After a blast breached the Bloede Dam in the Patapsco River last September, the project to remove the century-old dam is now complete, Department of Natural Resources officials announced.
The 18-month project removed the dam, replaced portions of sewer lines in Baltimore and Howard counties and repaired part of the Grist Mill Trail through Patapsco Valley State Park.
The total cost of the removal project is estimated at $17.9 million, with funding from Maryland DNR, the State Highway Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Coca-Cola Foundation and Keurig-Green Mountain.
The removal restores more than 65 miles of spawning habitat for fish species including blueback herring, alewife, American shad and hickory shad and more than 183 miles of spawning habitat for American eel, officials said. Until its removal, Bloede was the first barrier on the Patapsco River that blocked migratory fish swimming to and from the Chesapeake Bay.
“The Patapsco River is free, after years of hard work by so many. It’s wonderful to see the Patapsco rushing back to life, and to watch park visitors discover and enjoy the free-flowing river," said Serena McClain, project manager and director of river restoration at American Rivers, in a statement on Wednesday.
American Rivers is a D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for protecting and restoring rivers and organizes field work to do the same.
Planning for the dam’s removal began in 2011, but activists calling for its removal and raising concerns about the dam’s ecological impact date back even further. The dam opened in 1907 with power turbines but was quickly rendered obsolete.
Bloede also has a history of creating unsafe swimming conditions, with at least nine dam-connected deaths since the 1980s, the most recent in June 2015.
Lindsey Baker, executive director of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, said she heard some concerns that the removal of the dam was like removing a piece of history, or that removing the dam could cause some sediment and debris that was gathered behind the dam to spread downstream.
Her group already has done at least one cleanup just downriver of where the dam was, and she said they did pull out “a lot” of metal and pieces of rebar, which Baker thinks was trapped behind the dam while it still stood. But given the way visitors have flocked to the state park since the dam has come down, and the ways in which the ecology is transforming now that the dam is gone, Baker said the positives outweigh those concerns.
“I think that conversation is no longer up for debate,” Baker said.
The demolition of the dam and reconstruction of surrounding trails included moving a 42-inch diameter sewer line in Baltimore County and a 12-inch sewer line in Howard County and the repaving of a section of the Grist Mill Trail. Portions of Grist Mill have been damaged or totally destroyed since Ellicott City and surrounding areas flooded from a storm in May 2018.
Along the Patapsco, upriver of where the dam stood, the bank from the Grist Mill Trail to the river is fenced off, and hundreds of tree saplings have been planted to reforest the area and help stabilize the slope. A new overlook with benches has been constructed on the Baltimore County side, and officials said new informational signage about the dam’s history is coming.
Dave Ferraro, executive director of the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park, said the completed removal of the dam has the park "on the upswing."