Friday, April 19, 2024

Paulins Kill Dam Removal to Resume in July

More of the dam will be cut away beginning in July. Photo by Joe Phalon.

Work to continue the removal of the Paulins Kill Dam will resume in July, after spawning season is over, according to the Nature Conservancy, the non-profit organization overseeing the project. 

Beth Styler Barry, the director of river restoration for the conservancy, reported on the progress of the project at the February 21 township committee meeting in Frelinghuysen and answered any questions about the dam that she was asked. She explained that state environmental regulations prohibit the commencement of any work along the river until July 1. 

At that point, crews will begin removing another portion of the dam to continue the incremental lowering of the Pauline Lake, the body of water formed by the dam. 

While the dam itself is located entirely within the borders of Blairstown, Frelinghuysen and Hardwick are adjacent municipalities to be impacted by projects involving the Paulinskill River.

“The reason that we take dams out that way is to allow time to pass with the river running through it,” Barry said. “The sediment that’s on the side that will be the new riverbank has a chance to dewater and, if it needs to be, moved around. It’s just much easier to do that way.”

The gradual lowering also decreases the sediment that will run downstream, she added. 

“There’s about 60 or 70,000 cubic yards of sediment behind that dam,” Barry said. “It’s 120 years accumulation of sediment. So, some of it will probably have to be dredged out this summer.”

In addition, the river needs time to find its own natural channels and flow. 

And Mother Nature can be a fickle partner, Barry emphasized. 

“We have the best engineers working on this, who have done a whole bunch of dam removals, but they can do what they want on paper,” she said. “Mother Nature says, ‘Oh, we’re going to go here.” So, we like to give time for the river to kind of settle into where it needs to be.”

In December, a 50-foot-wide notch was cut into the dam, which lowered the lake level by six feet. In July, another notch will be cut allowing the lake to lower several more feet. If all goes according to plan, the river will have been returned to its natural state by the end of 2024, she said. 

In 2025, the riverbanks will be “tweaked” where it’s necessary, Barry said. That would include grading banks that are too steep as well as the planting of trees and other vegetation. 

Barry said the supports and embankments below and around the former railroad trestle at the north end of the lake that now serves as the Paulins Kill Valley Trail will need to be shored up. The lake was already there when the trestle was built, so it was engineered to be spanning a body of still water. Once the dam removal is complete, there will be moving water lapping at the bridge supports. 

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection determined during the past few years that the dam needed millions of dollars in repairs if it were to remain in place. 

Built in 1895, the dam and its generator have powered mills and even a laundry for Blair Academy. Electricity from the dam brought the first electric lights to the school and the village of Blairstown. 

The Nature Conservancy oversaw the removal of the dam further downstream on the Paulins Kill at Columbia in 2019. Since the demolition, the conservancy said, shad and other fish long absent from the river have returned as far upstream as Blairstown.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.