CALAIS, Vermont (WCAX) – Dangerous dams can threaten property and, in severe cases, human lives.
The Vermont Dam Safety Program oversees more than 1,000 known dams across the state. The median age of these dams is 77 years.
A new state audit report examines 10 dams in poor condition and how the Department of Environmental Conservation inspects them.
“It’s a problem we’ve faced since I was a kid,” said Jamie Moorby.
Moorby lived in Calais most of his life. She sits on the Curtis Pond Committee and says the nearly 100-year-old Curtis Pond Dam is not up to par. It has been listed in poor condition for 18 years.
“Each time Hurricane Irene has occurred, this dam has overflowed and there was concern that an overflow event…would cause a catastrophic failure,” Moorby said.
Of the 10 dams sampled by the state auditor, five have high hazard potential, meaning loss of life could occur if something goes wrong. The other five have significant hazard potential, which means property damage and other disruptions could occur.
In his audit of the state’s dam safety program, Vermont auditor Douglas Hoffer finds that some inspection reports were not completed on time, some inspection reports were never transmitted to the government entities that own the dams and that certain information on the status of the reports is incomplete or inaccurate.
“We’ve seen they’re doing the job, they’re a bit behind the times, but there are inspections and those inspections are logged, but sometimes they’re not as thorough as they should be. Sometimes they are not reported to dam owners in a timely manner. In some cases, we learned they were not reported to the state itself,” said Hoffer, D-Vt. Listener.
According to the DEC, high risk dams are inspected every two years, high risk every five years and low risk every 10 years.
“It sometimes happens when dams aren’t inspected on time for a variety of reasons, such as staffing issues or the ability to get permission from the landowner to be inspected,” said Benjamin Green, dam safety engineer. for Vermont DEC.
Green adds that prior to a 2018 law, the Dam Safety Program did not have the authority to compel renovation of the dam owner beyond recommending improvements.
DEC is working with dam safety consultants and owners on the rules language that would give them this authority.
“The goal is the new rules and the new processes will be much more proactive than reactive. We will address dams early in the process before the condition has deteriorated to this point and we will be more proactive in regulating dams,” Green said. “We hope to use the audit report to help us continue to make improvements to our program.”
In the meantime, it is up to private or municipal dams to find the funding to repair the dam, as the Curtis Pond association in Calais plans to do.
“We will put concrete on the lip of this dam in a larger spillway to allow for high water flow and flood events,” Moorby said.
Audit finds some Vermont dams have been in poor condition for years
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