July 17, 2008

Pumping Up the Profile of Rappahannock Canal: Work Begins on Final Phase of the Embrey Dam Removal Project

By Rusty Dennen, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

Jul. 17--The final phase of the Embrey Dam removal project -- the biggest and most expensive environmental initiative ever in Fredericksburg -- should be completed by early next year.

Though the concrete dam is long gone, the issue of the canal into which the dam once diverted water remains.

Workers at the old Vepco power plant off Caroline Street on the Rappahannock River, will soon begin installing a pump station that will keep the water level constant in the Rappahannock Canal. A crane and other equipment are on the work site.

"They're lifting materials from the staging area to the construction site," said Dave King, Fredericksburg's assistant utilities director.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the project. General Excavation Inc. of Warrenton is the general contractor.

The former power plant used to generate electricity with water from the canal. Soon water will flow in the opposition direction, from the river, to the pump station, and into the canal.

When the 1910 Embrey Dam was breached and demolished in 2004 to allow passage to migratory fish, the canal's water supply disappeared with it. A pool of water behind the dam fed the canal, an east-west barge route dating back to the mid-1800s.

So the Corps of Engineers had to find another way to keep the water level up so that the city would not have a two-mile-long mud hole in its midst.

As a stopgap measure, stormwater runoff was diverted from flood-prone Kenmore Avenue, and from Gayles Pond.

The Corps chose pumping in river water as a permanent solution. An aeration system was installed on the canal bottom last year to prevent the waterway from becoming a stagnant breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Hundreds of people in the city live on or near the canal.

Planning for the $10 million dam removal project began over a decade ago.

In 2003, vast amounts of sediment were sucked out from behind the dam and deposited on the shoreline behind Bragg Hill.

The dam was breached with explosives and then demolished in 2004. That opened the river above Fredericksburg to spawning herring, shad and rockfish for the first time in over a century.

Then the Corps of Engineers turned its attention to the canal.

That phase of the job is taking longer than expected, mainly because of negotiations between C&G Investment Properties LLC, the partnership that owns the old Vepco plant, and the city, which was seeking an easement.

At one point, city officials threatened to use eminent domain. That was averted and the two sides eventually came to an agreement, allowing the work to go forward.


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