Friday, July 12, 2024

Dam Demolition Resumes This Week

Work to remove the Paulina Dam on the Paulins Kill is expected to resume this week.

In an update to the Frelinghuysen township committee June 19, Beth Styler Barry, the director of river restoration for The Nature Conservancy, the non-profit organization overseeing the project, said work on the project was planned to start again on July 1, when conditions in the river would allow it.

What remains of Paulina Lake in the top photo. Bottom photo shows how it looked before the dam dismantling began. Photos by Joe Phalon.
What remains of Paulina Lake in the top photo. Bottom photo shows how it looked before the dam dismantling began. Photos by Joe Phalon.

“There’s a whole bunch of different restrictions that we have to wait to pass,” Styler Barry said. “Migratory fish season, trout breeding. Things like that.”

A notch was cut into the dam last fall to start allowing a gradual drawdown of the lake, Styler Barry said.

“So, if you’ve seen this site, you see that it has the big notch,” Styler Barry said.

Even with several severe storms since the notch was cut, it has done its job well, she said. The main concern is that more than a century’s worth of sediment that has built up behind the dam does not escape downstream.

Part of the work this summer will include removing that sediment. Some of that material will be used to restore the river banks in several spots, with the rest being trucked out of the site.

But before that work could begin, Styler Barry said the newly exposed portions of the banks were examined for freshwater mussels and other species so they were not compromised and moved when necessary.

As sediment is removed, additional sections of the dam will be dismantled. How far the work gets during the season, which ends in September, will depend largely on weather and the assessment of river banks. If some banks prove to be too steep or unstable, that would have to be remediated and could potentially affect the progress.

Styler Barry also said that a portion of the Paulins Kill Valley Trail will likely need to be closed during the summer and possibly longer. The portion between East Crisman Road to the railroad trestle about a half-mile east will need to be closed, she said.

Styler Barry said the supports and embankments below and around the former railroad trestle will need to be shored up. The lake was already there when the trestle was built, so it was engineered to span 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.