Earth Notes: Saving a Dam for a Change

 

Dawn breaks over the Kezar River Mill Pond in Lovell on a cold December morning but a variety of life awaits Spring’s release.

By Price Hutchins

The removal of a dam in Maine is environmental progress. But in one case saving a dam in Lovell preserves our local environment.

The recent engineering study completed by HEB Engineers of North Conway was thorough. You can find this survey on the Town of Lovell’s web page, www.lovellmaine.us. The survey states very clearly that the Lovell Mill Pond dam will fail soon. In 2013, the State Dam Management Department did an assessment of their own and noted that the dam was in bad shape. It was decided then that even with a catastrophic failure, the flood will damage little, submerging only the Lovell Rec Field and some innocent beavers on its way to the Saco.

The Lovell Mill Pond is the impoundment of Kezar River, which begins up in Waterford at the Five Kezar Ponds and flows steeply down through the Kezar Gorge. It makes an appearance as it passes under Fern Drive in Center Lovell and begins to pile up beside Route 5 as the Mill Pond. It was created in the 1800s and was the location of a carding mill, a sawmill, and a gristmill. It saw boxes made for the local corn canning industry, ammunition crates in the Spanish-American War, and eastern white pine boards and planks. The original lumber company is still thriving here today.

The dam washed out in 1860 and again in 1953. It was rebuilt and the pond continued as a log marshalling yard until the mill abandoned waterpower and ceded the dam to the Town of Lovell. We cross over the pond and dam when we enter Lovell village on Sweden Road just off Knights Hill Road. Here is the only real view of this five-mile long body of water and, of the three ways to enter Lovell, this is the only picturesque one. The pond is a tip top canoe and fishing resource. It is also home to beavers and a resilient otter family.

Who are the champions of the Mill Pond? Well, selfishly, me. My house backs up to the Pond but the Town Fire Chief, Tom McKenzie, is adamant about the Mill Pond’s importance. Two hydrants — one at the dam site and one at the Fern Drive Bridge — are a major part of the fire department’s fire suppression plan. From the center of the village there is no other fire suppression south towards Fryeburg until you reach the Indian Acres hydrant nine miles away.

The Mill Pond, in spite of its size, abuts only a couple of dozen backyards. If the Kezar Lake Dam were in danger of failing there wouldn’t be a room big enough in Lovell to contain all the irate taxpayers. The Cushman Pond Dam was thoroughly and carefully rebuilt only years ago. Why so diligently? Because Cushman Pond is known to have milfoil weed and it empties directly into Kezar Lake. A few years ago the Heald Pond Dam was buttressed and enhanced. The Heald Pond is packed with expensive summer camps and the residences of some of our more prominent taxpayers.

The State has been put on notice that if the Mill Pond Dam fails then Sweden Road will be in jeopardy. The abutments of the bridge are submerged in the standing water of the pond. They were not designed to be exposed or left to the vagaries of how the Kezar River discovers its new course once the Mill Pond no longer impounds it. The State DOT and Town of Lovell have to square off as to who is financially accountable for renovating the recently refurbished bridge once Lovell allows a washout.

Whatever is quietly resting in the Mill Pond will be exposed. All millpond neighbors throughout New England used such ponds as dumps before that became socially unacceptable. Under that still water there probably rests an old car, several metal spring mattresses, kitty litter, and leaf mold. Those ingredients and the acres of goo that will remain after the dam’s failure will be Lovell’s welcome mat for some time to come. It may take years for the low areas to reclaim the swamp and overcome the smell.

The Greater Lovell Land Trust (GLLT), long thought to be the steward of all that is pristine in Lovell, is conspicuously silent about saving the Mill Pond, supporting the oft-mentioned theory that this organization is solely here to protect the people who own waterfront on one of the jewels of Lovell.

Replacing the dam isn’t cheap. The HEB Study started at $750,000. Some in our local government claim that it costs nothing to simply let it fail. Repairing the bridge abutments, replacing the two fire hydrants, and compensating homeowners whose wells are affected should be in the equation. Can abutters assume that property taxes will be reduced to swamp front value?

On a nonmonetary footing, 25 percent of the tourists to Lovell will enter the town over a quagmire of dead fish, rotting saw logs, rusting metal drums, and slime. The original town dump behind Lovell Hardware runs right up to the Mill Pond. Good stuff will begin leaching its way into the Kezar River’s new course and we will be forced to deal with the unintended consequences of the selectmen’s plan to do nothing.

To his credit, Selectman Steve Goldsmith has begun his own research to find a designer who can plan a replacement dam at a reasonable cost. The other two selectmen and the head of the Lovell maintenance force, see no need to be concerned about this potential loss.

There are financial, logical, safety, and ethical reasons to think twice about losing this dam. Once gone, there is no second bite of the apple. The town voters should take the next step; do more studies, and begin the process of pricing out a new dam, and Lovell’s government needs to take an active leadership role.

Price Hutchins is at the peak of a mediocre career. This career includes restaurant owner, carpenter, stay at home dad, chemical salesperson, entrepreneur, and Home Depot associate. Price continues to putter around the big yellow house in Lovell Village.

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