Providence Dam

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- New Albany plans to appeal a state permit that would let the River Heritage Conservancy remove a dam on Silver Creek as part of its ambitious southern Indiana parks project.

Park officials envision the lower stretch of the creek as a “blueway” trail for paddlers and the first phase of Origin Park along the Ohio River. They say getting rid of the dam near East Spring Street on the Clark-Floyd county border eliminates a major safety hazard.

But New Albany is concerned that “there had been inadequate study of the possible impacts of removing the low head dam,” Mayor Jeff Gahan wrote in a June 14 letter to residents near the creek. He says the city has a handful of unresolved questions even after the state Division of Water approved the permit June 9.

Among those questions is how removing the dam will affect fish and other aquatic life, as well as plants and animals, at the city-owned New Albany Loop Island Wetlands, according to a copy of the letter obtained by WDRB News.

Gahan also wants to know who owns the creek; what authority does the state have to let a third party remove the dam; and how taking away the dam will affect the creek’s “use and enjoyment.” And he questions public safety as a grounds for the project, since a taller low head dam is located a mile upstream.

“We believe the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has not adequately investigated the facts pertaining to this proposed dam removal and that it is in the best interests of New Albany and her citizens to appeal this permit,” Gahan wrote.

Gahan’s office did not respond to an interview request made Monday, nor has it said if the appeal has been filed. The letter also tells residents when they must submit any appeals on their own.

The River Heritage Conservancy had planned for the dam removal work to wrap up this summer. The project also would include adding parking spaces and a ramp at a put-in spot upstream at Blackiston Mill Road; an access road would be built at a take-out site near the Ohio River.

The 290-foot-long dam across Silver Creek is six feet high, according to the state permit. It is visible when water levels are low, often creating a drop that could entrap canoers, kayakers or anyone else on the water.

The conservancy, a nonprofit leading the development of the parks project, proposed removing the dam. Its executive director, Scott Martin, said in a prepared statement that such dams lead to deaths across the U.S. each year, including at least three at an eight-foot high dam in North Carolina last week.

“Anyone interested in providing public access for paddling on Silver Creek would make elimination of this relic dam as the top priority for public safety alone,” Martin said. “Removal of the dam delivers multiple benefits to the region, and we anticipate a quick resolution.”

The 10-foot-tall dam on Silver Creek near Blackiston Mill – the upstream one mentioned by Gahan in his letter – is not in the proposed park area, Martin said.

Gahan told WDRB earlier this year that he supports the Origin Park plan as long as it protects the Loop Island wetlands and surrounding areas.

New Albany has completed a master plan for a 63-acre park proposed along the Ohio River and completed maintenance and other work on the Loop Island area, where future work includes clearing trails and improving access and parking, according to city council minutes from January. Those projects were identified in the city’s 2016 parks plan.

The permit for removing the dam near Spring Street is set to take effect June 27, although any appeals would delay that.

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