BY ANDREAS YILMA
SEYMOUR — Environmentalists and river advocates received an early Christmas gift after the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments secured $15 million in federal funding for the removal of the Kinneytown Dam.
The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Wednesday the NVCOG in collaboration with Save the Sound, has been recommended for funding for removal of the Kinneytown Dam through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Restoring Fish Passage through Barrier Removal grant program.
NVCOG applied for the $15 million earlier this year for the project which includes decommissioning the Hydroland Corp. facility, designing the deconstruction and eventually removing the dam and restoring the river, according to the NVCOG press release.
Kinneytown Dam is a hydroelectric facility on the Naugatuck River consisting of two dams with powerhouses in Seymour and Ansonia. It is owned by Hydroland, Inc. The powerhouse in Ansonia has been offline since before 2013, and the powerhouse in Seymour has not produced electricity since 2020.
Chairman of the NVCOG and Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said the removal of the dam has been a seven-year project for NVCOG and the eventual elimination of the dam will have life long everlasting impacts on the Naugatuck River.
“This is a huge environmental win, huge win of the ecosystem of Naugatuck River and every town that touches the river bank,” O’Leary said. “We’re very proud of this.”
O’Leary said getting the region’s federal delegation into the fight was the difference here before being able to apply for the grant as he pointed to U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, both Democrats, as well as U.S. Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, and Jahana Hayes, D-5th District.
O’Leary also said officials are grateful for Naugatuck River advocate Kevin Zak who brought this to their attention and for his wife, Sondra Zak as an activist for the river.
Zak is the president and co-founder of the Naugatuck River Revival Group and Supervisor of Waterbury PAL River Brigade. He said the water quality of the river is very good as volunteers have been pulling out tons of trash and debris.
“The aesthetic value of the river is safer and much better,” Zak said.
Zak said fish still aren’t able to migrate past the dam due to not having a free flowing river.
“Without the removal of the dam, the health of the river is always impaired,” Zak said. “It’s not a real river.”
NVCOG developed the proposed project in partnership with Save the Sound, and the nonprofit will be a sub recipient of funds through NVCOG according to the COG press release.
Zak said the dam is killing a free flowing river and it has absolutely zero benefits to the river but instead collects garbage and wildlife dies at the dam all the time. The health of the river depends on the removal of the dam.
NVCOG and Save the Sound will negotiate the award and project scope with NOAA, a release stated.
O’Leary said the NVCOG which is made up of 19 cities and towns, four years ago made a bipartisan unanimous decision to invest its financial resources to hire attorneys to get to this stage of the game.
“I’m extremely proud of our COG for showing this support,” O’Leary said. “Amazing to see everyone agree on a single path.”
Zak said the removal of the dam is going to change the river for a thousand years.
“The river is very forgiving and the wildlife is very forgiving,” Zak said. “They’ll come back. It’ll take some time. It will eventually heal itself but you have to get rid of the dam.”