Hands Mill Dam Removal

About the Dam

Hands Mill Dam, located in and owned by the Town of Washington, impounds a segment of the Jail Branch, a tributary to the Winooski River.  Constructed to impound more than 500,000 cubic feet, it is subject to regulation under 10 V.S.A. §1082 and falls under the jurisdiction of the Vermont Dam Safety Program.  State ID number is 225.01. Its initial build date is unknown, but there was a mill on site as early as 1866 that may have used an early timber dam for mechanical power. Shortly after the November 1927 flood, the dam was reconstructed with concrete and the mechanical power feature was lost. Hands Mill is a classified as a Significant Hazard potential dam and recent Dam Safety reports indicate that a sudden failure could cause “probable loss of life and property damage.” This potential loss of life may trigger a reclassification to “High Hazard” under Vermont’s new Dam Safety regulations which are scheduled to launch in 2020 and 2022. Compounding the hazard classification risks is the dam’s current condition. The overall condition of the dam is poor, partially breached and continues to deteriorate and progressively breach. Winooski NRCD is working in partnership with the Town of Washington, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation to launch Phase 1 – Preliminary design (30%) to remove Hands Mill Dam and restore the upstream channel for hazard mitigation, aquatic organism passage, stream equilibrium, and water quality. The full project scope will later include 100% design for dam removal, stream bed and bank remediation, floodplain and wetland restoration, and historical documentation.

Project History

Phase 1: 30% Concept Design

Winooski NRCD initially hired Stone Environmental, Inc. to perform field assessment work and develop 30% Concept Designs for the removal of Hands Mill Dam and restoration of the Jail Branch within the vicinity of the dam. Winooski NRCD also hired UVM’s Consulting Archeology program to develop an Historical and Archeological Resources Report. This phase was supported with funding from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Ecosystem Restoration Grant Program, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s State Wildlife Grant, and the Lake Champlain Basin Program’s Covid-19 Relief grant.

Phase 2: 100% Final Design

The Town of Washington accepted proposals from consulting engineers who are experienced in dam removal design and licensed to practice in Vermont to complete final designs for removal of Hands Mill Dam in Washington, VT. Proposals were accepted through February 28, 2021.

The Town of Washington accepted quotes from consulting archeological firms who are experienced in dam removal, Section 106 review, and licensed to practice in Vermont to provide Phase 1 Archeological Survey, and Phase 2 Archeological Evaluation services as described in the attached Request for Quotes. Quotes were accepted through March 8, 2021.

Flood Event Partially Destroys the Dam

On July 10, 2023 the dam failed as a result of a flood event. The dam had already been partially breached by this point. But the failure of the dam resulted in the need to redesign the plans for its removal. Additionally, it became clear that work needed to be completed upstream of the dam to repair the channel and floodplain.

Redesign of Removal Plans