Upper Bondsville Dam repairs get green light

  • The Bondsville Dam on the Swift River as seen from the Palmer side, Monday, March 19, 2018. Missing mortar in its infrastructure creates weakness. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The Upper Bondsville Dam on the Swift River as seen from the Palmer side, Monday. Missing mortar in its infrastructure creates weakness. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • From left, Angela Panaccione, conservation agent for Palmer, Erica Cross, conservation administrator for Belchertown, David Haines, chairman of the Belchertown Conservation Committee, and William Fay, president of the Belchertown Land Trust, meet Monday at the Bondsville Dam in Belchertown for a tour of the aging dam. The Belchertown Land Trust wants to use a $350,000 state grant to make repairs. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • From left: Angela Panaccione, who is the conservation agent for Palmer; Erica Cross, who is the conservation administrator for Belchertown; David Haines, who is the chair of the Belchertown Conservation Committee; William Fay, who is the president of the Belchertown Land Trust; and Shawn Clark, the project manager from Northern Construction, meet Monday, March 19, 2018 at the Bondsville Dam in Belchertown for a tour of the aging dam. The Belchertown Land Trust wants to use a $350,000 state grant to make repairs. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • From left: Angela Panaccione, who is the conservation agent for Palmer; Erica Cross, who is the conservation administrator for Belchertown; David Haines, who is the chair of the Belchertown Conservation Committee; William Fay, who is the president of the Belchertown Land Trust; and Shawn Clark, the project manager from Northern Construction, meet Monday, March 19, 2018 at the Bondsville Dam in Belchertown for a tour of the aging dam. The Belchertown Land Trust wants to use a $350,000 state grant to make repairs. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Water pours through breaches in the Bondsville Dam, Monday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Erica Cross, from left, who is the conservation administrator for Belchertown, Shawn Clark, who is the project manager from Northern Construction, William Fay, who is the president of the Belchertown Land Trust, David Haines, who is the chair of the Belchertown Conservation Committee, and Angela Panaccione, who is the conservation agent for Palmer, meet Monday, March 19, 2018 at the Bondsville Dam in Belchertown for a tour of the aging dam. The Belchertown Land Trust wants to use a $350,000 state grant to make repairs. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Erica Cross, left, who is the conservation administrator for Belchertown, Angela Panaccione, who is the conservation agent for Palmer, and William Fay, who is the president of the Belchertown Land Trust, meet Monday, March 19, 2018 at the Bondsville Dam in Belchertown for a tour of the aging dam. The Belchertown Land Trust wants to use a $350,000 state grant to make repairs. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Erosion around the infrastructure of the Bondsville Dam contributes to its weakness. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Angela Panaccione, left, who is the conservation agent for Palmer, David Haines, center, who is the chair of the Belchertown Conservation Committee, and William Fay, who is president of the Belchertown Land Trust, meet Monday, March 19, 2018 at the Bondsville Dam in Belchertown for a tour of the aging dam. The Belchertown Land Trust wants to use a $350,000 state grant to make repairs. Erosion around the infrastructure contributes to its weakness. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2018 12:08:27 AM

BELCHERTOWN — The Conservation Commission approved a project proposal for repairs to the Upper Bondsville Dam Monday night, almost a decade after the state deemed the structure a “significant hazard” to the public.

“The dam is actually in very good condition,” Conservation Commission Chairman David Haines said. “The dam is fine, structurally it’s fine. It’s the Palmer side. It’s leaking through one of the retaining walls over there.”

William Fay, president of the Belchertown Land Trust and a veteran hydroelectric dam engineer, drafted the plans and answered questions at the meeting. The trust owns the dam.

Earlier on Monday, the Belchertown and Palmer conservation commissions met for a site visit on the Bondsville side of the dam with Fay. They discussed the specifics of how the dam would be repaired, erosion control measures, using sandbags to divert water during the repair process, and the erosion on the Belchertown side, also known as scour.

“I felt like I understood the scour on the Belchertown side better, why that was a concern and why that needed to be worked on,” said Erica Cross, the town’s new conservation administrator, of the tour.

For the project to begin, the trust now needs approval from the Palmer Conservation Commission to acquire the final Chapter 91 permit from the Department of Environmental Protection.

“We will coordinate with Palmer so our order of conditions will have complementary language,” Haines said.

Belchertown Conservation Commission member John Henry questioned whether the Belchertown Land Trust would have the money to see the project through.

The environmental consulting firm Milone & Mac-Broom estimated in 2010 that repairs to the Bondsville Dam would cost about $425,000, while removing the dam would cost about $366,000. A separate study estimated repairs would cost $483,800 and removal $465,000.

In fiscal 2013, the state earmarked $350,000 for the dam, of which $330,000 remains.

The land trust anticipates fundraising to cover project expenses beyond the state grant, and the $6,500 annually needed for upkeep of the dam. According to Fay, the land trust will accept responsibility for the maintenance of the dam.

Daniel Beaudette, an attorney for the trust, said the organization has been working for five years to acquire the necessary permits for the project. He said there are currently about $400,000 in unpaid tax liens on the property, left unpaid after decades of neglect after a factory burned down in 1968 on the Endelson estate.

“The whole idea was to clean up the site then have the town clean up the back taxes,” Beaudette said. “The town could take that property over anytime they want.”

What is yet to be determined is when construction can begin to avoid interrupting the fish spawning season. Cross said different species of fish spawn at different times between May and October, and additional information would be made available after a consult with an outside expert.

The Belchertown Land Trust has yet to hire a contractor for the project, but will be collecting bids soon. Once initiated, the repairs would take three to four weeks, according to Fay, and they plan to finish within the calendar year.

The dam spans the lower Swift River flowing from the Quabbin Reservoir, about 1.5 miles upstream from Jabish Brook. It is bordered by Belchertown, Palmer and Ware. The dam’s impoundment area, a lake-like surface, is about 60 acres.

“There’s not many people who want it down,” said Kevin Bowler, 56, who owns property upstream from the dam on the Belchertown side. “There is navigable water for three miles above dam. If there was no dam, you would just have a narrow stream.”

Of the 1,454 state-regulated dams in Massachusetts, 290 have “high hazard” potential, meaning failure could result in loss of life. The Bondsville dam is a high-hazard dam in poor condition, according to the Office of Dam Safety. The state agency ordered the dam fixed or removed in 2008. According to Fay, the trust did not know it was taking on the huge liability of a dam in disrepair.

Fay, who lives along the river and works as the dam project’s pro bono engineer and inspector, drafted the repair plans, which include sealing leaking cracks, widening a floodwater spillway, a new canoe portage, pouring an additional concrete wall and filling a hole in the river bed below the dam.

The Office of Dam Safety requires dams in poor condition be inspected every six months, a task Fay has done pro bono as well.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.



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