GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 18, 2011

Gloucester's dam hazards

When the State Auditor's Division of Local Mandates set out to assess the condition of the state's 2,892 dams last year, it found that 75 percent of the municipally owned dams can be categorized as being either high or significant hazards.

And four of those dams are in Gloucester.

Of Gloucester's 17 dams and dykes, three of the them are deemed "highly hazardous" while a fourth — the south dyke at Fernwood Lake — is the city-owned barrier pegged as posing a "significant hazard."

While not disputing the state's claims on Gloucester's four unsafe dams, city Public Works Director Michael Hale says the city has had no means by which to fund the needed repairs. And Hale, in charge of upkeep on the city's dams, said that, to his knowledge, there are currently no federal bonds or loans that are designed to specifically help municipalities care for their dams and dikes.

Now, however, a group of several organizations, both environmental and engineering, has formed and seeks to bring statewide change to dam safety, backing a bill passed in July by the Senate that — among other things — is designed to enable municipalities to issue bonds for the removal, repair, reconstruction and improvements of unsafe dams.

The bill is now before the House Committee on Ways and Means, which includes state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester.

The coalition represents an alliance among the Mass Municipal Association — a lobbying that represents the state's cities and towns — the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts, the Boston Society for Civil Engineering Section.

They are being joined by nonprofit giants The Nature Conservancy, Mass Audubon Society, and other environmental organizations — plus the Mass. Organization of Scientists and Engineers (MOSES).

"This would provide a source of funding needed to help better enable dam repair," said Stephen Long, director of government relations at The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. "It makes safety easier."

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