Editorial: North Hadley dam repair plan best bet for community

Friday, April 18, 2014
A long-range plan to repair and save the Lake Warner Dam has come to the fore and it appears the best way forward to preserve the historic structure and the popular 70-acre mill pond it retains.

Located in North Hadley near the intersection of River Drive and Mount Warner Road, the dam on the Mill River was deemed structurally deficient and in poor condition by state inspectors in 2012, prompting an order to bring it into compliance with dam safety regulations.

The Kestrel Land Trust had assumed responsibility for the dam after merging with the Valley Land Fund a year earlier, and has been given until December to figure out a plan. Like most historic projects and infrastructure repairs, there are options.

Removing the dam and fixing areas of the Mill River is estimated to cost about $750,000, according to engineers who assessed the work. The cost to repair the dam was pegged at a much lower $240,000. In addition, a California woman last year proposed building a small hydroelectric power station at the site, though the project would likely require public money to repair the dam and build the facility.

In our opinion, the first option is cost-prohibitive and the third, while interesting, would ask too much of the town’s residents to financially support a dam repair for private benefit.

Fixing the approximately century-old dam and keeping it in the public domain makes the most sense. For more than a year, the Kestrel Land Trust has been working with members of the citizen-led Friends of Lake Warner and the Mill River to develop a plan to repair the dam and ensure Lake Warner remains a recreational destination for area residents. Last week, the groups unveiled a $350,000 fundraising strategy that relies on a combination of private and public funding that is realistic.

The first critical piece of reaching that goal requires Hadley taxpayers to support a $100,000 Community Preservation Act funding request. The CPA is designed to support such projects and this one has a dual historical and recreational component, making it even more worthy of the money. Voters should approve the request at Town Meeting on May 1.

Meantime, Kestrel has committed $75,000 to the project and is banking on state support to help secure $125,000 for a dam repair.

Another $50,000 needs to be raised in private donations, money that would fund an endowment for post-repair maintenance, which has been estimated at $1,000 to $3,000 annually.

The nonprofit Friends of Lake Warner and the Mill River group has committed to taking over ownership and future maintenance of the dam, relieving the town and Kestrel of future responsibilities. More than $10,000 in pledges have already come in to support the project, according to organizers of the campaign.

If there’s a better plan to save the dam — one of the last to have powered small mills at the site for over the past 350 years — we haven’t heard it. The state’s deadline to repair the dam is less than a year away, and a viable plan to address it is on the table.

Repairing the dam does not solve the ongoing eutrophication and sedimentation problems at Lake Warner, but it does preserve the water body for another generation, which like today’s, can put heads together and address that problem by working as a community.

Residents have an opportunity to learn more about the fundraising plan and proposed dam repair at an informational meeting April 22 at the Hadley Community Senior Center from 7 to 8 p.m.