, Gloucester, MA

October 19, 2011

Editorial: That dam maintenance issue

In some ways, the study and risk ratings by the state auditor's office of 2,892 Massachusetts dams - including the 17 municipally-owned dams and dykes in Gloucester - raise as many questions as the answer.

It's hard to see, for instance, how three dams at Fernwood Lake alone can be deemed highly or significantly hazardous despite their more than 100-year-old age. That's because those ratings, by the study's own definition, refer to dams whose would bring a loss of life or substantial property damage — and Gloucester Public Works chief Mike Hale notes that Fernwood isn't being used under the pressure of being an active reservoir.

Still, if state legislation that's been approved in the Senate and now sits before the state House Ways and Means Committee offers the city money to carry out repairs to those dams and the one at Babson Reservoir — also deemed as unsafe — then city officials should indeed emphasize the need for Gloucester to get some help in maintaining this important part of the city's infrastructure.

As noted by Stephen Long, director of government relations at The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, the new legislation "makes safety easier." And that's worth the state's investment — providing that cities and towns who receive the funds commit to carrying out maintenance in the future.

Gloucester has invested millions of local dollars in its water infrastructure over the past three years. But city taxpayers don't have the wherewithal for addressing the missed-maintenance sins of the past.

Let's hope this bill can help bridge those gaps.