Removing the Milburnie Dam, Neuse River, North Carolina


Milburnie Dam, Neuse River, NC

Milburnie Dam, Neuse River, NC | Lynnette Batt

A public workshop for the Milburnie Dam removal project on the Neuse River in North Carolina will be held this Thursday, December 6.

  • What: Milburnie Dam Public Information Workshop
  • When: Thursday, December 6, 2012 – 6:00-8:00 PM
  • Where: Holiday Inn Raleigh North,  2805 Highwoods Blvd. Raleigh, NC 27604

The Milburnie Dam was proposed for removal over two years ago, and is now near approval. American Rivers strongly supports this project, which would: 

  • Open an additional 15 miles of the Neuse for migration and spawning of American shad, striped bass, and other migratory fish;
  • Restore free-flowing stream habitat for a number of important fish, mussels and other species;  
  • Re-oxygenate the water behind the dam; and
  • Restore more natural flow and sediment transport in the river.

The project is being proposed by Restoration Systems LLC for compensatory stream mitigation credit. See the most recent op-ed article in the News-Observer about this project.

Here’s my response to this article, and some of the local opposition:

“For those who question the ecological benefits of this project because of the financial gain, please consider this: my organization American Rivers, a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring our nations’ rivers for both people and nature, fully supports the removal of the Milburnie Dam and the ecological gains that it would produce. And we have no financial gain in this.

Also, while we work on a lot of dam removal projects where they make sense and where the owner is supportive, we are not against dams — we also do a lot of work on hydropower dam relicensing projects. The fact here is that the ecosystem above the Milburnie Dam is unnatural, and does not support the natural, native aquatic community — bugs, fish, crayfish, mussels, salamanders, etc — that would be there without the dam.

As an ecologist with a background in both streams and wetlands I can say that while the benefits of wetlands are certainly important, the more natural system that would emerge after removing the dam, including naturally-maintained streamside wetlands and free-flowing stream conditions, is much more ecologically beneficial than the unnatural and impounded condition that presently exists.

Consider this: are any ecologists advocating building a dam 15 miles below Milburnie, or anywhere along the Neuse River, to improve the environment? Certainly not.

A much more subjective argument is the aesthetics. It’s a personal preference whether one enjoys higher-water, ponded conditions in a river, or more free-flowing conditions.

However, consider that in many cases around the US, those who had opposed dam removal projects due to aesthetics and concern about the change then became very strong supporters once the projects were completed because they saw the river come back to life, and felt the aesthetics actually improved.

Several scientific and economic studies have also shown that property values often actually increase after dams like Milburnie are removed because of the improved water quality and free-flowing river conditions. Not to mention the reduction in flooding that upstream property owners would see without the dam in place.

But, even with all this aside, a key point remains: the dam is privately owned, privately paid for and maintained, by a family that would like to remove it because it is no longer serving a purpose. This is not a public decision. Unless, as Dr. Martin Doyle pointed out in an op-ed last year, those who would like to see the dam remain would like to make an offer to buy it — and take on the costs, liabilities, and requirements that go with it.”