Mud Pits, Flooding, and Wildlife: Community Concerns and the Dam Removal Process


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A presentation about community concerns around dam removals. Presented by Beth Lambert, river restoration program coordinator from the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration during the Buzzards Bay Coalition's 2012 Decision Makers Workshop series. Learn more at

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Mud Pits, Flooding, and Wildlife: Community Concerns and the Dam Removal Process

  1. 1. Mud Pits, Flooding, and Wildlife Community Concerns and the Dam Removal Process Beth Lambert, River Restoration Program Coordinator March 22, 2010 Monument Beach, MA Mission: To restore and protect the health and integrity of the Commonwealth's rivers, wetlands, and watersheds for the benefit of people, fish, and wildlife
  2. 2. September 2008 North Branch of the Hoosic River, Clarksburg 15 feet Photo by B. Lambert
  3. 3. November, 2010 Photo by N. Wildman
  4. 4. June 2011
  5. 5. 1. The dam owner is liable for the dam 302 CMR 10.0 DAM SAFETY • 10.13: Liability (1) The owner shall be responsible and liable for damage to property of others or injury to persons, including but not limited to loss of life, resulting from the operation, failure of or misoperation of a dam.
  6. 6. 1. The dam owner is responsible for inspections and repairs 302 CMR 10.0 DAM SAFETY 10.07 Inspection Schedule  Owner must have dam inspected regularly by a qualified engineer  Owner must repair dam to bring up to modern safety standards  Office of Dam Safety can fine owners or order them to take certain steps
  7. 7. 1. The owner makes the decision to remove a dam. The owner can decide how much input others have. Public vs. Private
  8. 8. 2. Many others may enjoy benefits of the dam. 2. Others enjoy benefits of thesmall Has a dam dock Bought property for pond view Likes to watch birds by the water Takes pond water for lawn irrigation Takes pond water to irrigate orchard for farm stand
  9. 9. 2. Inform early and often • Identify who will be affected by the project before starting • Be open and honest about decision process • Be clear whether you’re asking for input or informing them • Expect affected people to be angry and upset • Take their concerns and questions seriously • Update frequently • Ideally, dam owner takes the lead
  10. 10. 3. Dam removal myths are widespread What people fear
  11. 11. 3. Counter myths with real-life examples 3 months later….
  12. 12. Eel River, Plymouth, April 2010 Photo by A. Hackman
  13. 13. Eel River, four months later Photo by A. Hackman
  14. 14. Wapping Road Dam, Jones River
  15. 15. 5. Change is hard • What will happen to the wildlife (Swans? ducks? Turtles? River otters? Blue herons?) • Why won’t the state take over the dam? • I bought my property because of the pond. Isn’t the dam owner responsible for maintaining the pond? • Will breaching the dam cause a big rush of water? • What will happen to my well? • Will invasive plants colonize the new floodplain? • Will I still be able to paddle on the river? • I am afraid my property value will go down. What are you going to do about it? • The dam is historic; it should be preserved. • Can DEP permit dam removal?
  16. 16. 5. Some concerns may be addressed through data
  17. 17. 5. It’s important to have a response for all questions
  18. 18. 5. Consider alternate communication formats
  19. 19. 5. Consider • Breakout groups • Kitchen table meetings • Field tours • Neighborhood meetings
  20. 20. 6. Different organizations have different strengths (and weaknesses) Technical Forum for Information community education Watershed Group x x x x x x x x Know local politics x x Dam owner Federal agency Interact with legislators x Regional NGO State Agency Advocate for project x x 6. Your outreach team must be able to cover all these bases.
  21. 21. 7. Political factors can influence a dam removal decision and project implementation
  22. 22. 7. Develop a proactive strategy for working with elected officials, influential community members
  23. 23. 8. There is a formal process for public engagement Permit Notice of Intent 401 Water Quality Cert. Chapter 91 Dredge Permit Army Corps 404 Section 106 Method Notification to abutters; hearing at Con Comm meeting Notice in local paper of comment period; hearing at discretion of agency Mail plans to abutters; notice in paper of comment period Comment period noticed on website Solicit input at public meetings. May require hearing at Historic District Commission.
  24. 24. 9. Funders may (or may not) be comfortable with controversy
  25. 25. Your Community Engagement Strategy • Dam owner must be on board • Put together an advisory team and develop communications plan • Communicate early and often with affected stakeholders; expect anger; let people vent; validate concerns • Be clear about who is making the dam removal decision and whether input into that decision is needed • Begin public education about dams well before project starts (presentations, field tours, FAQs) • Need strategy for managing politics (elected officials; influential people in town; etc). Inform and update often. • Think about who is the best person to carry the message • Be flexible
  26. 26. Thank you! Beth Lambert River Restoration Program Coordinator Division of Ecological Restoration 617-626-1526