HOPKINTON — Before plans calling for the removal of the Potter Hill Mill Dam move forward, members of the Town Council are seeking to host a joint meeting with the Westerly Town Council and other stakeholders to assure work does not negatively impact residents in either community.
Members of the Hopkinton Town Council tentatively agreed Tuesday evening to seeking the meeting, but tabled action until July 19 to allow the council to receive feedback from the Potter Hill Dam Information Committee. The committee was formed earlier this year to aid in studying the impact after concerns came forward regarding how removal of the dam could impact wells in the community.
“I do like the concept of sending a letter that would let them know we would like to have a joint meeting not too far down the road, and make them them aware that we would like to meet and hash this out,” said Council President Stephen Moffitt Jr.
The request came as the towns seek to determine the impact of removal of the dam, located near the intersection of Potter Hill Road and River Road, and evaluate the best way to avoid lowering water tables in a way that could create a resource issue for well owners in that section of town.
During an informational meeting in March, Hopkinton residents raised questions about the effect dam removal would have on drinking water and residential wells, as well as a grant-funded project to study ways to improve fish passage and reduce the potential for flooding along the Pawcatuck River.
In response, Hopkinton officials formed the informational committee. Moffitt said Tuesday that he did not want to move ahead too soon in making a request to meet, but would instead want to hear the latest updates and opinions from the committee, which he said has done a lot of work in a short time, before moving forward with discussions involving Westerly.
“I think out of respect for information committee, we should have discussion at the next meeting on it and then we can determine how we approach the (Westerly) council,” he said. “I don’t want to overstep the bounds; we need to be lock and step with the committee and know that they are part of the solution.”
Local concerns shared at public hearings over the past several months had also led to the development of a survey for residents who may be impacted. The survey, which is being administered through the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District in partnership with the town of Westerly, Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
Nils Wiberg, a water resources engineer with Fuss & O’Neill, an environmental engineering firm with offices in Providence, said during a June informational meeting in Westerly that 125 certified letters had been mailed to residents who live near the dam asking them to answer questions about their wells.
Wiberg noted during that meeting that a few property owners were compensated to replace their wells as part of dam removal and modification projects in the White Rock and Lower Shannock areas.
“This is really part and parcel to doing dam removal projects — mitigating effects when there is an effect,” Wiberg said. Fuss & O’Neil is designing options for removing the dam and how the area will be left if it is removed.
The preferred option, Wiberg said during the June meeting, is to remove the dam structure and a poorly performing fish ladder, and allow for development of a natural channel that would be dug out in one area to address low flow periods that could hamper fish passage. The channel would consist of natural cobbles, gravel, and sand; and the banks of the river would be built up with stone to stabilize the area near the dam.
Hopkinton Councilor Scott Bill Hirst said Tuesday that while a number of residents had responded to the survey, there were still many others in town who had not returned or taken it just yet. He said a lack of response makes it more difficult for the town to address issues and urged those who have not completed the survey yet to do so.
“This is incredibly important; not everyone has responded to the survey. If you live in Hopkinton, please do so as soon as you can,” he said, noting residents may access the survey through the town’s website at www.hopkintonri.org/potter-hill-ecological-restoration-study-residential-well-questionnaire/.