Head Tide Dam latest: Relics rescue, and a local’s thoughts on project

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 8:45am

Alna’s and Waterville’s Peter Love has been coming to Head Tide Dam and its swimming hole since 1971. He was 12 when his parents got a piece of land off Lothrop Road. Now it’s his. And though the Army veteran no longer swims there, he still visits the dam and has been viewing it regularly this summer with the fish passage project underway. 

When Love, 60, parked and went to look at it from the Head Tide Road bridge Friday night, it was his second visit that day. He’s also been trying to pinpoint the Sheepscot River’s head of tide and has been tracking it. “I thought that today being a full moon, it’s usually a higher high tide. So I came down here at noon to see if I could catch it. I still can’t find the point, but it’s on my bucket list.”

He obliged the Wiscasset Newspaper’s questions on the bridge in the shade and setting sun. Across the silent river from the bridge was the century-old, town-owned, concrete dam and its new concrete at the enlarged opening where an abutment had been. A steel overlook West Alna Welding is making, and the overlook platform, will be added in phases, Midcoast Conservancy Senior Watershed Manager Maranda Nemeth told the Wiscasset Newspaper in emails Friday.

The conservancy, The Nature Conservancy and the project’s originator, Atlantic Salmon Federation, have partnered on the project, part of a larger effort to help fish navigate the Sheepscot.

What does Love think of the new look in progress? “It is what it is. I’ll get used to it. To me it doesn’t look any better or any worse,” and it’s an improvement over the “disarray” of recent years, he said.

With demolition in the river done and the river bed now reshaped to attract flow to the dam’s new wider, deeper opening, the white sandbags that formed a work area are out of the water, in keeping with permit requirements to finish the in-water work by Sept. 30, Nemeth said.

The new support walls, anchored to the dam on one side and ledge on the other, will hold the overlook and railing, Nemeth said. SumCo Eco-Contracting, LLC has started building a retaining wall by “puzzling together” the foundational piers and granite blocks from the mill the dam powered, she said.

“The last mill on this site burned down in 1949 but many remnants of the foundation of the mill persisted. The next steps will be to complete the mill foundation retaining wall, access trails, parking lot, kiosk, and landscaping. The pieces are coming together and work is expected to be completed this fall.” A date for a dedication will be announced, she said.

By using pieces left from the mill’s foundation, the wall be “similar and emulate the essence of the mill,” Nemeth said. “But (it) will also be a functional retaining wall for the river bank slope. For the past few years, the river bank below the parking lot had been eroding out with many trees falling in. The retaining wall will stabilize that bank slope for generations to come and also allow visitors to more closely see and interact with the historic relics.”

Besides Alna’s Jeff Verney who did excavation, another man with local ties has worked on the project. Nemeth said Dan Jewett grew up near the dam and now works for New Hampshire’s VR Concrete that did the concrete. “(He) was very excited to work directly on the Head Tide Dam as it is a part of his family history and personal childhood. Plus he was able to make visits to his parents,” she added.