.

The Calco Dam in Bridgewater was removed in 2011, followed by the Roberts Street Dam in Bridgewater and Hillsborough in 2012, and the Nevius Street Dam in Raritan Borough in 2013.

The Island Farm Weir, another dam located at the confluence of the Raritan and Millstone rivers, is equipped with a fish ladder. It is not a candidate for removal because the area it impounds supports intakes operated by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority.

The Weston Dam project is being implemented by Wyeth Holdings LLC under the terms of a Natural Resource Damage settlement agreement with the DEP, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This agreement calls for Wyeth to implement the project to compensate the public for natural resource injury resulting from past pollution to the Raritan River from the American Cyanamid Superfund site in Bridgewater Township. Wyeth inherited responsibility for the American Cyanamid site through corporate successorship.

Wyeth is also funding studies on ways to improve fish passage through the Island Farm Weir without adversely impacting water-supply operations. As part of this effort, Wyeth will complete a final design of the alternative deemed to be the most effective for passage of fish, and will submit engineering plans to be utilized when project funding becomes available. 

Other Partners in the Raritan Basin effort include American Rivers, Conservation Resources Inc., the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Horizon Foundation and the Raritan River Fish Passage Initiative.

For a copy of the NRD settlement and the complete Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment, visit:https://casedocuments.darrp.noaa.gov/northeast/am_cyanamid/admin.html

The DEP uses funds secured from Natural Resource Damage settlements with polluters toward many other natural resource restoration projects throughout New Jersey, typically in the same watershed or general area where resource damages occur. These settlements do not relieve responsible parties of their obligation to remediate contamination.

For more information on the DEP's Office of Natural Resource Restoration, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/nrr/

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