By ANNE M. AMATO, Connecticut Post
SEYMOUR, Conn. (AP) _ The completion of a $4.75 million bypass channel around the Tingue Dam will allow fish once again to migrate to prime spawning areas on the Naugatuck River in Beacon Falls and Naugatuck.
Historically, migratory fish, in particular Atlantic salmon and shad, were able to make their way up the river unrestricted. But the fish were unable to reach their spawning grounds after a number of dams were constructed during the state’s industrial development, said Steve Gephard, supervisor of inland fisheries for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“My program seeks to restore the runs of migratory fish like the American shad, blueback herring and alewives,” said Gephard, who will oversee the new fishway.
Part of the plan involves bypassing the Tingue Dam, located in downtown Seymour and a short distance from Town Hall, which is the last barrier fish encounter on their way upstream to waters in Thomaston, he said. That means building a fishway, formerly known as a “fish ladder.” The structure can sometimes have the appearance of steps, or a “ladder.” A step-like fishway was constructed about a mile from the Tingue Dam in 1999.
The proposed bypass is a channel that will open up another 20 miles of the river to migrating fish, allowing them to make their way to Beacon Falls and Naugatuck.
There are 60 fishways in the state, Gephard said, including the Mianus River dam in Greenwich and the Wood Dam on the Saugatuck River in Westport. Two others are under construction, one in Old Lyme and the other at Glenwood Park on the Pequonnock River in Bridgeport.
Beacon Falls and Naugatuck are two good spawning areas, said Robert Gregorski, president of the Naugatuck River Watershed Association. His group has been closely monitoring the Seymour fishway project for many years.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said, adding there have been any number of reasons for its delay.
“There were problems with funding and design,” Gregorski said.
There was also a delay because the town had to relocate a skate park on property adjacent to where the fishway would be built. That area is now cordoned off, awaiting construction to begin.
Gregorski said there was also a problem with what to do with the dam.
While the initial idea was to remove it, it’s location, under the Route 8 overpass, meant blasting couldn’t be done, said Chuck Lee, of the DEEP, who is supervising the construction.
“You can imagine what the DOT would have to say about that,” he said.
The Tingue site also has historic significance. It was dammed after the Revolutionary War by Gen. David Humphreys, who was an aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington.
This led to the end of whatever salmon runs had survived and drastically reduced the number of other species, according to information in the DEEP’s operations and maintenance plan for the fishway.
Humphreys, while appointed minister to Spain and Portugal, discovered the Merino breed of sheep and shipped the first Merino sheep to the U.S.
In 1803, he purchased a large piece of property located at the falls, just below the Tingue Dam, and built one of the finest woolen mills in the country, according to information in a Brief History of Seymour on the town’s website. That mill has since been torn down, but the dam remains.
As a result of the booming industries in the state, by the 1960s, more than 280 dams had been constructed on the Naugatuck and its tributaries. The river had also become severely polluted by local companies.
These combined factors led to the local extinction of diadromous fish, those that migrate between saltwater and fresh. With this last barrier gone and the river cleaned up, Gephard and others are hoping that the migratory fish will return.
Gephard said the Seymour fishway will be unique because it will be chipped out of bedrock to create a natural stream, allowing fish to swim by with minimal effort.
“It will be smooth sailing,” he said.
Despite the optimism, John Waldman, a professor of biology at Queens College, New York, along with six colleagues, recently studied the effectiveness of fishways and found “they don’t always work.”
In an analysis published April 4 in Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Waldman said they “undertook a study of the success–or, rather, the failure” of fish migrating from the sea to their spawning grounds.
“What’s clear is that providing fish passages at a dam is not a panacea,” he wrote.
Some fish, like shad, tend not to use them, although herring will, he said.
“Those (fishways) that work out fairly well are those that are close to natural as possible,” he said. “They look better and are less off-putting to the fish.”
Waldman added he’s aware of the Seymour project and said what they are doing there “is a good choice.”
Construction on the Seymour fishway, by a Bristol-based contractor, could begin this month and be completed by next spring.
Information from: The Day, http://www.theday.com
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