Tag Archives: White Rock dam

People Behind a Stronger Coast: Scott Comings, The Nature Conservancy

Scott Comings directs a group of Brown University students during a migratory songbird banding on Clay Head, Block Island Credit: Heather Leslie

Scott Comings directs a group of Brown University students during a migratory songbird banding on Clay Head, Block Island. Credit: Heather Leslie

When he was in ninth grade, Scott Comings attended a year-long outdoor education program that taught him the value of conserving the places he loved. From then on, Comings was “hooked on the natural world,” and says it was a natural jump to follow conservation through high school and into college.

Today Comings, a year-round resident of Block Island, Rhode Island, is channeling that passion in his role as Associate Director of the Rhode Island chapter of The Nature Conservancy. In partnership with the Service, Comings is overseeing Hurricane Sandy-funded projects in Rhode Island such as removal of White Rock dam on the lower Pawcatuck River. Eliminating the dam will allow the Pawcatuck River to do something it hasn’t done since 1770; run free. About 85 percent of fish currently aren’t able to travel past the dam. The remaining 15 percent that do pass, can face four more dams along their journey. Comings says removal of the dam will benefit everyone; fish, wildlife and nearby human communities.


Comings holds a Peregrine Falcon during a raptor banding and satellite tagging at Lewis Farm, Block Island, Rhode Island. Credit: The Nature Conservancy

Comings’ path to a conservation career included a four-year-position with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. More than half of his time with the Smithsonian included studying tropical birds and migratory songbirds in Panama. Comings says the experience taught him how to effectively work with people, manage projects, and work with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

“It gave me a strong foundation for what I do now,” he says.

Since completing his work at the Smithsonian, Comings has spent 18 years working on and overseeing the land acquisition, science, education, volunteer and stewardship programs of Block Island for the Rhode Island Chapter of the The Nature Conservancy. In 2014 he became Associate State Director for the chapter, part of the world’s largest conservation organization, spanning 50 U.S. states and 40 countries worldwide.

“It was a natural progression to work for an organization (The Nature Conservancy) I respect and really believe in, and to do something I feel is so important and that I love.” – Scott Comings, Associate Director, Rhode Island Chapter, The Nature Conservancy

Comings says one of the best parts about this job is that every day is different — and he and his team are never resting on their laurels as they conserve the nature of Rhode Island. Another good part? “Working to ensure that the next generation understands why we do what we do. This is for the long-term and the benefits will be enjoyed long after I’m here,” he says.

Protecting People, Helping Fish and Wildlife

Georgia Basso, Service biologist for the Service's Southern new England-New York Bight Coastal program pictured here in

Service biologist Georgia Basso enjoys working with local youth to ignite a passion for nature. Credit: USFWS

Situated on the Jeremy River in Colchester, Conn., Norton Paper Mill is attached to one of several dams set for demolition. The mill building could be written into the pages of a Stephen King novel: fires and neglect have gutted much of the interior; the dilapidated roof is beyond repair; and surges of water shoot from cracks in the building’s foundation, becoming vertical geysers.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Georgia Basso, who is working with the Service’s Coastal Program to assess the removal of Pond Lily dam in Connecticut, says in the event of a big storm like Sandy, an obsolete structure like the Norton Mill dam could easily collapse, cause major flooding and create numerous threats for both wildlife and people.  

“Connecticut River native fish—such as alewife, blueback herring and Atlantic salmon—don’t have access to their spawning grounds because of these dams.” – Georgia Basso, Service biologist

Eastern Brook trout will also enjoy the benefits of having habitat access restored by the removal of Norton Mill dam in Colchester, Conn.  Credit: Robert S. Michelson of Photography By Michelson, Inc Brook trout

The Eastern Brook trout is one of several species of fish that will be free to move throughout the Jeremy River in Conn. – once Norton Mill dam is removed. Credit: Robert S. Michelson of Photography By Michelson, Inc Brook trout

Bolstered by nearly $102 million in federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, the Service is working with partners to strengthen natural defenses that can help protect Atlantic Coast communities against future storms. Part of that strategy includes removing or evaluating 13 dams in 14 states. Nearly $7 million alone is being invested for on-the-ground conservation projects in Connecticut. These include five dam removal projects designed to create healthy habitats for fish and other wildlife, as well as reduce the risk of flooding to communities.  


Signs of restoration could be immediate instream – according to Service biologist Phil Herzig – once demolition is complete. Fish could be migrating within in a day or two. Atlantic salmon photo credit: USFWS

Service fisheries biologist Phil Herzig leads Sandy-funded dam removal projects for Norton Mill and Flock Process dams in Connecticut. According to Herzig, once a dam breaks, tons of built up water and sediment would be released into the surrounding areas. The damage and flooding caused could be monumental.  

Herzig says removing dams allows rivers to behave like rivers and gives fish an opportunity to live out their natural life cycle.

“Rivers tend to self-regulate if they’re healthy,” he says. “The benefit for fish and wildlife would be passage. Terrestrials as well as aquatics can move up and down without impediment.”   The result is a win- win investment to protect communities and help fish and wildlife.