Repairs underway at Upper Bondsville Dam in Belchertown

  • Nate Christensen of Northern Construction works to clear brush Aug. 21, 2018 at the Upper Bondsville Dam. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • The Upper Bondsville Dam is shown Aug. 21, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Nate Christensen of Northern Construction works to clear brush Tuesday at the Upper Bondsville Dam. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2018 10:24:10 PM

BELCHERTOWN — The Belchertown Land Trust has started repairs to the Upper Bondsville Dam, which the Office of Dam Safety ordered either repaired or removed in 2008.

Site preparation and equipment staging began on Aug. 13, with construction estimated to continue until the end of October. Throughout the construction period, a section of the greenways trail from Depot Street in Bondsville through a point just north of the dam will be closed off to the public. “No trespassing” signs have been posted.

Aside from a worksite in Bondsville, which has been restricted since 2006, no additional areas are closed. The dam is situated at the border of Belchertown, Palmer and Ware, with construction taking place in the former two towns.

On July 30, the Belchertown Land Trust, which owns the dam, executed a contract with the Palmer-based Northern Construction Service, LLC to begin repairs.

“This is a high hazard, poorly maintained dam,” said Daniel Beaudette, a lawyer for the Blechertown Land Trust. Per Office of Dam Safety regulations, dams with a high hazard designation must be either repaired or removed, as failure can cause loss of life and serious damage to surroundings.

The possibility of removing the dam drew backlash when the Office of Dam Safety declared it a “significant hazard” in 2008, as the approximately 60-acre impoundment area is a popular destination for recreational activities such as boating and swimming.

Major repairs will include mending leaks in the face of the spillways, filling in scoured out areas, replacing fill on the Belchertown side, removing trees that have grown too close to the dam and raising flood controls on both sides of the dam, Beaudette said.

“This project has been many years in the making and will benefit the long term condition of the dam,” a spokesperson for the Belchertown Land Trust said in a statement, asking for public cooperation as the repairs continue.

For Martha Knightley, president of the Swift River Preservation Association, the construction inspires both excitement and anxiety, although she has confidence that repairs will be successful.

“When you get into a situation like this when you have fought so hard and waited so long to see this happen, you just hold your breath,” she said. “I have all the faith in the world that [repairs] will be completed. We’re thrilled. It’s been a long, long time.”

In 2010, environmental consulting firm Milone & MacBroom estimated that repairs to the dam will cost approximately $425,000, while a different study estimated $483,800.

Then-state Sen. Stephen Brewer granted $350,000 in the 2013 fiscal year for Upper Bondsville Dam repairs. Around $330,000 remains after permit and assessment expenses, and the Belchertown Land Trust expects fundraising to cover remaining costs, the Gazette reported in March.

“I think [the impoundment] is a great thing for the communities of Palmer, Belchertown and Ware,” Knightley said. “There are hundreds of people that use this river all summer, and even through the fall and winter months.... It’s a wonderful thing to see families out on this river with their children.”

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