State awards $125K for dam removal work in Wendell

  • A limited liability company has been awarded $125,000 in state funds to support the design and permitting necessary to remove the dam from Bowen’s Pond in Wendell. FOR THE RECORDER/LIESEL NYGARD

  • A limited liability company has been awarded $125,000 in state funds to support the design and permitting necessary to remove the dam from Bowen’s Pond in Wendell. FOR THE RECORDER/LIESEL NYGARD

  • A limited liability company has been awarded $125,000 in state funds to support the design and permitting necessary to remove the dam from Bowen’s Pond in Wendell. FOR THE RECORDER/LIESEL NYGARD

Staff Writer
Published: 11/28/2022 6:24:34 PM
Modified: 11/28/2022 6:22:10 PM

WENDELL — A limited liability company has received $125,000 in state funds to support the design and permitting necessary to remove the dam from Bowen’s Pond.

Bowen’s Pond LLC will also use the money for the Osgood Brook Restoration Project, to restore natural riverine ecological functions, improve downstream coldwater fisheries habitat and eliminate a potential public safety hazard, according to the state Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration. The money is part of approximately $11.8 million the division’s Priority Projects Program is bestowing to 24 projects across the state that will strengthen preparedness for large storms, improve climate-ready infrastructure, and protect fish, wildlife, and river and wetland habitats.

The owner of the Wendell Depot Road property where the dam is located is Hubbardston resident Thomas Robinson, who said his family has owned the parcel there since around 1954. While Robinson does not live on the property, he said “we have always enjoyed it as a summer place.” Bowen’s Pond LLC was incorporated in March 2020.

Robinson said there are numerous benefits to removing the dam, most notably restoring the natural river functions of Osgood Brook. He said the dam creates a shallow pond “that is really like a solar collector” and “goes up to bathwater temperatures.”

“A lot of native species don’t live well there,” he said, naming trout, specifically.

Robinson said removing the dam would also eliminate potential safety hazards, because the rock-and-concrete dam is old and “wouldn’t meet any of today’s standards.” He explained a dam failure could significantly wash out the surrounding area. The $125,000 won’t be enough to complete the project, but Robinson said he has received additional state funds and hopes to get even more. He said he will soon initiate the formal detailed permitting process.

Selectboard Chair Laurie DiDonato said the town has no say in this project and will receive none of the state money. She said this issue, however, has been a bit divisive, with some residents opposed to the dam’s removal.

“I understand the idea of wanting to keep the pond because it’s just been there and people enjoy the view,” she said by phone on Monday. “I can understand both sides.”

One of the people against the project is Michael Idoine, father of Selectboard member Gillian Budine. He said he opposes the dam’s removal for “a number of reasons, not the least of which is it would destroy more ecology than it would restore.”

Idoine, who said he has a background in regional planning, argued that the dam has provided an environment for flora and fauna for at least 150 years. He was unaware of the state funding until informed by the Greenfield Recorder on Monday. He said he plans to rejuvenate his petition to retain the dam that collected at least 230 signatures “off and on over the past year.”

Ivan Ussach, director of the Millers River Watershed Council, said his nonprofit has been a strong supporter of the dam’s removal because restoring coldwater habitats is “especially important at a time of general warming.” He also said the removal would benefit the area’s biodiversity, though he acknowledged people’s legitimate opposition to the project because “some species won’t do as well.”

Wendell Fire Chief Joe Cuneo also has his concerns. Cuneo said that while he respects the landowner’s right to do what he wants, he hopes Robinson will reconsider because his department regularly uses Bowen’s Pond for its dry hydrant, which he described as an unpressurized pipe that goes into a body of water, with the water drawn by a fire truck’s pump. He said the pond, which would cease to exist without a dam, is used for trainings and to fill fire trucks as well as for occasional fire suppression.

“We would seek to try to replace it if it goes away, in another location, perhaps,” Cuneo said. “We adapt to the situation that is presented to us.”

The chief noted he also understands that dam maintenance is costly.

The Baker-Polito administration earlier this month announced the roughly $11.8 million in grant funding. In December 2021, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a $4 billion federal COVID-19 relief spending bill using money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Of the grant money being awarded, $11.4 million comes from ARPA funds while the rest is from the state Division of Ecological Restoration’s operational budget.

“Ecological restoration is essential for building a climate-ready commonwealth that will restore and enhance Massachusetts’ natural resources to address climate vulnerabilities while providing important access to recreational opportunities for residents,” Baker said in a statement. “Our administration continues to invest in this work and support Massachusetts communities and ecosystems that will bring environmental benefits for generations to come.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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