N.H. Looking to Improve Dam Maintenance

April 23, 2007

New Hampshire officials are trying to come up with a better system for maintaining and inspecting the state’s dams.

Proposed changes include hiring more safety engineers at the state dam bureau; increasing the frequency of inspections for the most dangerous dams; increasing the number of annual dam repair projects; and providing a more stable source of money for the dam maintenance fund, which is now insolvent.

A bill in the Legislature would establish a stable source of money for the maintenance fund through fuel taxes from boaters. Another bill would increase the inspection fees the state charges private dam owners.

“The recent weather events have highlighted the need to close that gap in funding for the state’s dams,” said Rep. Don Brueggeman, a Concord Democrat who sponsored the proposed fee increase. “I wouldn’t say we’re in a place where the dams are unnecessarily risky, but we will get there if nothing changes.”

Environmental Services Commissioner Thomas Burack has said that New Hampshire has the third highest number of deficient dams in the country. In a letter last month to lawmakers, he said about 240 dams have known deficiencies, and nine have “major deficiencies.”

Of the 273 state-owned dams, Burack said, 33 are in need of repair at an estimated cost of $7.6 million.

“I think right now there’s just not the opportunity to check and repair dams as often as should be done,” said Rep. Frank Davis, D-Pittsfield, who’s sponsored a bill to increase funding to the dam maintenance fund.

Gov. John Lynch wants the state to hire two new dam safety engineers and fill five vacant dam maintenance positions. Lynch said those positions will allow the state to increase the frequency of inspections at the most dangerous dams, labeled “high hazard” dams, which would cause loss of life if they failed.

Those dams are inspected once every two years; the added inspectors will allow the dams to be checked once a year.

Lynch also has asked that $1.85 million be set aside to repair nine state-owned dams over the next two years, including the Pittsfield Mill Dam, the Buck Street Dam in Pembroke and the Alton Power Dam. Several of those dams were affected by this week’s flooding.

The DES says about six state-owned dams need major repairs or reconstruction each year.

Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded New Hampshire’s dam systems and found that staffing and funding in the state dam bureau were inadequate. The society’s report also recommended that the state evaluate the overall dam system and come up with a plan to address repair needs.


Information from: Concord Monitor, www.cmonitor.com

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