Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's going on?

Take a look at the two photos at the top of the page.One shows the pond at Fyfeshire Conservation area as it is now, the other shows what it would be like after the dam removal recommended this month by the Bolton Conservation Commission.

In case you haven't heard, the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety has determined that the Fyfeshire dam is  “a Significant Hazard Dam in an Unsafe Condition.”  View letter from the state (PDF). The state of Massachusetts has told Bolton that we need to repair or remove the dam at the far end of the big pond in the Fyfeshire conservation area on Wattaquadock Hill Rd. in Bolton.  If we don't show a "good faith effort" to comply, the state might start imposing fines.

The town has responded by commissioning a couple of studies.  The first was an examination of either removing or repairing the dam.  About a year ago there was a meeting for interested townspeople to learn the results of this study. About 30-40 people showed up, almost all of them folks who live near Fyfeshire and all opposed to removing the dam.

The investigation offered a number of alternatives for both repair and removal. The report can be viewed on the Town of Bolton website View report (PDF-big file, be patient) The best repair alternative was estimated to cost $495,000, with two other alternatives estimated at $479,000 and $486,000.These costs include maintenance for the next 50 years. The best removal alternative came in at $443,000, with a fair removal option estimated to cost $324,000.

The second study the town commissioned was to explore the impact of dam removal. The results of that study (PDF--big file, takes a while to download) are on the town website.    I attended the meeting on Nov. 16 where  the results of this study were presented. 

Here’s what I learned:  Basically, taking out the dam would dry up the pond.  One part of the pond is quite deep and would likely remain—at least for part of the year-- as a vernal pool that provides "excellent habitat for amphibians and reptile species." A road would have to be built to get the equipment to the dam.

Although the smaller dam is not considered unsafe, the small pond is likely to be impacted too.  The report talks of engineering a channel around the small pond to allow fish to move up and downstream.  This would  result in “portions of the year in which water depths in the small pond at the upstream dam are very low.”  Translation: say good-bye to the small pond as well as the big one. 

But this is not about fish, it’s about costs.  The cost estimate from the second study came to $335,000 for dam removal. The town has no money to spare and a lot of competing priorities--very important items, like schools and public safety--vying for very few dollars. Something has to be done, and it's likely to come with a hefty price tag. The question is how hefty, and what does the town want at the end: open water or a field of skunk cabbage? No matter what solution the town comes up with, the funding has to be approved by voters. Berlin residents--especially those living near the ponds--are likely to be impacted by the outcome too.  

The commission told meeting attendees that they would be making a decision in the next few weeks.  After the public meeting adjourned, they took a vote to recommend dam removal.

Take another look at the two photos:  which do you prefer?  Send an email to and let us know what you think.