PEPPERELL -- The historic Millie Turner Dam over the Nissitissit River is in the early stages of being removed, according to a presentation given to selectmen Monday night.

Alex Hackman of the Division of Ecological Restoration told selectmen that an effort is being made to preserve some of the historic nature of the dam after it is removed, either by keeping part of the sides of the structure intact or through signs commemorating the area's historic nature.

"We really want to honor the site in this project. We understand what a beautiful place it is, how essential it is in the community," Hackman said.

The dam was originally built to power a mill on the property, which sits off Hollis Street, sometime in the 19th century, although Hackman was not certain of a date. The dam is now called the Millie Turner Dam after the woman who purchased the land along with her husband in the 1940s, and who served as a post-mistress in Pepperell for many years.

The project is in its preliminary design phase, Hackman said. This spring and summer he plans to pursue permits for the work, and if there are no complications, the project could be completed in summer 2015.

The total cost for removal is expected to be about $350,000, Hackman said. He said he is pursuing grants to fund the project.

Hackman said there were three primary reasons why the dam needs to be removed -- the liability it put on the private owner of the property, the public safety hazard it poses and the ecological effects of the dam on the otherwise healthy river.

"The dam is currently classified as high hazard, which means that if it fails there's a high likelihood of property damage or loss of life," Hackman said.

The property where the dam is located is owned by Pepperell resident David Babin, Hackman said. At press time, Babin was not available for comment.

Additionally, the dam fundamentally changes water quality and ecosystem in that part of the river, Hackman said.

"A wall in a river turns something free-flowing and well-oxygenated into a more stagnant area. It's basically a different ecosystem in the midst of a long running river system," Hackman said.

"There's really subtle and important ways that the dam affects the health of the river," he added.

Diane Cronin, chairman of the Pepperell Historical Commission, said she is confident that Hackman is going about the project in a way that will preserve the town's history, but asked what factors could get in the way of doing so.

"It would be great to have something that we can remember the spot physically by," she added.

Hackman said that the removal of the dam and the preservation of the historic site were being considered one project with one cost, rather than being broken up into phases.

"We're not separating historical mitigation from spill removal, we're calling it one project," Hackman said.

He said enough of the dam would need to be removed in order to create a big enough area for the river to run through, potentially affecting how much of the dam can be salvaged.

"We want to make enough of a breech in the spillway to fully pass flood flows," he said.

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