CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Selectmen have until the end of the year to make a decision on whether or not to remove Kitchen Brook Dam using state funds.
Eric Ford, a wetlands ecologist with the Division of Ecological Restoration, met with the board and the water commissioners on Tuesday. Although he was able to answer some of the town's questions, the selectmen still were unsure which way to go.
"I am not even close to making up my mind, and I just don't know. There are so many questions that I have," Selectman Edmund St. John IV said. "Water is one of our most important resources and I don't take a decision like this lightly but I don't want to lose out on this either."
DER has offered to remove the decommissioned dam but the Water Commission members have come out against the removal because they want to preserve what they say is a pristine water source. The dam could provide a resource should the Water Department's wells become contaminated.
Ford said his agency's goal is to restore the wetland area and ecological processes such as the movement of sediment or organic matter by eliminating manmade obstacles.
He said DER looks at new projects every one to two years and sorts them into three categories: priority, provisional and not accepted.
He said a priority project is funded until completion while provisional may have some feasibility concerns that may make it difficult to complete the process. He said provisional projects can be bumped up to priority once concerns are overcome
He said the dam project is provisional however Ford said the project scores very highly.
"The removal of the dam is highly beneficial from an ecological perspective," Ford said. "It's a high-value, cold water stream that supports brook trout, its head waters fall within the Mount Greylock [State Reservation] and … it is relatively well protected."
Two concerns with the project are the removal of access roads and two downstream culverts that act as barriers for fish.
Ford said the culvert and road removal would most likely not hold up the project and the project would not start unless those concerns are overcome.
He added that the dam is also a hazard and the state could mandate that the town remove or repair the dam at its expense.
"This is a high hazard dam and I am sure the office of dam safety has been breathing down the town's neck about doing something with it," Ford said. "So that's an additional benefit that comes with restoration. We can take care of a safety issue for the town and provide a little bit of an ecological benefit as well."
The state Department of Environmental Protection two years ago had been critical of the town's retaining the dam as a backup water source; the Office of Dam Safety has designated it as a "significant hazard," in which its failure could cause environmental and/or economic impacts. An initial estimate on its removal had been pegged at a half-million dollars.
Ford added that the project will not go forward if the town is not behind it.
"The success of these projects are predicated on the town's support and we will not move forward if we don't have buy in from the Selectmen," he said. "We are not here to push this down your throat and we think it is a great project."
Water Commissioner Francis Waterman said the department would prefer to preserve the dam and use it as a backup water supply.
"From an operator's standpoint, I am inclined to be protective of that because it is a really good resource of water," he said. "We want to get grants to stabilize and repair the dam so we can keep it in operating condition."
Waterman said currently the town has a water tank for a temporary back up if the town wells fail, however, the dam could also act as a temporary source. He said if there is ever a "catastrophic event" in town it, would not be a big deal to tap into the dam.
He said the dam, ultimately, could become a more permanent supply with the construction of a water treatment plant.
Waterman was also leery about removing the access road because it is used to haul lumber from the area. He said lumber is a source of revenue for the town.
Engineers recently inspected the dam and are in the process of drawing up a report, he said, and he would prefer to hold off any decision until the report is in hand.
The report will explain the current condition of the dam, if it feasible to repair, what it will cost and possible revenue sources.
"They think it's a good project because there are a lot of good qualities up there and it should be a competitive project," he said. "It would be good to have that report because then we can talk about it and see what we are working with. Our options could change or they may not."
Chairman Robert Ciskowski asked Ford what kind of time line they have to make a decision.
Ford said DER plans to allocate $70,000 for the project along with grant funds it will attempt to capture. He said the project was accepted in January and the town would lose this money and would have to reapply in January 2018 if it has yet to make a decision.
Although the town has until the end of the year, Town Administrator Mark Webber suggested committing to a decision by Dec. 1.
Waterman said he will have the report long before that date.
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