Fishing guide offers restoration advice for Grasse River

Donald Lucas took part in Thursday’s village of Massena Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan meeting and had some advice to bring the Grasse River back to life based on his experience. Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Donald Lucas has been part of an effort to revitalize the Grasse River for about 25 or 30 years, and he had some points to make during Thursday’s community presentation on the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan for the Grasse River in the downtown core.

“I don’t want you to miss out on what could be a possible opportunity,” said Mr. Lucas, owner of Music Magic Charters in Massena.

He said town officials had once hired an ecosystems restoration specialist who was taking ideas for the development of the Grasse River.

“One of the things that I brought up, which seemed to be my main focus for many, many years, was the absence of a dam and the loss of head water upstream. For many, many generations, people used to motorboat up and down that river. We were told that most definitely you could not build a dam any place other than the original location. But there is an exception for ecosystem restoration,” Mr. Lucas said.

He proposed a series of “very small control dams.”

“These would only be 2 foot tall, maybe 3 foot tall, spread out over a distance. There would be three dams, and the reason behind it would be hydrology. When you put up a barrier, the water is actually deeper so many yards upstream than what the actual barrier is doing. So, if you put up a series of small control dams, you could bring the head waters back up to as far as Louisville and it would make the river navigable with small boats,” Mr. Lucas said.

He said there were also other benefits from the proposal.

“The more aeration you put in the water, it degrades the contaminants which was at the time very favorable because of the Superfund designation of the Grasse River. Secondly, additional aeration that you put in is beneficial to the wildlife. The more oxygen you put in the water, the better chance a fish has to survive,” he said.

Mr. Lucas said that several years ago a citizen’s group collected money to stock trout in the Grasse River, “which wasn’t successful, but could have been if there would have been the extra aeration in the water.”

He said one of the issues they face in revitalizing the river was something that was state-wide.

“They don’t like to see dams built because it impedes fish passage, but if you have a series of small dams, the fish can jump over it. As a matter of fact, last weekend I was down at the base of the old dam and I watched the sturgeon jump through where the void was, where the dam was breached. We have a run of sturgeon that goes up and down the river as well as chinook salmon in the fall,” Mr. Lucas said.

Control dams and aeration would also benefit kayakers, who he said were drawn to areas near the control dams because of the back waters.

“They can sit there and do their tricks and what not in the back water. It would be a recreational enhancement. It would be an enhancement for degrading the contaminants in the river. It would allow for fish passage,” he said. “You could make it navigable by putting up these low head water dams. There’s a lot of benefits that could come from that. You could establish higher up water levels, you could create fish passage and you could create recreational activities.”

Any dams that would be constructed could not be made from conventional building materials such as steel or concrete, Mr. Lucas said. But, he said, regulations allowed construction using wooden timbers.

“So I had an idea that I proposed to the group that at the time we had divers that were salvaging old growth timbers that were floated to the wood markets down the St. Lawrence River. It is part of the history of Massena that these timbers were floated to market. It would be an educational component if we could have some of these timbers harvested to create these control dams that I speak of that are allowable. They’re ecosystem restoration projects and they are natural materials. I don’t want to see that lost,” he said.

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