- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Hundreds of spectators gathered on the south bank of the Rappahannock River yesterday to watch the destruction of the Embrey Dam, the first significant dam to come down in Virginia “in modern times.”

Army Corps of Engineers divers were forced to set off plastic explosives twice in order to blow a 100-foot hole in the dam’s base.

Shortly after noon, divers triggered 600 pounds of explosives. As a portion of the dam exploded, a loud cracking noise was followed by a burst of smoke and water. But officials estimated that only 10 percent of the explosives actually ignited. And the dam still stood.

The second blast, at 1:22 p.m., shook the city, spewed debris and sent a roiling wave downriver.

The 22-foot-high, 770-foot-long dam was built in 1910 to produce hydroelectric power for the city, but it has not operated since the 1960s. As it deteriorated over the years, it became a liability for the city.

“This thing could have broken in a storm and caused loss of life and damage,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican who secured full federal funding for the $10 million demolition project.

Mr. Warner joked about his involvement in the funding. “Yes, I had a small role, in it — stealing the taxpayers’ money,” he told the spectators. “But it’s money well-spent.”

Local folksinger Bob Gramann sang a song he wrote 10 years ago about the dam’s destruction. Yesterday, he said he was happy with the result.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this for years and years and years.”

The dam’s demise will open up hundreds of miles of main and tributary waters to migratory fish — including American shad, hickory shad and blueback herring — for the first time since 1854, when a wooden crib dam was built to power mills.

For river enthusiasts, the destruction eventually will mean shooting the white water instead of portaging canoes and kayaks around the dam.

“Once this dam comes down, this river will be the longest free-flowing river in the Chesapeake system,” said Mayor Bill Beck, a river enthusiast. “We’re expecting to see some pretty exciting kayaking water there.”

For some, the event was bittersweet.

Longtime residents William and Betty Truslow have fond memories of visiting the dam when they were younger.

“When I was young, this was my playground,” said Mr. Truslow, 86, who as a boy fished beneath the dam and climbed on it.

Still, Mr. Truslow agreed that the Embrey had to go. “It’s of no purpose now,” he said.

Embrey is the first significant dam to come down in Virginia “in modern times,” Alan Weaver of the state’s Game and Inland Fisheries Department told the Associated Press. The dam’s destruction will allow the Rappahannock to flow freely 184 miles from the Shenandoah Mountains to the bay.

Plans call for the dam to be fully dismantled and removed by February 2006.

It is the second-largest dam to be taken down in the United States since 1999, when the Edwards Dam was breached in Maine, a date many see as the start of a movement to restore American rivers by removing dams and bringing back natural flows.

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