Stream restoration work has begun at the popular Keene Town Beach on the Ausable River, across from Marcy Field. With storm recovery funds provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) the old wood and concrete weir, damaged by Tropical Storm Irene, is being removed and replaced.
In its place a natural rock weir and vane is expected to restore the stream’s hydrologic function, provide habitat for native fish, and improve the quality and safety of recreational opportunities. The new weir will maintain the long popular swimming hole.
A weir is a structure designed to modify the flow of water, generally smaller and less complex than a dam. The old structure impeded the passage of fish and other aquatic organisms, directed flood flows toward the banks of the river increasing bank erosion, and at certain water heights allowed the formation of small whirlpools.
Supervisor Bill Ferebee and the Keene Town Board worked in partnership with the Ausable River Association (AsRA), the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Trout Unlimited (TU), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to design the repair.
Typically, FEMA flood response funds rebuild damaged structures to their original specifications. Supervisor Ferebee and Keene’s Town Board worked with staff from AsRA and SWCD to convince FEMA a natural design would better suit the interests of the community and follow current best management practices and permitting, overseen by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Adirondack Park Agency.
Trout Unlimited led a survey of the stream site to describe the natural profile, dimension, and flow of the river along this reach. With this information, AsRA and the FWS designed the S-weir and rock vane that was approved by the Keene Town Board and by FEMA. Natural boulders will be placed securely in the shape of an “S” where the damaged wooden structure stood. Scattered clusters of 3 to 4 boulders each will be added downstream of the weir to provide grade control and fish habitat. According to the plan, the vane will extend into the river on the far bank upstream of the weir, pointing upstream at a 25 degree angle. It is expected to protect the bank by moving water into the center of the stream and reinforce the flow of water into the pool.
Work began Monday, August 17, and is expected to continue for several days. The Willsboro-based firm Sheehan & Sons dismantled the old weir and moved large natural rocks to the site to use in the construction.
Work is expected to continue under the supervision of the FWS, TU, SWCD and AsRA and the site will open to the public again in early September.
Photo provided by the Ausable River Association.
Congratulations to all the organizations and individuals involved in this project; time will tell how well these ‘adjustments’ work but it seems like a real positive. In the immediate wake of Irene, the Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies did what they do in these situations; bring in the heavy equipment and get the water flowing again, usually in a way that reflects the adage that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. This of course is understandable but also usually has ramifications that due to monetary concerns and squabbles between groups like the ones involved here keep these initial radical changes in place.
So it is heartening to see the genuine progress happening in this one area that will have so many benefits to the environment, the people, and the economy of our region. The East Branch of the AuSable River is one of the great rivers of the Adriondacks and this effort and hopefully others like it will continue to produce benefits for the people, animals, and plant life of this great place.
Keep up the good work and thank you.