Public Health & Recreation

Westerly to Hold Forum on Fate of Potter Hill Mill and Dam

Hopkinton will follow with its own forum at a later date


Critics of a plan to demolish the Potter Hill Dam have voiced concerns that lowering the water levels above the dam may affect their wells. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

WESTERLY, R.I. — The town will host a forum to discuss the fate of Potter Hill Dam and its condemned mill Tuesday night at the Westerly Library.

The former textile mill and the dam that used to power it both fell into disrepair after the mill stopped operations in the 1950s. A large fire destroyed much of the mill building in the ’70s.

A granite shell, rusted mill equipment, and heaps of burned debris sit on the property, which is now enclosed by a locked, chain-link fence, and vegetation permeates the dam.

Last year, the Town Council voted to demolish the old building to create a recreational area but did not take action on the dam.

Proponents of full or partial removal say getting rid of the dam, the last on the Pawcatuck River, will allow fish to move freely through the river, restore wetlands downstream, and remove the hazard caused by current hydraulics at the dam’s base.

Critics, some of whom are homeowners that live around the river and mill, have voiced concerns about how lowering the water levels above the dam may affect their wells and their recreation areas.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, stakeholders and residents will have the chance to hear a presentation from an engineering firm about several different options that would result in “varying degrees of change” to the dam, according to assistant town manager Melissa Davy.

After the presentation, members of the public will be allowed to ask questions.

Although the issues around the mill and the dam have been ongoing, Davy said this time the town is trying to get more input from its neighbors in Hopkinton, which shares a border on the banks of the Pawcatuck River.

Representatives of the Hopkinton Town Council attended many of the most recent meetings, and a similar forum will be held in Hopkinton, but hasn’t yet been scheduled.

Davy said the engineering firm giving the presentation, Fuss & O’Neill, is also offering more options for what can be done with the dam than it had previously.

“We want to make sure we are looking at all the different facets,” she said, and finding a solution that tries to address as many of the concerns as possible.

The forum is scheduled from 6-7:30 p.m. in Westerly Library’s auditorium.

Davy noted the town does have a webpage with more information about the mill and dam and an email, [email protected], where members of the public can direct questions.

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