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Berkshire Dam is Removed While Dam Repair Bill Fails

Town officials in the Berkshire County town of Cheshire report that work is underway on a project to restore a local dam, while a bill that expand state protection of dams in Massachusetts failed to pass the state’s legislature.

According to the Berkshire Eagle, town officials in Cheshire, Massachusetts say that work to restore the Thunder Brook Dam is near completion, and should be finished in the coming days. The project is being funded in part with a $75,000 public grant from Massachusetts Environmental Trust. The next phase of the project will replace a culvert.

Most of the dam just been removed. The structure has not been used since the 1970s. It originally served to create a water supply for Cheshire . Steve McMahon, Executive Director of the Hoosic River Watershed Association, said the project will improve habitat for native fish species in the waterway. Overtime the Thunder Brook dam has restricted waterflow and led to an increased buildup of sediment in the river.

The project being completed by the Cheshire Highway Department is going smoothly, however a recent piece of legislation that seeks help repair and replace dams across the state recently failed in the legislature.

A report conducted in 2010 by the state auditor’s office shows that of the 100 most dangerous dams in the state, several are located in Berkshire County – including 3 in North Adams, and 2 in Pittsfield.   

Abbie Goodman, Executive Director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts was pushing for the bill. She told WAMC that a large portion of the 3,000 dams in Massachusetts were constructed in the Industrial Revolution and, years later, now pose a threat to public safety.

The bill, which was passed in the Senate last year, would set up a fund for communities to access in order to replace or repair aging dams. It would also provide resources for state inspections of local projects.

1st Berkshire District Representative Gail Cariddi was disappointed that the bill failed to make it’s way through the House before the end of the session last week.

According to Cariddi, lawmakers could not agree to include language in the bill that would also serve to protect the state’s seawalls.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.