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Removal Of Randolph Dam Opens 98 Miles Of White River And Tributaries

Steve Zind
A steel dam in Randolph was a barrier to fish migration upstream in the White River. The dam was removed Tuesday, opening up nearly 100 miles of habitat upstream.

The removal of a dam on the White River in Randolph has opened up nearly 100 miles of habitat upstream.

The dam is one of many so-called "deadbeat" dams that no longer serve a function and, conservationists say, impede rivers.

A single backhoe removed the dam under the Main St. Bridge in Randolph village on Tuesday.

The dam, built in the 1940s, was made of a series of interlocking steel plates stretched across the Third Branch of the White River. At just 5 feet high, it was far from imposing, but its removal is significant, according to Mary Russ, executive director of the White River Partnership.

“Our native trout species can only jump over barriers of a foot. So it’s a complete barrier to fish passage,” Russ says.

A video taken by Randolph angler Brendan Barden in 2013 shows brown trout trying unsuccessfully to clear the dam.

The dam’s removal opens up 98 miles of the White River’s third branch and its tributaries. Russ says that’s a long stretch of river compared to most projects like this.

“You don’t usually get 100 miles of stream. You might get 10, and that’s a good number. So, it’s a unique opportunity,” she says.

Credit Steve Zind / VPR
A backhoe cleans up after removal of a 70-year-old dam in Randolph.

Heather Furman, executive director of the Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, says there are benefits beyond opening up more of the river to spawning fish.

“It opens up the main stem of the Third Branch to paddlers, so it has recreational benefits. It’s also providing some flood resiliency for the businesses upstream. That’s something communities can care about when they see dams like this come out,” Furman said as she watched the dam removal.

She says there are about 200 “deadbeat dams” that have been identified in the Connecticut River watershed. This particular one was high on the list for removal.

“There’s not an unlimited source of funds to do these projects. We want to do the ones that have the greatest conservation impact,” she says.

According to Furman, whether or not to remove an old dam involves calculating the benefits and the feasibility of removal, then raising funds to pay for the project. She says all of that is easier when there’s local support.

Taking down this this dam was supported by the town, but not every community welcomes the group’s efforts.

In Swanton the Nature Conservancy and others have teamed up to oppose the village’s plans to renovate a dam there.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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