Friday, February 14, 2014

DEC: No Reprieve For Marcy Dam

Marcy Dam aerialThe decision is final: Marcy Dam will be torn down.

As reported last month on the Almanack, the state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to dismantle the dam, which was damaged in Tropical Storm Irene, over the next five years. At the time, though, the department was waiting to hear from the public on the proposal.

Recently, I submitted a freedom-of-information request to review the public comments. Given the popularity of the dam, I was surprised to learn that DEC heard from only two people—and both agreed that the dam should be removed.

One of the writers, Wallace Elton, suggested that a dam failure would damage the environment downstream and put people at risk. “The expense of rebuilding the dam to today’s safety standards cannot be justified with current funding limitations,” he wrote. “Beyond that, this is an opportunity to re-wild a key area in the heart of the Forest Preserve.”

The second person, Mary Kunzler-Larmann, told DEC: “I like your idea of taking it down in stages, allowing vegetation to stabilize the sediment. Good work.”

DEC spokesman David Winchell told the Almanack that the decision to remove the dam is now final and that a permit for the project will be issued within a few weeks. He expects the work to begin in August when water levels are low.

Marcy Dam was constructed around the turn of the last century to facilitate log drives on Marcy Brook. It was rebuilt twice, most recently in the early 1970s.

Before Irene, the pond behind the dam served as the serene foreground for an iconic vista that included Mount Colden, Avalanche Pass, and Wright Peak. The floods caused by the 2011 storm broke the dam, leaving the pond a mudflat. The floods also swept away the dam’s bridge, which allowed hikers to cross Marcy Brook. DEC has built a new bridge a few hundred feet downstream.

Photo by Carl Heilman II: Marcy Dam soon after Tropical Storm Irene.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

7 Responses

  1. Hillel B says:

    Despite the recent (last century or so) of the iconic impoundment, returning the landscape to it’s “native” state is a reasonable decision; and yes, doing so in stages would be a very wise move for the reasons Mary Kunzler-Larmann states.

  2. John says:

    I very much support this decision and method of moving forward. We have been advocating for dam removal on all rivers and streams so as to allow the natural movement of spawning fish and return to a natural landscape.

  3. Chris says:

    Too bad they can’t rebuild the bridge. It made for a wonderful destination for me and my young kids as I introduced them to hiking.

  4. I suspect that the lack of comments in support of rebuilding it was due to the impression that the decision was already made and the comment period was a formality. That was my impression.

  5. Marco says:

    Yeah, I have very mixed feelings. The trail from the loj to Marcy Dam is like a side walk with few areas that can cause problems. This is ideal for my wife (bad knees) to get out. When I first came across the dam (seems like a long time ago, but it must have been the latter 70’s so only 35-40 years ago,) with it’s photogenic views of Colden, we stopped for the night…only because of the views. It is rare to have trails with a large enough area to see a good panoramic mix of views, except at lakes or the tops of peaks. Soon it will be gone. I may get up there another 5 ties in my life, so I can watch it change back to first swampy lands, then forest in it’s progression. Nope, I don’t expect to see pines.

    But like my life, all good things have a beginning and an end. I am happy the forest “knows” what to do with the land. I more than accept it, I sort of rejoice in the fact that new begets old begets new in that ever changing circle of life, korney as it sounds.

    Spawning fish were never a problem, I fished through there on a couple occasions, catching small 5-6″ brookies that were fully mature(full adult colors, no par marks.) The water just is not that big and it gets too warm in summer for brook trout. Heat is/was the problem. It got like a bath tub in summer… So, I well understand the DEC’s reluctance to replace/fix the dam. A flowing stream would be better down stream, and, the cover along the banks will provide much needed shade for the fish. Leaving it natural sort of simulates a beaver dam as it decays but the rock fill is a problem at Marcy. Best would be to distribute them along the upper stream bed to stabilize it rather than putting them downstream…debatable….

  6. Mike says:

    I just bought the ADK book “Told Around the Campfire” about Henry van Hoevenbergh, and it includes on the inside covers a map drawn by HVH from around 1904. No “Marcy Dam” on the map. That made me feel better.

  7. Paul says:

    This one that seems like such and obvious (and inevitable) decision that public comment seems totally unnecessary (not to mention a further drain on funds).

    There are lots of other things we would like that we cannot afford either.