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Plan to remove Bloede Dam moves forward

Jonathon Kusa, left, a project manager with Inter-Fluve, answers questions from Bobby Barker, of Ellicott City, about a plan to remove the Bloede Dam from the Patapsco River. The plans were presented at the Arbutus Llibrary on Thursday. Environmental officials say the dam is blocking migratory fish and also poses a public safety risk.
Jonathon Kusa, left, a project manager with Inter-Fluve, answers questions from Bobby Barker, of Ellicott City, about a plan to remove the Bloede Dam from the Patapsco River. The plans were presented at the Arbutus Llibrary on Thursday. Environmental officials say the dam is blocking migratory fish and also poses a public safety risk. (Staff photo by Lauren Loricchio, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Bloede Dam was built in 1907 on the meandering Patapsco River to generate electricity.

Now more than a century later, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources plans to remove the defunct dam, because it poses a public safety hazard, blocks the passage of fish and disrupts water flow, said Serena McClain, director of the river restoration program with the nonprofit American Rivers.

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The organization teamed up with DNR, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, environmental engineering firm Inter-Fluve and environmental engineers and scientists at Hazen and Sawyer on the project.

An open house was held at the Arbutus Library on Thursday to present the design plan, which is 60 percent complete.

It was held from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to solicit feedback from residents, who were asked to write comments in composition notebooks.

The open house follows another held in 2012 after a project analysis was completed.

"We're working on finalizing details like the construction sequence and other fine details," McClain said, seated in the library. "We hope to have the design plans at 90 percent completion by March."

If removed, the dam will be the third on the Patapsco River to go. The Simkins and Union dams have been removed, leaving the Daniels Dam.

The structures are being removed as part of an effort to restore migratory fish populations in the river such as American shad, Alewife and American eel.

McClain said those working on the project have reached out to the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, a nonprofit that recently became the managing entity of a portion of the Patapsco Valley, to address their concerns about the historic value of the dam.

"We understand the complexities of the environmental assessments," said John Slater, a Columbia resident, who is president of the organization. "While we're a group that enjoys history, we think the fish should win in this battle."

Slater said PHG has a group working with DNR to preserve portions of the dam, which many residents see as an iconic symbol in the park. The dam lies in the Avalon Area of the Patapsco Valley State Park, accessed by an entrance on South Street in Relay in the southwestern portion of Baltimore County.

According to the plans, a portion of the dam will be preserved and two viewing platforms will be created, one in the Baltimore County side of the park and another in theHoward County side.

The removal of the dam will be carried out in a series of phases. The first step will be to relocate a 42-inch sewer line that runs through the dam abutment underneath the Grist Mill Trail.

The process is expected to begin in late 2015 and take up to 12 months to complete, McClain said.

"The sewer line has been the biggest challenge with this project," said Jim Thompson, fisheries biologist with DNR. "The sewer line is causing a delay and increasing the cost."

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Although the exact cost isn't known yet, it is expected to be at least $6-7 million, McClain said.

Because it is one of the most heavily used trails in the state, some residents have expressed concerns about the Grist Mill Trail being out of commission to relocate the sewer line, Thompson said.

Jonathan Schultz, an Ellicott City resident who rides his bike to work in Elkridge each day on the trail, was one of those residents.

"With the trail being closed, I'll have to find another route," Schultz said.

"There is the old River Road Trail that could be temporarily improved," he suggested.

McClain said they are considering improving that trail so that it can be used, although it wouldn't be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible like the Grist Mill Trail.

Once the sewer line has been relocated and vegetation at the site removed, a "controlled detonation to breach the site with dynamite" will be used, McClain said.

"If we do go that route, we have discussed holding some type of viewing," McClain said.

After the breach, the remnants will be removed from the river, the plan says.

That will cause the passive release of up to 312,000 cubic yards of sediment that has built up behind the dam. The material will cover fish and other organisms in the river in the short-term, the report said.

"It's scary at first to see ... but it's amazing how quickly the sediment moves through the river," McClain said. "Rivers are really resilient."

McClain said that removing the dam will not only prevent deaths that occur near the dam from drownings, but will improve the quality of the river, which is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

"It's a really great opportunity and effort to improve the migratory fish population," McClain said. "Now we have critical mass and the right people behind this project to make it happen."

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