State report on dams faulted

Towns say fixes already made

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / January 20, 2011

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Foxborough officials are taking issue with a state report released last week that identified the Commonwealth’s most dangerous dams and recommended strict oversight of the structures.

Town officials say two local dams targeted by state auditor Joseph DeNucci’s two-year investigation have actually been repaired for some time. Conservation Agent Jane Pierce said that fixes to the Carpenter Upper Pond Dike and Carpenter Upper Pond Dam, built in 1900 and 1819, respectively, were made by the town’s Highway Department last summer.

The dams are two of five the town owns, and the ones labeled as unsafe in DeNucci’s report. The others — the 1886 Carpenter Pond Dam, the 1910 Glue Factory Pond West Dam, and the 1977 West Street Dam — are categorized in poor condition. Plans are underway to repair them.

“The report on those two dams is a little behind the times,’’ Pierce said. “They have been fixed and are now compliant.’’

Similarly, Duxbury officials say town workers have already made repairs to the Mill Pond Dam, built in 1900, which DeNucci also identified as posing a safety risk.

DeNucci’s spokesman Glenn Briere said that the agency’s report was meant to raise awareness, and that it did. He said it isn’t surprising that a town would have rushed to make repairs after a visit from an auditor uncovering problems.

“That is a good result,’’ Briere said, rejecting the notion that the agency’s report isn’t current. “If they are getting it done in Foxborough and other communities, I think the auditor would appreciate that.’’

The Jan. 11 report highlighted findings on 100 unsafe dams owned by 62 cities and towns across the state, including almost two dozen in communities south of Boston.

In some cases, infrastructure that is 100 to 200 years old has been deemed a significant threat to public safety, and possible loss of life, should the dams fail to hold water back from surrounding neighborhoods.

Other targeted dams are in Abington, Braintree, Brockton, Canton, Hanover, Holliston, Mansfield, Norton, Pembroke, Sharon, Wareham, and Weymouth.

DeNucci appealed to Beacon Hill lawmakers to implement a no-interest loan program to help fund repairs, estimated collectively at $60 million.

Rules for dam oversight changed three years ago when Massachusetts moved the responsibility to inspect dams to the towns that own them, officials said.

Hanover, for example, owns four dams, but only one — the Hackett Pond Dam — made it onto DeNucci’s list, said Hanover’s Department of Public Works director, Victor Diniak.

That dam was built in the 1700s, like scores of others in the area, and was the power source of the time, he said. Then, the dam was rebuilt with state funds after it was breached in the 1950s, Diniak said.

Hackett Pond is small and the dam isn’t high enough to do its job, he said. Short by a few inches, the dam’s spillway is also too narrow and the entire structure needs to be built up, Diniak said.

Hanover has set aside between $35,000 and $50,000 for the design phase. But there is some question on the source of funding for the estimated $150,000 to $200,000 in repairs, he said.

Town officials do not fear that citizens are in danger, Diniak said, unlike the situation in Freetown, where residents were urged to evacuate in February when rising water levels threatened to breach an old dam that was subsequently torn down.

Also last year, a section of a private dam collapsed in Canton, flooding an apartment complex and forcing street closures. That same month, Great Pond Dam in Braintree was breached during heavy rains, but was quickly repaired.

The latter dam is on DeNucci’s list, along with the Great Pond Upper Reservoir dam, both owned by the Tri-Town Water Board, which also serves Randolph and Holbrook.

Canton DPW Superintendent Mike Trotta said officials in his town have several options when it comes to the Shepard Pond Dam, which came in as a significant hazard on DeNucci’s list.

The state Office of Dam Safety does not require that a dam be repaired to a 100 percent condition, he said. Other options are to repair to a safe condition, or perhaps even to decommission it, he said. Canton is considering the latter option, he said.

“There is a sense the dam is no longer needed,’’ Trotta said. But nothing is cheap, and even a decommission would cost $400,000, compared with the $1 million-plus cost to repair it, he said.

That hefty decommissioning price tag includes things like acquiring state and federal permits as well as the actual work to take the dam out, he said. It’s not like flipping a switch to shut it down.

Like other towns, Canton doesn’t have extra cash to spend, Trotta said, so selectmen and other officials have to make a decision.

Voters at the last two town meetings approved $80,000 for design and engineering costs, he said, adding that a no-interest loan under the program DeNucci suggested would go a long way to help.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at