Woolen Mills dam could be history by summer

A request for bids brings the historic Woolen Mills dam closer to coming down– partially– before the hundreds of thousands of shad fry released in 2006 head back to the Rivanna River to spawn, if a request for proposals bears fruit.
Meanwhile, another 600,000 fry were sent on their way to the Atlantic yesterday, April 30, perhaps joining up with the 400,000 shad fry released a year ago. The shad that once teemed in the Rivanna have been shut out of their breeding grounds for close to 200 years.

Rivanna Conservation Society member Jason Halbert has been laboring to breach the dam since 2001, and last year got approval for a demolition permit on the 1830 structure.
The breaching will leave 75 feet of the 270-foot granite-block dam standing, and its removal at all has been controversial in the neighborhood and with some Rivanna aficionados. The majority of the Woolen Mills 'hood came on board with the partial demo in 2005, and breaching permits were issued in 2006. Halbert had hoped to start the demolition last year, but getting an historic mitigation agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers took six months to work out.

RFPs were advertised in the Daily Progress April 24 and 26, and bids are due May 16. The Rivanna Conservation Society won't disclose how much money it's raised, but if the bids go over their cash in hand, "We'll just have to raise more money, and the project will be delayed again," says Halbert.

He'd like to see the partial breach begin this summer. "My predictions have been wrong so far, so I'm loath to make them," says Halbert. "But we've been at this six-and-a-half years, and the dam is going to be breached."

Organizers of Virginia's leading springtime political event, the Shad Planking, currently find themselves in the awkward position of importing their shad from North Carolina, since Virginia law prohibits all harvests of the population-challenged American shad.

Adult female shad can weigh more than six pounds and release 600,000 eggs. Thousands of the spawning anadromous fish on the Rivanna could be good news for anglers, who currently are not allowed to cast for the dwindling American shad.

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