A relentless six-foot slurry wall of mud and water pouring into Westville village?
It’s possible, even probable, if the Pond Lilly Dam breaches in the next super storm.
Local officials now have $661,500 to spend to make sure that post-Sandy environmental prophesy doesn’t come true for the 1790-era dam at Pond Lily Avenue near the New Haven-Woodbridge border.
The $661,500 grant from the federal Department of the Interior will enable the government to dismantle the rock dam and return the river to a natural flow both good for both fish and for flood protection.
That news emerged Thursday morning at a press conference convened at the Barnard Environmental Studies School library.
Attending were U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who helped secure the grant; officials from the New Haven Land Trust, on which property the ancient structure sits; and John Champion (pictured) of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment’s Save the Sound Program. Champion will supervise the restoration.
Also there to praise partnership advocacy across the levels of government was New Haven Mayor-Elect Toni Harp. She appeared in her capacity as state senator representing the area.
Also appearing was Woodbridge’s newly elected first selectwoman, Ellen Scalettar, a former state legislator who worked with Harp.
Scalletar brought a book of photographs (pictured) showing some of the perennial flooding from the dam after heavy rains in 1982.
“It’s part of a whole project to restore the West River, beginning with the tidal gate restoration [last year] with” money from the federal stimulus (aka American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), said Save the Sound Executive Director Curt Johnson.
Removing the dam will not only reduce the flood threat by allowing heavy waters to spread out. It will also provide fish critical to the whole Sound’s ecosystem—river herring, alewife, and eel—with an open path of more than two miles to swim upstream to ponds and areas where they can spawn in great numbers and ultimately rebuilt the fish populations in the rivers, Long Island Sound, and the Atlantic, Johnson added.
DeLauro cited a third benefit: promoting more recreational use of the Pond Lilly Nature Preserve, which continues to remain part of the New Haven Land Trust.
The funding was part of a $162 million package of grants awarded by the Department of Interior to help with Superstorm Sandy recovery and preparations to mitigate damage from future storms. Connecticut received almost $23 million.
The dam was last used to supply power to area factories, including those manufacturing axles for use in the Civil War, said Frank DeLeo, one of the Woodbridge businessmen who originally put the problem before DeLauro during her open office hours in Woodbridge back in 2007.
Assuming needed approvals come through and archeologists get in to preserve any historic artifacts, then wrecking balls should be swinging this summer, right after the fish runs, said John Champion. He said the project should take three to four months to complete.