(EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was submitted by State Rep. Tom Conroy.)
On January 10, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law An Act Further Regulating Dam Safety, Repair and Removal (H.4557), making it easier to repair or remove unsafe dams and coastal infrastructure by providing funding and enhanced reporting and enforcement authority. This new law was one of the least heralded but most important of the bills that became law at the very end of the 2011-2012 legislative session.
The bill would better enable the repair and removal of dams by:
- Creating a separate $17 million state revolving loan fund and grants, by transferring funds from a defunct trust, which prioritizes funding for dams that have been classified as unsafe;
- Authorizing municipalities to issue bonds to fund the removal or repair of unsafe dams and coastal infrastructure;
- Enhancing the authority of the Office of Dam Safety, by increasing the fines for allowing dams to become hazardous.
“Investing in our infrastructure helps make our communities safe and vibrant. This precedent-setting law reflects many years of collaboration among our legislators, the executive branch, and a coalition of stakeholders, including Massachusetts organizations representing municipal, engineering and conservation interests,” said State Rep. Tom Conroy of Wayland.
There are approximately 2,892 dams in Massachusetts providing valuable public services such as flood control, hydropower and water supply. However, approximately 85% of the state’s dams no longer serve their original purpose. Where appropriate, removing unsafe and obsolete dams permanently rids their owners of liability, insurance and maintenance costs, reduces risks to public safety from flooding, enhances water quality, and enables freshwater animals and plants to thrive.
According to a report released by the Office of the State Auditor in January 2011, 100 dams owned by 62 municipalities in Massachusetts are rated in unsafe or poor condition. Municipalities within Middlesex County own 14 of these critical dams including Stearns Millpond Dam in Sudbury. This new legislation provides much-need funds to communities to address the restoration or removal of aging dams.
A coalition led by the Nature Conservancy representing municipal, engineering and conservation organizations came together to support the bill, including: the American Council of Engineering Companies of Mass, Boston Society for Civil Engineers, Mass Association of Conservation Commissions, Mass Audubon, Mass Municipal Association, Mass Organization of Scientists and Engineers, Mass Rivers Alliance, Mass Water Works Association. “This new legislation will help communities remove or repair aging dams and coastal infrastructure, improving the ecological health of our coasts and rivers and the safety and economic vitality of our communities,” said Steve Long, Director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts.