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Mass. Dam Repair Bill Awaiting Signature by Gov. Patrick

A bill that would provide funding for the removal and replacement of aging dams across Massachusetts has passed the state legislature and is now awaiting final approval by Governor Deval Patrick. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas reports…

Advocates from a variety of backgrounds including those representing cities and towns, conservationists, and public safety are now awaiting Gov. Patrick’s signature on a bill that would create a special fund to remove, replace, and remediate aging infrastructure from interior to coastal Massachusetts.

Steve Long is Director of Government Relations for the Nature Conservancy – a long time advocate for the bill’s approval.

First introduced to the legislature in 2005, now final version of the bill would create a revolving loan fund for dams in need of repair, would provide municipalities the authority to issue bonds for unsafe dam removal, as well as expand the authority of the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Office of Dam Safety to inventory and assess hazardous or potentially hazardous dams.

State Senator Stephen Brewer is chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and is a supporter of the bill. He said that though the revolving fund is not enough to repair all of the state’s dams, a $17 million initial balance will get the program off the ground if approved.

Some of the dams in need of repair are private, while some are owned by state, and some by municipalities. In the northern Berkshire city of North Adams, Mayor Richard Alcombright said that there are at least 3 dams in questionable condition. Although the mayor said the dams have held up in large storm events like Tropical Storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy, removal and repair is an option that needs to be considered.

4th Berkshire District State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli is also a supporter of the bill. Pignatelli said that in the face the governor’s proposal to cut local aid to cities and towns to help close a $540 million hole in this year’s budget, the Dam Bill if approved should not be viewed as a replacement to local aid.

The revolving fund set up by the bill would split resources between dam repair and replacement, and also seawall repair in coastal communities.

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