Oxford — Town Manager Butch Asselin has announced that the town will apply for a grant that will help officials study, evaluate and implement a plan to deal with the deteriorating Welchville Dam on Route 26.

The Board of Selectmen authorized Asselin at its December 6 meeting to apply for a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant under its Community-based Restoration Program.

In a statement released this week, Asselin said the program provides funding to support habitat restoration projects that use an ecosystem-based approach to foster species recovery and increase fish populations under NOAA’s jurisdiction.

He said the town plans to apply for funding over a two-year period: the first year to study and evaluate options for dealing with the town’s deteriorating Welchville Dam on the Little Androscoggin River, the second year to execute the option that the town selects and mitigate any problems that this option entails. Trout Unlimited is assisting the town prepare the grant application.

“The main reason that we are asking for the NOAA grant is so we can have all our options determined and evaluated by competent engineers and scientists,” explained Asselin in the statement. “There will be risks and benefits associated with whatever the town decides to do. Just leaving the dam ‘as is’ has risks, and the studies will address this as well.”

Asselin said this coming summer, the town will have the opportunity open the dam’s sluicegate during a low flow period and see just what happens to the pond levels of Hogan and Whitney Ponds upstream.

“When the studies have been completed and the risks, benefits and costs associated with each option have been determined, then —and only then— will the town have the information it needs to make an informed decision on what to do about the Welchville Dam,” he said.

Rick Clifford, owner and operator of the Two Lakes Campground which is situated on Hogan Pond which flow into the Little Androscoggin River, said, “I think this is a great first step in dealing with the deteriorating Welchville Dam. The water levels in Hogan and Whitney Ponds are greatly dependent on this dam and without something adequate to maintain those water levels many homeowners, camp owners, and two campgrounds will likely lose the enjoyment that these ponds provide.

“This would certainly have a negative effect on property values, and the amount of income local businesses realize from the people who come to the area to enjoy these ponds.”

Steve Heinz of Trout Unlimited, who is helping with the submission of the grant, said in the statement released by Asselin,  “It’s good that the Town of Oxford had chosen to make its decision based on the best science – not its worst fears. With a number of dams downstream on the Little Androscoggin and the Androscoggin coming up for re-licensing and fish passage being re-licensing requirement, the potential for ecological improvement is significant. The benefits would mainly be to river herring species like alewives and here we could be talking of millions of fish, but trout and potentially Atlantic salmon would benefit as well.”

 More information about NOAA’s Community-based Restoration Program is at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/grant/coastal-and-marine-habitat-restoration-grants

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