How is the new spillway in Bradford holding up through these nor’easters? Quite nicely, thank you.

By Cynthia Drummond, Sun staff writer

BRADFORD — Recent nor’easters may have left it looking like a flooded mess, but the Bradford Dam removal project is accomplishing one of its most important objectives: preventing more serious flooding at the adjacent mill as well as downstream.

The two agencies coordinating the project are the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The project is meant to function under high-flow conditions,” said the Nature Conservancy’s Tim Mooney. “In addition to improving fish passage at Bradford, one of the goals of the project was to give more protection to the mill …. We built the right bank a few feet lower than the left bank, so that the river would flood away from the mill. The restored riverbank and existing red maple swamp will provide flood storage until the water level recedes.”

Scott Comings, associate state director at the Nature Conservancy, predicted that “the floodplain at Bradford will do a better job of storing floodwater than at any point since a dam was first built there … the old dam is gone, so we no longer have to worry about it blowing out after a heavy rainstorm.”

The $2 million project, which began in 2016, was funded with federal Superstorm Sandy recovery money as well as grants from the Champlin Foundation, the Bafflin Foundation, the Horace A. Kimball and S. Ella Kimball Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, and other donors. The Narragansett Bay and Watershed Restoration Fund and the Rhode Island Coastal and Estuary Habitat Restoration Fund also contributed funds to the project.

In December, workers with SumCo Eco-Contracting removed the lower cofferdam, allowing the water to fill the previously-drained project area. The upper cofferdam was then opened, the bypass channel was blocked and the river was diverted back into its natural channel.

Mooney explained that the final step involved stabilizing the river bank.

“Since the first of the year, SumCo has been working on blocking, draining, and filling in the temporary bypass channel and stabilizing the bank on river right, the Hopkinton side,” he said. “Construction crews worked through the extreme cold back in early January, when much of the river was frozen, and then worked around unusually high flows in the Pawcatuck River in late January and February …. In addition, SumCo and the engineer, Nils Wiberg at Fuss & O’Neill, have been testing the river’s flow through the weirs and fine-tuning them, making sure that there is the right amount of water in the pools and that the weir elevations are just right. “

In the coming weeks, SumCo will continue the clean-up at the staging area where the boulders, equipment and other materials were stored. When the weather warms, workers will return to the site one last time to plant both banks with native shrubs and wildflowers.

The removal of the Bradford Dam is part of a larger effort to open 31 miles of the Pawcatuck River to allow the passage of migratory fish such as blueback herring, alewife, American shad and American eels, which breed upstream. The initiative has also involved the removal of the White Rock and Kenyon Mill dams and modifications to the fishway at the Potter Hill Dam.

Comings said he looked forward to witnessing the spring herring run — the first unimpeded migration since the dam was built 200 years ago.

“We’re super-excited for this year’s herring run, probably coming sometime in April,” he said. “It’s going to pass fish really well. You’re going to see the whole river come alive in a way that it hasn’t been able to do in generations.”

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