Chronicle Article: “State Requiring Detailed Dam Report”

Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, July 30, 2009

State requiring detailed dam report

The Manchaug Pond Reservoir Corp. has been on the receiving end of a laundry list of complaints from officials and residents in Sutton and Douglas. Last Friday, the state added a lengthy list of its own.

Ian Bowles, Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, stated in a certificate that the Manchaug Pond Reservoir Corp. and its parent company Interface Global must provide a thorough Draft Environmental Impact Report prior to moving forward with the company’s plans to divest ownership and liability of the dam.

The company had stated that it was considering breaching or eliminating the dam, which has not been in use since the nearby mills in Douglas closed years ago. Interface Global had filed an Environmental Notification Form to help move the project ahead.

Sutton Town Administrator Jim Smith, who has vehemently opposed the breaching proposal, says the company has a long way to go in satisfying all areas of concern with the state.

“The certificate sets a very high threshold for Interface Global to meet,” he said. “In its strongest terms, I believe the answer from the state even questions the need for this proposal.”

The 12-page document outlined several areas of concern about the project, most notably the “nearly universal concern about the project’s potential environmental impacts, which include a substantial reduction in the pond.”

The certificate goes on to list several focus areas for the proponent to consider in the DEIR report, including consequences for wetland resource areas, downstream water flows, impact on nearby property values, and the recreational impact of breaching or eliminating the dam altogether.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs held a public hearing in Sutton two weeks ago to receive input from various agencies and individuals that could be affected by the project. The office accepted dozens of letters that raised concerns over the issue up until July 14.

Wendy Porter of the Manchaug Pond Reservoir Corp. said at the public hearing two weeks ago that no party or organization with interest in salvaging the dam has stepped forward. Porter said the Manchaug Pond Reservoir Corp. had conversations with the town of Douglas and had attempted to sit down with Sutton, which Smith refuted.

“We have received no offers from anyone on taking ownership of the dam,” Porter said at the hearing. “No one has even put a price tag on it. The dam no longer serves the purpose with the intent for why it was built.

“We believe [moving forward with the project] would ultimately result in a net benefit impact.”

The Millbury-Sutton Chronicle was unable to reach Porter or the Manchaug Pond Reservoir Corp. for comment before press time on Wednesday afternoon.

Smith said he believes the distance between the state and company demonstrates a need for Global Interface to shift how they approach their situation.

“I think people see this for what it is – a completely ill-fated plan with potential environmental consequences,” he said. “In the end, I feel they will waste money trying to comply with what the state wants. They should consider putting money into an escrow account to make the situation more attractive for other parties.”

The certificate calls the validity of the project into question as well. Comments received by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs from the Department of Conservation and Recreation Office of Dam Safety stated that the dam remained in satisfactory condition as of December 2008.

“ODS has not determined the dam to be in unsafe condition,” states the report. “All feasible project alternatives, including in particular the ‘no action alternative,’ will need to be comprehensively evaluated.”

Following the submission of the Draft Environmental Impact Report to Bowles, the Manchaug Pond Reservoir Corp. will still need to go through multiple steps before final approval from the state would allow the permitting process to begin.

Smith believes the company’s project is a long shot in any form to reach final approval, which could take more than a year. He says the “extraordinary demands” placed on the company may be too much to overcome without a local agency stepping in to take over ownership.

“In my opinion, they will fail,” he said.