FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. (WHNT) — A longstanding fixture for many in southern middle Tennessee is set to be removed in the coming months, according to state officials.
Harms Mill Dam is set to be taken out in the fall of 2023, following a $500,000 grant approved by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission committee in a January meeting.
Emily Buck, Director of Communications and Outreach for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) said the project will be an improvement for aquatic wildlife.
“TWRA is in the early stages of removing the Harm’s Mill Dam on the Elk River, which will result in 1,114 free-flowing miles of water open to fish and wildlife migration,” explained Buck. “There are 46 species of greatest conservation need that will benefit from this removal, including 19 that are federally listed.”
But the environmental aspect of the removal isn’t the only thing that has residents talking, many of whom have watched the dam become a “hangout” and fishing spot over the years, alongside the degradation of the building and surrounding area.
Coby Templeton with the Fayetteville Police Department mentions the danger posed by the low head dam, saying the swift water rescue squad has answered multiple calls to rescue boaters and swimmers in the area.
“There is a danger of the hydronic caused by the low head dam,” said Templeton. “I’ve been to a couple of rescues [and] recoveries just above the dam. There was a fear of going over the dam and getting trapped.”
Templeton says he is hopeful the history can be preserved while making the area safer for kayaks, boats and fishermen.
“The hydraulics are a swift water rescuer’s biggest fear,” added Templeton. “It’s like a washing machine that drags you down and won’t let go.”
Harms Mill Dam, simply referred to as “Harms Dam” by locals, was originally constructed to produce power and not to support flood control, according to Buck, who added that it doesn’t function like larger dams (think Tim’s Ford Dam located upstream) which support flood control.
Buck said area residents shouldn’t be concerned about flooding in the area, as the removal of the dam won’t cause additional water accumulation.
“[The] flow of the Elk River, during flood events, in the Harms Community would primarily be impacted by the amount of rainfall in the area, as well as the release of water from Tim’s Ford Dam,” Buck explained.
The removal process is slated to begin after all of the necessary permits have been acquired, which Buck says are expected between June and August 2023.
“Additional coordination will also take place with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to ensure desired stream flows are present,” Buck said. “Site preparation will also take place this spring before the dam can be removed.”
Local officials are positive about the removal of Harms Dam along with the TWRA, as the Tennessee Nature Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Service, TVA and the Army Corps of Engineers have all partnered with the project.