Telegram Reports MRC Still Trying to Sell Dam

The Telegram must be selling papers on this issue to have printed a 7th article in just over a month’s time on the effort of the dam owner to sell the Manchaug Pond dam. Again – read for yourself. The photo is accurate for those into photography. Still no price has been set and Lake Manchaug Camping owner Karen Staruk gets a mention by the correspondent.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Manchaug Pond Dam at issue


The Manchaug Pond Dam is at the center of a controversy over dam safety versus wetlands protection. (T&G Staff/MARK C. IDE)

By Ruth Vecchione CORRESPONDENT

We’re caught in a predicament. We’ve tried
to get the two agencies to sit
down together.
— Wendy Porter, MANCHAUG RESERVOIR CORP.

SUTTON — The owners of the Manchaug Pond Dam are caught between choosing dam safety or wetlands protection. So far, they’ve chosen dam safety.

“The safe operation, liability and responsibility rest with the dam owner,” Wendy Porter of Manchaug Reservoir Corp. said this week.

Changes in the requirements of the state Office of Dam Safety in October 2007 prompted the company to lower the water level last year by about 3 feet.

The state Department of Environmental Protection earlier this year, however, issued an order requiring MRC to raise the water to the level it has been for decades.

“We’re caught in a predicament,” Ms. Porter said. “We’ve tried to get the two agencies to sit down together.”

So far, no meeting between the agencies has taken place.

Addressing why the agencies have not worked out an agreement, DEP spokesman Joseph Ferson said: “We do not agree with the premise that there’s a conflict. The company can comply with ODS and Wetlands Protection.” He said that a court case brought by the owners in Worcester Superior Court is pending and that he could not comment further.

To complicate matters, the reservoir corporation recently initiated the regulatory process to breach the dam.

They are separate issues, Ms. Porter said.

The breach process was started because the reservoir corporation’s parent company, InterfaceFABRIC, has sold all of its other properties in Massachusetts, she said.

“It’s the next step in the process. It’s only because we have divested all other properties and this is the only way available of divesting (the dam),” she said.

For two summers now, residents and business owners on Manchaug Pond have been frustrated by lower water levels.

“The strain in relationship between MRC and the Manchaug Pond community is due to the new dam safety reporting and compliance procedures imposed by the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety,” MRC President Daniel T. Hendrix said in an April 16 letter to Lake Manchaug Camping owner Karen Staruk.

“The ODS regulations define the design requirements for a safe dam and specify the circumstances under which the dam needs to demonstrate compliance. Two qualified engineering firms have evaluated the dam in accordance with these regulations and have determined that the dam cannot comply with these requirements at a water elevation above 515.9 feet,” he said.

“When we learned this, we started a yearlong process with ODS, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Sutton Conservation Commission,” he said.

MRC filed a notice of intent with the Sutton Conservation Commission on Feb. 4 proposing a revised rule curve to govern the water level at Manchaug Pond with a maximum elevation of 515.9 feet. The commission issued an order requiring MRC to maintain the historically higher water levels.

MRC appealed that decision to the DEP because of safety, Ms. Porter said. DEP issued a superseding order requiring MRC to raise the water back to the historic levels.

“ODS is not enforcing their regulations, but we’re still supposed to comply. DEP, as it relates to water levels, is enforcing theirs,” she said. The company is appealing the DEP and the conservation commission rulings.

“It is expensive. As it relates to operating level, we’ve pursued all legal avenues,” Ms. Porter said.

“The dam is well-maintained and has operated successfully for 170 years,” she said. There should be concern for houses, fire stations and schools 8.5 miles downstream, however, should the dam fail, she said.

“Even the SCC has recognized the risk that the overtopping of an earthen dam like the Manchaug Dam would lead to failure of the dam, which would be devastating to downstream property and put lives at risk,” Mr. Hendrix noted in his letter.

The MRC president cited the memorandum of understanding between the ODS and the DEP, which favors dam safety over wetlands interests. He said the Sutton Conservation Commission chose to disregard the safety concerns and issued an order of conditions that required operating the dam at unsafe levels.

Mark Briggs, chairman of the Conservation Commission, said this week: “The SCC made its decision, in part, based on ODS has not declared the dam unsafe at the historic rule curve level or even somewhat higher.”

Ms. Porter said even if the corporation got what it wanted (an order allowing it to operate the dam at the lower levels), MRC would still propose breaching the dam at this time.

The company wants to sell all of its Massachusetts property and, so far, attempts to establish new ownership of the dam have been unsuccessful.

On June 2, a quasi-municipality, Whitin Watershed District, in Douglas voted to buy the Whitin Reservoir along with its surrounding land and dam from InterfaceFABRIC. The watershed district’s liability is limited to $100,000 because it is a municipality within a municipality, according to the water district’s lawyer Don J. Virostek.

Ms. Porter said the Manchaug Pond Dam was originally part of that sale, but the buyer took it out of the deal because the Whitin Reservoir property owners did not want it.

An attempt to form a similar district around Manchaug Pond with the intention of buying the dams that affect water level, including the Manchaug Pond Dam, failed in April 2007 when Sutton selectmen voted against it.

In response to a push to have the state take ownership of the dam, Ms. Porter said the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees ODS, told abutters, “The state owns enough dams already.”

She said MRC is still open to receiving offers from anyone interested in buying the dam. She is following up on an offer that came in last Friday. No price was mentioned, she said.

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