Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fort Covington Dam Removal to Benefit Public Safety, Flood Protection, and Salmon River Fisheries

A major river restoration project in the state of New York is underway this week, with the removal of the outdated and unsafe Fort Covington Dam on the Salmon River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence River. Reporters are invited to a press tour of the site on July 7 (rain or shine) —details are at the end of this release.

This long-anticipated dam removal has been a true partnership effort including American Rivers and other conservation organizations, government agencies, private foundations, industry and academia.

“This is a significant project for communities in the Salmon River watershed, and for the entire state of New York,” said Stephanie Lindloff, senior director for river restoration at American Rivers, and co-project manager of the Fort Covington Dam removal. “This day has been a long time coming, and we commend the Town of Fort Covington for their dedication to removing this outdated and unsafe dam. Their commitment will result in many community benefits that come with a healthier, free-flowing Salmon River.”

The Fort Covington Dam is the first barrier on the Salmon River, located five miles from the confluence with the St. Lawrence River. The dam is a public safety hazard that also contributes to upstream flooding because it causes high flows to back up more than they naturally would in a free-flowing river.

In addition to improving public safety, the dam removal will enhance recreational boating opportunities and reestablish fish access to more than 35 miles of the Salmon River and tributaries. The project will boost sport fisheries like walleye, smallmouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, brown trout and rainbow trout, and will bring significant benefits to this rural community. The construction crew initially began the project in fall 2008, but the project was postponed due to high flows in the Salmon River.

“With the help of town residents, we have worked hard to make this decision to remove the dam on the Salmon River,” the Fort Covington Town Board said in a statement. “This effort will improve habitat for a variety of fish, restore the Salmon River and eliminate a public safety hazard. The Town Board believes that the removal of the dam is the best choice for all of us who will enjoy this marvelous asset -- the Salmon River.”

“The damming and diversion of free-flowing rivers and streams result in habitat fragmentation and limited options for fish migrations,” said Christopher D. Doley, Director of the NOAA Restoration Center. “Each dam requires a specific set of conservation actions, and for the Fort Covington Dam, removal was the best option.”

“The New York State Department of State is proud to be a part of this project that will restore the Salmon River. This project will boost the economy of upstate New York in terms of commercial and recreational fishing, boating, and tourism as well as benefit the great number of fish species that migrate through the River. The project demonstrates how all levels of government can come together in partnership with non-governmental organizations and communities to restore New York's waterways and create great economic opportunities,” said Secretary of State Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez.

"The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is pleased to have a role in this historic dam removal project, an undertaking that could not have been accomplished without the cooperative and persistent efforts numerous partners from the public and private sector. Removal of the dam will provide immediate benefits, including restoring the Salmon River, improving fish habitat and eliminating a public safety hazard," said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis.

“This is a great example of people who are concerned about our valued fish and wildlife resources pulling together in partnership to improve the fisheries of the Salmon River,” said David Stilwell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We look forward to working together in partnership on many more projects in the St. Lawrence Valley.”

“This dedicated partnership to remove the Fort Covington Dam, which will help enhance the vitality of the St. Lawrence River Valley, underscores the Power Authority’s commitment to stewardship of environmental and recreational North Country projects,” said Richard M. Kessel, president and chief executive officer, New York Power Authority.

“The removal of the Fort Covington Dam exemplifies what our partnership with the NOAA Restoration Center wants to invest in,” said Johanna Laderman, executive director of the FishAmerica Foundation. “We are pleased we could be a part of this great community project to restore sportfish habitat and benefit New York’s more than one million anglers.”