Students say emotional connection to Ipswich Mills Dam must be factored into conversations about its removal

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climate cafe ipswich river
Back from left: Hannah Grinnell (Pentucket), Noah Keller, Marianna Mattin, Tatum Galuski, Mei Bradford (all Ipswich), and Stella Okayo (Newburyport). Front from left: Sophia Dixon (Triton), Olivia Sullivan and Sydney Thirkell (both from Newburyport)

IPSWICH — Recognizing there may be some emotional attachment to the Ipswich Mills Dam, a workshop heard on Sunday how to approach discussions on how to remove it.

Noah Keller, a student at Ipswich High School, said advocates for dam removal should appeal to the left and right side of the brain when discussing the issue.

“People get nervous when they think about change,” said Tatum Galuski, another IHS student. One idea is to show people how similar projects have worked out in the past, she added.

The students were taking part in a “Climate Cafe” on Sunday afternoon that concentrated on the Ipswich River.

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Organized by Shari Melto, the cafes are held regularly around the North Shore.

The way they work is that a topic is chosen and small-group discussions are facilitated by high school students. The students then report back to the full gathering when the discussions are over.

High school students from Ipswich; Newburyport; Gloucester; Berwick, Maine; and the Pentucket and Triton regional high schools facilitated the discussions.

Sunday’s theme was “free our river” and was designed to help the Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) plan for removal of the Ipswich Mill Dam.

“The Climate Cafe folks were looking for ideas, and we raised our hand,” said Wayne Castonguay, IRWA’s executive director.

“It’s going to be a big community conversation in Ipswich,” he said of the dam removal proposal.

A discussion like the one in the Climate Cafe will “fore-arm participants in an objective, dispassionate way,” Castonguay said.

Relaying that her group also spoke of an emotional attachment to the dam, Marianna Mattin of Ipswich said there were opportunities to create a “more connected river.”

Part of the group that met in Boone Hall on Sunday afternoon

Recreational opportunities will increase, and the change will be better for the environment, she said.

Olivia Sullivan of Newburyport High School agreed and pointed to the possibility of improved fishing, hiking, and kayaking. “This could be hugely beneficial to the community,” she said.

Stella Okayo of Newburyport High School said species depend on the river, and the dam prevents that. “They are already being denied part of that access and are struggling,” she said.

After the event, Mei Bradford of Ipswich said the discussions “went really well.”

She said people felt comfortable sharing their views in the smaller groups. She also noted people arrived with different levels of knowledge about the project, and that they learned from each other.

“It was a good place to learn the topics and the issues,” Galuski agreed.

Most of the students said they were new to the topic, but Bradford and Mattin said they reviewed the dam-removal feasibility study.