Following a week of heavy rains, Governor Mitt Romney has ordered an emergency inspection of all “high hazard” dams in Massachusetts that are classified as not in good condition.
High hazard means the dams will likely cause loss of life and serious property damage if they fail. There are 320 dams in the Commonwealth that are categorized as high hazard, some of which were originally built in the 1800’s.
“In Massachusetts, we’ve taken a number of steps to address our aging infrastructure, whether it is bridges, dams or roads. My immediate concern is that we focus our available resources on inspecting and re-inspecting dams that are under extreme stress due to last week’s heavy rains,” said Romney.
Romney is taking the action after a week of heavy rains in the Northeast, and as officials keep a close eye on the deteriorating Whittenton Pond Dam on the Mill River in Taunton.
Of the 320 dams considered high hazard, 134 are in good condition, 146 are fair, 38 are poor and 2 are considered unsafe. Therefore 186 dams will receive an emergency inspection.
Romney also announced that Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Stephen Burrington has developed a $10 million five-year capital improvement plan to fix public dams that are in poor or failing condition.
The state will spend $2 million in the current fiscal year on the dam rehabilitation program. Out of the total, $1.4 million will address the repair needs of all DCR owned high hazard dams and $600,000 will go to the repair of municipally owned dams in the high hazard category.
DCR’s Office of Dam Safety is responsible for inspecting all 3,000 of the Commonwealth’s dams, most of which are privately owned. DCR is charged with inspecting these dams on a rotating basis and providing dam owners with an inspection report.
The Office of Dam Safety is comprised of eight full-time staff, and makes use of six consultants who are used to help evaluate dams throughout the state. Romney said he has asked Commissioner Burrington to augment the staff as necessary to carry out the emergency inspections of high hazard dams.
In addition, DCR had held public hearings and plans to finalize this fall new regulations that give the state enforcement powers over private dam owners who fail to make needed repairs as suggested by the state.
“DCR is about to issue new regulations which adds new teeth to its enforcement authority so that private dam owners who own almost 90 percent of the dams in Massachusetts, will be mandated to make more timely and necessary repairs,” said Burrington.
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