Fish & Wildlife Presents New Plans for the Roxbury Fish Hatchery
Just south of Roxbury Village in the area known as Mud Pond and Johnny Cake Flats, the land abounds with history. The granite and verdantique quarries, which employed many local men and bustled with action for a century, are now silent. Carrie Howe Road, the main drag before the village was born, still runs mostly unchanged, past the Snow House, once a tavern and probably the oldest house still standing in Roxbury. At Oxbow Road, Flint Brook, (also known as Broad Brook and Burnham Brook in the past), tumbles down from the west hills and over a dam originally used for a clapboard mill in the 1800s. At the Flats Cemetery seven tombstones, some of the earliest graves in Roxbury, stand at attention facing the sunrise. On the other side of the road, shadows of another long-forgotten steam mill dance among the small trees and the brook.
Below Thurston Hill Road is the Roxbury Fish Hatchery, built in 1891. Local land owner and wealthy businessman Erastus N. Spalding donated the land to the state for the construction of a fish hatchery in the years before construction began. The deed assured that the valuable land, ripe with multiple springs and water sources which powered the mills, be used specifically for a fish hatchery and “that in case the said State of Vermont shall cease, for period of three years, to maintain a fish hatchery thereon, then said premises and the appurtenances shall revert to me and my heirs.” The state legislature appropriated $2400 in 1890 for the construction and maintenance of the hatchery for two years. In 1892, $5000 was voted on to finish and equip the facility.
Over the years buildings were added and infrastructure was enlarged and improved. The facility eventually became one of Vermont’s most productive fish hatcheries and the least expensive one to operate.
Then Tropical Storm Irene slammed into Roxbury in August 2011. Flint Brook became a raging force of nature that took out the retaining wall, scooped out a new stream bed and destroyed the railroad tracks that had been recently laid. The angry water swept through the cemetery, leaving silt and knocking down and burying gravestones. The house that stood between the flood water and the fish hatchery was little more than a stone in the brook as the water passed through and around it. The hatchery was no more prepared for the deluge than the house had been, and the flooding completely destroyed the rearing ponds, sending an unknown number of hatcheryraised fish downstream. The damage left the Roxbury Fish Hatchery unable to rear production trout. In the years since the storm and the loss of the hatchery, the state has fallen close to 30% below its former production.
Because of the importance of the hatchery both to the state and to the town of Roxbury, there has been much discussion about how to replace the facilities. Some local citizens have wanted the state to rebuild with an eye to past architectural simplicity, frugality and resulting success that the hatchery experienced. Concerns have been voiced about possibilities for the future and that the state will replace the historical Roxbury Fish Hatchery with a modern facility.
On January 22, 2014, Vermont Fish & Wildlife employees Jeremy Whalen, Hatchery Supervisor, and Adam Miller, Fish Culture Operations Manager, gave a presentation to the town on what has happened since Irene and the future plans for the facility. Twenty-two concerned citizens attended the two hour meeting which also included a subsequent discussion on plans for Flint Brook.
The two men began their presentation with the question: Why is the Roxbury hatchery important? They answered their question with facts and numbers. It is one of five state fish hatcheries in Vermont with an estimated annual net economic value of approximately $2.4 million. It was the first state-operated hatchery in Vermont (1891) and consists of three historic buildings and five rearing ponds. The current annual production is approximately 25,000 lbs (brook / rainbow trout). It provides approximately 5,000 – 13,000 trout for the Children’s Fishing Program, has about 2,100 visitors annually and is home to the vastly popular twoyear old “trophy” brook trout.
Next the presenters tackled the issue of old versus new design and made it clear that there was no room for nostalgia. “Everyone loved the Roxbury Fish Hatchery,” Mr. Miller said. “It was the cheapest one to run because it didn’t have all the modern stuff. With the Clean Water Act and other standards, we couldn’t do anything but put these [new things] in. The ponds - the way they were - have increased phosphorus because an increased amount of feces settles to bottom.” In fact, the facility’s permit had expired in 2010 and requirements would not have been met. Specifically, the old pond design allowed too much nutrient and chemical discharge back into the brook. In addition to the concern for water quality, the hatchery has to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning it must be handicapped accessible. Also, Roxbury is on the National Historic Register and has to comply with those rules. Finally, there are various fire and electrical codes that have to be met. The presenters noted that 80.8% of the cost of the new construction is related to compliancy with codes and standards.
The design for the rebuilding and renovation of the hatchery meets all the state and federal requirements. The new ponds will eliminate diseases that occur in hatcheries so fewer chemicals will be used. There will be raised circular tanks under pavilions which will allow fecal matter to be eliminated and decrease the use of fish chemicals. This “brings Roxbury into the modern age,” Mr. Miller stated, it’s a “mini wastewater treatment plant to remove fish feces and to avoid excess phosphorus output.” A chemical detention pond will ensure that some fish chemicals biodegrade, which is a requirement for meeting water quality standards. The design also provides for advanced effluent treatment so the water from the hatchery that is returned to the brook is free of phosphorus, nitrogen and solids. Mr. Miller explained, “We’ll have the ability to recirculate water at the end. If Flint Brook gets too dirty, we can shut the brook down. We’re trying to set ourselves up for going into the future.”
With future weather changes in mind, the facility will also have increased flood resiliency. The fish pavilions will be raised about 3-5 feet, which will be higher than route 12A. In case of a flood, water will flow over the road instead of washing out the pavilions. With this description, a concern was voiced by Dave French, who lives across the road from the hatchery and was not washed out during the flooding of Irene. He expressed concern for his property with the new design. Mr. Miller noted that they have been taking this into consideration and the state may look to buying property across the road.
The new construction will be more modern and be able to accommodate more visitors, with unisex restroom facilities outside, a picnic area and a handicapped accessible parking area and sidewalks. However, it is important to maintain some respect for historical standards, the men agreed. Mr. Whalen stated, “I want everything to blend historically. It will look like a modern dairy barn. We’re trying to make the buildings fit in with others. We don’t want it to be an eyesore for the town.”
HDR Engineering, Inc. (formerly FishPro) has created the new design for the Roxbury Fish Hatchery, with the total construction costs at $4,575,543, which is the “least cost option.” The design for the project is a similar one used at Embden Fish Hatchery in Maine and done by the same company. There will be a one-month public comment period when the environmental review is completed. Delays in acquiring funding have made a spring 2014 construction start unlikely, so the anticipated start of construction will be spring, 2015.
The funding issue has been complicated because the hatchery has to rebuild with many improvements so it can meet codes and standards. In May of 2012, FEMA approved an architecture and engineering (A&E) project worksheet for the reconstruction of the hatchery to meet applicable codes and standards at the time of the disaster. However, FEMA generally provides funding for the value of what was lost in a disaster so in July of 2013 the federal agency requested additional information to justify its funding of the new project. Currently, negotiations with FEMA for funding are ongoing. In any case, according to Fish & Wildlife employees Mr. Miller and Mr. Whalen, the state is committed to rebuilding the Roxbury Fish Hatchery regardless of the outcome with FEMA.
Source: Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife