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Westerly receives grant to improve fish passage on the Pawcatuck River

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Restoration Center has awarded a $100,000 grant to the Town of Westerly to design a project to improve fish passage on the Pawcatuck River in the area of the Potter Hill dam.

Last rebuilt in 1903, the dam and its raceway are failing, its water control gates are inoperable, and the dilapidated mill is falling into the river, according to the Nature Conservancy, a partner with the town on the project. 

The Potter Hill dam is the last significant barrier to migratory fish passage on the Pawcatuck River. For nearly 20 years various agencies have opened up the river for spring-migrating river herring, American shad and American eel. The project is also aimed at mitigating potential flooding in downtown Westerly.

A combination of town funds and contributions from The Nature Conservancy and the Westerly Conservation Commission will match the NOAA grant.

The project was among 11 to receive finding. More than 100 other projects from across the United States competed for the grants and the Potter Hill project was the highest scoring application in the Northeast.

The Providence-based consulting firm of Fuss & O’Neill, which has more than 10 years’ experience on the Pawcatuck River, will develop the fish passage improvement plan.

The planning is expected to take about a year to complete. The NOAA Restoration Center has approved an additional $750,000 for permitting and construction.

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