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HED Keeps an Eye on Dam Safety After Recent Flooding

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by Gazette Staff

HARDWICK – In light of the recent heavy floods, Vermont State Auditor Douglas Hoffer last week re-issued a Feb. 11, 2022, report on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Dam Safety Program.

Two of the dams highlighted in the auditor’s report are owned and operated by the Hardwick Electric Department (HED). In response to an inquiry from the Gazette, HED Manager Mike Sullivan indicated that HED is monitoring the situation, with repairs from recent flooding either completed or planned for completion.

The summary of the auditor’s report states that “According to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Vermont Dam Inventory, Vermont has more than 1,000 known dams (with a median age of 77), and DEC estimates that as many as 1,000 more dams have yet to be recorded in the inventory. In 2019, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Vermont a grade of “C” for dams, in part due to a large number of deteriorating dams. Their report concluded that Vermont had been fortunate not to experience a recent dam failure.

“In light of the importance of dam safety, I directed my office to conduct an audit of the Dam Safety Program at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with the objective to determine whether DEC required dams in poor condition that have high or significant hazard potential be improved within a specific timeframe, and whether DEC followed up to ensure that the dam improvements were implemented.

“We found that the 10 dams in poor condition that we selected for review, which included state-owned dams, lingered in poor condition, some for at least 18 years. DEC made recommendations to dam owners to improve dams in poor condition, but did not provide timeframes for implementing those recommendations, lacked enforcement authority to require dam owners to implement those recommendations, and only followed up on recommendations during the next inspection of the dam (which may have been more than five years later).

“We also identified other issues, such as DEC not completing inspection reports and providing them to dam owners in a timely manner, and not notifying state agencies and departments that some dams they owned had been inspected.”

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Asked about HED’s dams, Manager Mike Sullivan stated that “HED has repaired the damages our dams suffered in the recent flood, except for Caspian. We delayed this last repair (backfilling a small washout next to the spillway – which is not any type of immediate threat to the integrity of the dam) until beachgoers are done for the season. The delay has been so we could avoid having to close the beach to do the work [and] for public safety concerns with trying to work around people and kids with excavators and dump trucks.

“Beyond this, HED has our dams inspected as required by the Vermont Dam Safety Program. In my personal experience, the program has improved significantly in the last several years with both staffing and assistance for dam owners.

In response to the state auditor’s report, Sullivan added:

“We just recently went through a complete evaluation of East Long [Pond dam]. This included the Vermont Dam Safety Staff, as well as three outside dam consultants-engineers.  No new significant safety concerns were identified in that evaluation. The one clear request and recommendation the team wanted was for more of the trees and vegetation to be removed on the toe of the dam so that annual inspections can be improved with better visibility and access. I will also note here that East Long did not suffer any damage from the recent flooding event, and the secondary spillway only passed a minimal amount of water through it.

“Caspian was not reviewed as part of the above project. That said, we’ve had two high water events there in the last 12 years due to water levels that rose more rapidly than the spillway could process. This was the case in the recent flooding.  In response, we have increased the normal sluice gate opening and are working on modifying the spillway to increase the capacity of water that it can pass.

“Both dams are old, but neither of them poses any imminent danger to the public.” 

While HED’s dams weathered the recent storm successfully, others were not so lucky. In Cabot, the Clark Sawmill Dam collapsed, and in Calais, emergency measures were needed to keep the Curtis Pond Dam from failing.

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