Dempsey helps pass Dam Safety Bill
To the editor:
Our rivers, communities, and residents just received some much needed help from the legislature, thanks in large part to state Rep. Brian Dempsey. On Jan. 10, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a bill that will make it easier to repair or remove unsafe dams by providing funding and enhanced reporting and enforcement authority to the commonwealth’s Dam Safety Program. The new law, An Act Further Regulating Dam Safety, Repair and Removal, also contains provisions to address seawalls and coastal infrastructure in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
There are about 2,892 dams in Massachusetts, many of which are in poor condition and in locations that threaten public safety. While some dams in Massachusetts are needed for flood control, hydropower and water supply, the majority of dams in Massachusetts were built during the industrial revolution, are well past their design lives and are no longer serving their original intended purpose. This legacy infrastructure not only poses a risk to public safety as was witnessed in Taunton in 2005 and in Freetown in 2010, it also prevents successful fish migration and spawning, which contributes to the depletion of fish populations and impacts the fishing industry. According to a report released by the Office of the State Auditor in January 2011, 100 dams owned by 62 municipalities in Massachusetts are rated in unsafe or poor condition. Two of the dams listed in the report are located in Haverhill, one of them being critical to Haverhill’s water supply.
The new law creates a separate $17 million state revolving loan fund for the removal and/or repair of unsafe dams, strengthens current dam safety regulations, and increases fines for dam owners who are not in compliance with dam safety regulations.
The bill had support from a large cross section of groups, including the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, The American Council of Engineering Companies, The Nature Conservancy, the Merrimack River Watershed Council, the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, Massachusetts Municipal Association, and others. The bill was originally authored by state Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton. Differences in the House and Senate versions nearly killed the bill this year.