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One dam in Montville is blocking more than water

Montville — Before opening Oxoboxo Lofts, the coming 72-unit development in Montville, for residential use, developer Dakota Partners is completing renovations and waiting for the removal of an Oxoboxo Brook dam.

Massachusetts-based developer Dakota Partners is working with town Planning and Zoning Chair William Pieniadz's P&H construction company to get rid of the dam at the back of the former Faria Beede Mill property abutting Route 32 right past the Route 163 intersection, according to Pieniadz and Montville Town Planner Marcia Vlaun.

"What's been going back and forth like a pingpong ball for a good while is this issue of taking the dam down that used to belong to Faria Beede's," Vlaun said. "You're supposed to take them down during low-water periods, but we've had some unusual high-water periods."

Pieniadz and Dakota have been trying to remove the dam since 2017. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a permit to clear it in May of this year.

The permit stipulates that the permittee may remove "the spillway portion of the Picker Pond Dam and create a stable riverine corridor within the dewatered impoundment. The activities proposed will affect 1.6 acres of the Picker Pond," it reads. "The purpose of the removal project is to remove the public safety hazard, restore a riverine habitat and enhance fish migration."

According to the permit application that was submitted to DEEP on Oct. 31, 2017: "At this time, the Picker Pond dam no longer provides hydraulic power to the mills located immediately east of the dam proper, across Route 32. As a result, the dam no longer serves a purpose."

Ivonne Hall, DEEP's supervising civil engineer of dam safety, also said it's preferable to remove dams during drier periods. "You want the water to be as low as possible, so springtime, for example, wouldn't be good to complete that type of work," she said.

Hall and Vlaun said the dam removal is a problem of timing. Pieniadz and Dakota have been in contact with DEEP to attain the proper permits and complete the project.

Pieniadz and Vlaun said the dam no longer is useful, and removing it may actually be the more environmentally friendly option.

"As a general rule for dams, if you don't need it, don't have it," Vlaun said. "You have to make substantial repairs to most old factory dams to bring them up to 2019 standards. It's better to restore the free flow of the brook than to have the force of the water built up behind the dam."

Furthermore, "Dam owners in the state of Connecticut are now responsible for hiring a consultant to conduct regular dam inspections," according to DEEP's website.

Pieniadz said his construction company was set to remove the dam before the end of this year, but high rainfall is pushing action back until summer of next year, which is in line with Oxoboxo Lofts' timeline for opening. He explained the impetus for clearing the dam.

"It does a couple of things; it mitigates any future responsibility to have your dam inspected and keep up maintenance on an antiquated dam that serves no purpose anymore," Pieniadz said. "The pond that the dam creates doesn't provide any recreational activities or anything great for the environment."

Pieniadz and Vlaun indicated that Dakota needed flood certification approvals, so the dam created a concern.

Dakota could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 2017, Faria Beede announced a move to a more modern facility in North Stonington. Dakota Partners' housing development, set to open in the summer of 2020, is downstream from the dam. Dakota Partners and Pieniadz teamed up for the permitting and removal process, each shouldering some of the costs.

Dakota is aided in its restoration of the one-time cotton and textile mill property by federal/state historic tax credits and low-income housing tax credits. Faria Beede still is listed as the owner of 42 Pink Row, where the development is being put in, according to property records and Town Clerk Katie Sandberg.

Vlaun said Dakota's environmental cleanup work is complete, but considerable renovations are ongoing.

Dakota Partners' website details the renovations: "Extensive building improvements planned for the existing historic structures include new windows, roofs and HVAC systems." 

"Additionally, the iconic smokestack that acts as a beacon for the Thames River will be restored and remain a distinctive landmark in the community. All rehabilitation will be completed under the guidelines of the CT State Historic Preservation Office and the Department of the Interior," the website reads.

The development also will have a community clubhouse, fitness center, basketball court and playground.

The town hasn't had an apartment development of this size installed since 1969, Vlaun said. It serves as an example of what Mayor Ron McDaniel spoke of during the recent mayoral race about the town's need to expand housing in order to accommodate increased hiring activity at Electric Boat and Pfizer.

Town officials are confident in the development property and structures.

"It's got great bones, but it's also been a factory since the middle-1800s; I believe they made Civil War uniforms down there," Vlaun said. "It's got character, it'll be cool when it's done, but there's a lot of elbow grease to be used before it gets there."

s.spinella@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the name of the Oxoboxo Lofts and removes an incorrect file photo.

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