LAKE PLACID - The state Department of Environmental Conservation has decided to remove Marcy Dam, which was severely damaged by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.
The dam is one of the most visited places in the Adirondacks by hikers, skiers and snowshoers. It is located a little more than two miles from the start of the Van Hoevenberg Trail, which leads to many of the most popular High Peaks including Mount Marcy, New York's highest point. The trail starts in the parking lot for the Adirondack Mountain Club's High Peaks Information Center.
In a statement, the DEC gave numerous factors it considered in the decision.
A broken Marcy Dam is seen in September 2011, about two weeks after heavy rain from Tropical Storm Irene swelled Marcy Brook to the point of breaching the wooden structure.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
DEC officials said the "dam no longer holds back water during low flow periods and has an inadequate spillway."
The dam would also have to be rebuilt to comply with dam safety regulations. Because of its location in a wilderness area, it would have to be made of natural materials. These factors would make rebuilding very expensive.
In addition, "the benefits provided by the dam are almost wholly aesthetic," the DEC stated. "It provides no practical or environmental benefit. The ponded water upstream of the dam is mostly filled with sediment and does not provide habitat for fish. The dam prevents the movement of fish upstream."
DEC officials also said the principles of "wilderness management include allowing rivers and streams to flow unfettered and to minimize human-made structures."
DEC also considered allowing the "dam to fail on its own; however, a catastrophic failure would result in ecological damage from the release of the silt behind the dam and possibly result in injury or death of people."
The DEC plans to remove the dam in stages over a five-year period in order to allow vegetation to grow on the sediment behind the dam, therefore anchoring it and minimizing the amount of sediment carried down Marcy Brook.
Shortly after Irene, hikers started using a crossing on Marcy Brook about a quarter-mile downstream from the dam, which had its pedestrian bridge washed out during Irene.
In June 2012, the DEC had a log-stringer-style wooden footbridge constructed 250 feet below Marcy Dam that allows people to cross the brook without getting wet.
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth's organization owns nearby property and operates the information center, nearby campgrounds and the Adirondak Loj. He said his organization doesn't have an official stance on the removal of the dam.
However, Woodworth said the DEC doesn't have the resources to rebuild the dam, which he guessed would cost at least $1 million to replace because of dam regulations, which have gotten stricter in recent years.
"Given the heightened scrutiny on dam construction and safety procedures, I'd have to believe you couldn't take a Depression-era dam and simply rebuild it," he said.
From a personal standpoint, Woodworth said he used to love the view of the impounded water and mountains.
"But I'm getting used to how it looks now, and it's a different kind of aesthetics now, and over time people will get used to that different (view), to what nature is doing to transform that area," he said.