By Joe Joyce, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – “It was dark, torrential downpours and a 300 hundred year old dam that was about to go. It was a terrifying evening for all of us.” Freetown Selectwoman Jean Fox remembers the flooding rains one year ago when Forge Pond dam in Freetown almost gave way.

“Given the weather situation, the high level of water…if this one goes, there is every potential for the following two to go as well, flooding the center of town as well as residences along the way.”

These aging, crumbling dams dating as far back as the 1800’s are threatening lives and property across the state.

Mark Ward is an administrator from the Town of Clinton. His town is suffering from the same problem. “They had a purpose years ago. They helped to power the mills. Now we are in a position where they need maintenance. They need repairs. People have forgotten about them.”

WBZ’s Joe Joyce reports.

One of the main problems is ownership. Of the 3,000 dams in Massachusetts, 50% are privately owned…so it is not up to the state to maintain them. Some of the owners have passed away, while others can not afford the upkeep. As the dams have lost their purpose and do not generate income, they have fallen into disrepair over the years.
Are these becoming hazards in flooding situations? “It is. It has become in our town,” says Mike Ward.

With each passing major storm these aging dams are becoming more and more vulnerable leaving downstream communities very much at risk with not much being done about it simply because a lack of funding

“There is no doubt that financing is a very significant issue for state and local agencies as well as private owners with regards to repairing these dams.”

Ed Lambert is the commissioner of The Deparment of Conservation and Recreation who oveseeas about 1600 of these dams.

Related Links:

State Auditor’s Dam Safety Report – includes list of 100 municipally owned dams that are in poor or unsafe condition
DCR Office of Dam Safety

“We take dams and put them into different categories. The ones that we are most concerned about are the ones in high risk areas, those that will cause the greatest threat to life or property and are also in unsafe condition. We currently have about 59 dams which are in both those categories which are unsafe and poor conditions and can cause damage.”

Lambert asserts, “We certainly do not want to take a wait and see approach when it comes to public safety. Of all the dams we oversee, we have located the owner in all but 35 of them. We plan to aggressively persue and be in communication with these owners to help them in any repair or removal.”

New legistlation has recently been passed which now requires every dam in the state to be inspected every 2 years. Also new loan program will soon be presented to help give assistance to private owners for the removal or repair of their dams.

Peter Richardson of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers says if something is not done soon, these dams have the potential to be ticking time bombs.

“We are sitting on a lot of old dams and if we just leave them in the current condition and don’t evaluate them by either removing or repairing we are just asking for trouble.”


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