Eight years after the Parker Mills Pond Dam was classified as highly hazardous by the state, residents attended a public meeting at the Tremont Nail Factory on Thursday, Sept. 15 to discuss alternative plans for the dam.
Engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill narrowed down three possible solutions for the dam. The firm hosted the meeting, explaining their ideas in order to collect resident feedback for when they present a plan to the town in October.
The dam, located under a long-closed section of Elm Street, was classified as a High Hazard Potential Dam by state officials in 2014, which means its failure could result in the loss of life and damage homes and businesses — a decision that closed the road indefinitely.
An initial meeting on the project was held earlier this summer in June. Thursday’s meeting aimed to inform residents about the plans and impacts of each one, as well as to gather input.
Project manager Elsa Loehmann addressed residents, saying that the information she would present at the meeting would highlight “the pros and cons and the tradeoffs” of each plan.
The goals that the firm is hoping to accomplish with the project include restoring river function; improving climate resilience; complementing the future Tremont Nail Factory renovations; maintaining flood control; avoiding negative impacts to other infrastructures; and helping the town’s historic character.
Loehmann presented a Powerpoint of each solution, and then residents broke out to write their pros and cons on large boards around the room.
The first plan presented was the partial vertical removal plan. This plan “only takes part of the dam,” said Loehmann. It would still leave pond conditions, but they would not be as extensive, and residents would be able to flatwater kayak upstream and downstream.
This plan would also improve fish passage, “not in a way that’s as effective as a natural channel, but better than what is out there now,” she said.
The partial vertical removal plan was also presented as the lowest cost. This plan would have the least impact on bridges, because it would not drastically alter the water level or disrupt the sediment below.
If the bridges had to be replaced, the town would have to work with the state’s Department of Transportation.
“It is not easy to coordinate with the DOT, it adds time and cost to a project,” Loehmann said.
The second plan presented was the full vertical removal plan.
This plan would result in a shallow channel with “considerably low water level” compared to what is there now, Loehmann explained. Dropping the water surface means that there would be sediment build-up to be dealt with, and that bridges would have to be replaced, since the lower water level was not accounted for when they were originally built.
Loehmann acknowledged that the name “full removal” was misleading when residents asked, explaining that the full vertical removal project would only remove the spillway, not the entire dam structure.
Loehmann said this plan is the most costly alternative, since the structural impact of it is the highest, however, dams often affect the habitat of river ecosystems in a negative way.
The final plan that the firm presented was the hybrid partial vertical removal plan.
This plan does not keep the existing channel near where it is, but it also does not drop it fully. “It’s kind of in between,” Loehmann said.
“You’ll still have a stream and a little bit of a pond, and it gives us flexibility on water surface elevations,” she added.
This plan would potentially require one bridge, an older one on Route 28, to be replaced but should leave the others intact, according to Loehmann.
This plan would require some sediment management, and would give potential for cold-water and warm-water fisheries. It would allow for flatwater kayaking only downstream of the dam.
The cost of this plan was listed as “moderate to very expensive,” depending on the specifics of the design.
As residents walked around and made notes on each plan, many residents stated that their pros for the partial vertical removal plan were that it was low cost. “Least coordination with MassDOT,” one resident wrote in the “pros” column.
Cost was also important to residents when they made notes on the full vertical removal plan. Residents wrote that they were concerned about the high cost in addition to several other aspects.
“Who owns all the newly created land?” one person wrote. Someone else added that they were concerned about the property value of people’s homes on the water.
For the hybrid vertical removal plan, residents wrote that they were concerned about the way the hybrid project would change the ecosystem of the area.
Residents were also asked what things were important to them about this project in general.
“I care about the ecology, the habitat, and historic restoration,” voiced resident Nancy McHale.
As residents weighed in on their three choices, Eileen Gunn, a business line manager with Fuss & O’Neill, acknowledged that the process is “very complicated” and that “there’s always trade offs.”
The next meeting to present the plan’s conceptual designs and renderings is currently scheduled for October 12.
Loehmann said that when the firm presents a final plan, they are not tied to it, and can still make changes.
Fuss & O’Neill encouraged residents to continue to reach out to them with their feedback via their website at bit.ly/ParkerMillsDam, or they could send their feedback to Wareham’s Director of Planning and Community Development, Kenneth Buckland, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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