The reporter of the following Worcester Telegram article, Ruth Vecchione, is seated in the center of the photo to the left of MPA President Dave Schmidt.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Dam breach comments mostly critical
MEPA official conducts meeting with residents of Sutton, Douglas
David Schmidt, president of the Manchaug Pond Association, lists the reasons the Manchaug Pond Dam should remain in place. (T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS)
By Ruth Vecchione CORRESPONDENT
SUTTON — Despite torrential rain and the threat of severe thunderstorms, more than 60 Sutton and Douglas residents, state and local officials packed the selectmen’s meeting room yesterday afternoon for the state-held meeting on Manchaug Reservoir Corp.’s petition to breach the Manchaug Pond Dam.
William Gage of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office heard opinions from local officials and residents yesterday afternoon on the environmental impact of the proposed breaching. (Mr. Gage will continue to accept comments on environmental impact in writing until Tuesday at the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, 100 Cambridge St., Boston, MA 02114.)
The Manchaug Reservoir Corp.no longer operates in Massachusetts and doesn’t need the power the dam once provided. The 350-acre pond is in both Sutton and Douglas, has 125 lakefront homes and is used for boating and fishing.
Wendy Porter of Manchaug Reservoir Corp. outlined the pluses and minuses identified by her company.
She emphasized restoration of the natural pond and ecosystems as benefits to breaching the dam. She identified the loss of underwater habitat, a decrease of 174 acres of the pond’s footprint and the loss of 9,147 linear feet of banking as the adverse impacts.
State Rep. Jennifer M. Callahan, D-Sutton, called the proposal ludicrous. “It’s an oxymoron to say we’re restoring the great pond by draining it,” she said.
She said it’s amazing that the company would be willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on breaching the dam without substantive negotiations beyond coming before the Conservation Commission.
Town Administrator James A. Smith said he knew of no discussions regarding acquisition of the dam since he came to Sutton two years ago.
Ms. Porter maintained that the Manchaug Reservoir Corp. had sought out the Manchaug Pond Association, the towns of Sutton and Douglas, the Whitin Watershed District and one campground owner about assuming ownership of the dam.
“In 2004, we were afforded a meeting with the town of Douglas. We were not afforded a meeting here. We were told the town of Sutton was not interested,” she said.
She said no one has put a price tag on the dam, but the company was open to negotiating. “We have received no offers,” she said.
Town Counsel George X. Pucci of Kopelman & Paige and Peter Coffin of the Blackstone River Coalition expressed concern about the downstream impact of removing the dam.
Where Manchaug Reservoir Corp. said the dam “no longer serves the purpose for which it was built,” Mr. Coffin said the flows are still used downstream both for sewage treatment and wildlife habitat. There has not been a natural flow in the Blackstone Valley for 200 years, he said.
Mr. Pucci said that if the dam was breached there would be no ability to store flood water, which would harm Stevens Pond directly below and then Manchaug Village residents beyond that.
“The only benefit would be the economic interest of the proponent,” he said.
Representing the owners of Lake Manchaug Campground, lawyer Jeffrey L. Roelofs of Newburyport said the company should approach municipalities and state officials with a reasonable proposal if it wants to divest itself of the responsibilities of dam ownership.
“They should be taking the lead on that,” he said. “My comments extend to the local officials.”
Sutton Selectman Kevin Geraghty recognized the company’s business problem and liability issue. But, he said, there’s got to be a better way to achieve its business goal.
“I hope we can get to a point of having discussions,” he said.