The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Hazel River dam will soon come down
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
The dam above Monumental Mills on the Hazel River near Culpeper will be taken down.
Jean Scott confirmed this week that she has signed a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers to have the 84-year-old concrete-and-rock structure removed.
Within a year, the barrier that has prevented fish from swimming upstream, stopped canoeists from paddling downstream and been at the center of a legal controversy for almost a decade should be demolished.
“I thought it was a good idea from the beginning,” said the 83-year-old Scott. “The dam serves no purpose whatsoever except to impede fish and canoeists.”
The dam was built (or modified) in about 1928 by Culpeper entrepreneur Fred Hitt as part of the county’s first hydroelectric plant.
The actual seven-story-tall Monumental Mill was about a quarter-mile downstream past the confluence of the Hazel and Thornton rivers, below what is known as the Double Ford Bridge.
That mill was built in the 1840s by George Ficklin, then the richest man in Culpeper County. It was one of three mills that Ficklin owned along the Hazel (Castle Mill and Middle Mill were above it) and was part of the Hazel River Canal system on which agricultural products were shipped from Rappahannock County to Fredericksburg.
Like the Hazel River Canal, the electric plant fought a constant battle with the muddy and unpredictable Hazel River on which it sat. Floods in 1937, 1942 and 1946 each did serious damage to the facility.
Originally the electricity was sold to Virginia Public Service, the forerunner of Dominion Virginia Power, but in 1942 Hitt sold the plant to what became Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which decommissioned it after the 1946 flood.
Twice, in the 1942 flood and in the Hurricane Agnes flood of 1972, the dam, where three generators were located, blocked the Hazel to such an extent that it formed a new channel around the structure. Part of that rerouting is now a C-shaped, deep pond on the Scott property.
During the 1950s and early ’60s, the sand that accumulated in that pit was dredged and sold. Jean Scott and her late husband, John, bought their property from the company that ran that operation.
NOTHING BUT TROUBLE
Since 1946, the dam has been of little practical use. For a time, it provided a good fishing hole for anglers. But over the years, sand, silt and logs have filled in that hole to within a few feet of the top of the structure.
For 40 years, the dam caused little problem except that it prevented fish from the Rappahannock and the Chesapeake Bay from swimming upstream during the spawning season.
Then, when canoeing became popular in the 1990s, the structure became an impediment for those who would paddle down the river for recreation.
For a decade, canoeists simply pulled their boats out of the water and lugged them around the dam. Then the land on the south side was sold and the new landowner, Ben Grace, forbade people using the stream from trespassing on his property.
Since there is a steep granite cliff on the north side of the river, which Scott owns, fishermen and canoeists found themselves with a problem.
That problem was exacerbated when Grace claimed that because his property was part of a king’s grant (all of Culpeper County was), his property included the river.
In 2006, then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close supported Grace’s claim, which led to numerous legal problems for fishermen and boaters. Close changed his mind in 2010 after the Sheriff’s Office received trespassing complaints every time someone paddled down the river.
The situation at the dam and farther downstream at a popular swimming hole became so problematic that the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors last year asked the state to remove the dam so canoeists could move downstream unimpeded.
At about the same time, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries became interested in getting the dam removed so shad and herring could move up the Hazel to spawn.
The Game Department contacted the Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Forestry, and plans were made to remove the dam.
A CLEAR PATH FOR FISH
Removing the dam “will open 18.6 miles of diadromous fish migration,” Nicholas L. Konchuba of the Corps of Engineer wrote in a June 25 letter to Scott.
The first step will be dredging the Hazel above the dam, Scott said.
According to the Army Corps letter, some 2,300 cubic yards of sediment will be removed from above the dam and stored on Scott’s property.
About 275 linear feet of shoreline on Scott’s side will be modified and revegetated, the letter states.
No work will be done on the south shore, which Grace owns. And while the dam will be removed, the foundation for the old hydroelectric plant, also on Grace’s property, will be left.
Scott said that water will be diverted around the dam while the project, which could start as early as late this summer, is in progress.
The dam will be removed in segments and not blown up, Scott said.
Scott hopes that removing the dam will calm some of the legal issues that have arisen, but she sees the effort as a greater service to America’s ecology.
“I want to say that I did some little thing for humanity,” she said. “We take so many fish from the ocean, and they need a spawning area in order to keep the fish population [high enough to meet] our needs.
“We owe it to ourselves to do things like this to help balance the ecology.”
When the Monumental Mills dam is removed, the dam on the Rapidan River in the village of Rapidan will be the only remaining impediment to fish on the tributaries of the Rappahannock River.