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SEYMOUR — The Naugatuck River is about to become friendlier to fish thanks to the recent announcement that $15 million in federal funding is soon expected and will be used to to dismantle the Kinneytown Dam.
The announcement comes months after various federal, local and state officials hosted a press conference criticizing federal inaction on the long disused site. The removal of the dam is expected to help restore the fish populations and boost the economies of several Naugatuck Valley river municipalities, including Ansonia and Seymour.
Once the dam is removed, it will free up 29 miles of the river to eels and fish, including the blueback herring, alewife and American shad. The fish count had plummeted in recent years with the average annual fish count at 159 fish since 2013, according to a press release from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal's office.
Not only would removing the dam help the water flow easier, it could also lead to more money for the neighboring communities. According to Seymour First Selectwoman Annmarie Drugonis, the removal of the dam would lead to more tourists visiting more business.
Drugonis said there are a lot of fly fishermen and opening up the waters and boosting the fish populations there will in turn mean more of those people stopping in Ansonia and Seymour to eat or visit those businesses.
"It's going to help build the economy, in both towns and along the river," Drugonis said.
Ansonia Economic Development Director Sheila O'Malley praised the announcement, saying the dam's removal would lead to more fishing spots in the city.
"There's going to be even better spots now once that Kinneytown Dam is straightened out," O'Malley said.
The dam's removal was praised by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro for its predicted environmental impact.
"The removal of the dam will not only restore natural fish migration, but also reduce flood risks to communities both up and downstream of the project as well as improve recreational boating and fishing along the Naugatuck River," DeLauro said.
The dam has been criticized for decades for harming wild life. First built in 1844 as the region began to industrialize, the dam was part of the Ansonia power plant until it was shut down in 2013. Drugonis said the area has since become blighted, the nearby area filled with trash and debris.
Save the Sound said the project was a long time coming. The environmental advocacy organization stated the dam harmed aquatic wildlife. The Director of Ecological Restoration, Laura Wildman said her organization, which joined the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments in a lawsuit against the Kinneytown Hydro Company and Hydroland Omega in 2021, had been involved from the start.
"This is exciting for me because my involvement in this river started over two decades ago, when I was a project engineer focused on removing five upstream dams," Wildman said. "Being able to finally address the first barrier on the system with Save the Sound feels very fitting and fulfilling."
Other environmental advocates also praised the announcement, adding it's part of a larger effort to remove dams along the Naugatuck River and with it gone, fish will now be able to swim the length of the river to Thomaston.
The dam has been almost a complete barrier to the thousands of migratory fish from Long Island Sound attempting to reach miles of spawning and rearing habitat in the Naugatuck River for years, advocates said. The Naugatuck River Revival Group and Save the Sound found that hundreds of migratory fish were gathering and dying below the dam for the past few years, unable to access habitat upstream.
“The removal of Kinneytown is the keystone to restoring this river,” said Kevin Zak, president of NRRG. “This funding would go a long way in freeing this river from 200 years of neglect. Reaching this point is a result of extreme dedication, coordination, and hard work from many individuals and organizations both public and private, proving nothing is impossible."