Public, firm discuss future of Parker Mills Pond Dam

Jun 7, 2022

The future of the Parker Mills Pond Dam is still an open question.

On Tuesday, the town and engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill hosted the first of several meetings to gather feedback about the dam’s future. The firm has been tasked with assessing the dam, located under a long-closed section of Elm Street, and the options for its improvement.

Project manager Elsa Loehmann, of Fuss & O’Neill spoke about the process, goals and scope of the assessment project. She emphasized the importance of feedback, both from residents and from an advisory committee composed of locals, relevant landowners, town and state agencies and others.

The focus of the project, Loehmann said, is to assess what options are available for the dam, which has been designated a High Hazard Potential Dam by the state. That means that if it fails, it “will likely cause loss of life and serious damage to home(s), industrial or commercial facilities, important public utilities, main highway(s) or railroad(s),” according to the state.

One potential option may be to remove the dam altogether, which brings its own pros and cons, she said.

No firm plan for the dam has yet been announced — that’s the point of the assessment project, which will take several months and include more public engagement sessions in the fall.

Goals for the project include restoring river function; improving climate resilience; complementing the future Tremont Nail Factory renovations; maintaining flood control; avoiding negative impacts to other infrastructures; and helping the town’s historic character.

Residents brought up myriad concerns and questions regarding the dam and nearby properties.

Several residents spoke to their concerns about the A.D. Makepeace Company’s plans for a nearby solar field. A few asked about how the cranberry company’s plans, which activists have criticized for the large removal of gravel and sand, would be addressed.

“This is the first time that I have heard of this particular installation,” Loehmann said, “and so we’ll want to make sure that we have a handle on how it would impact this project.”

Loehmann said the firm was creating a survey to ask area residents their priorities regarding the dam. Residents asked that the firm be careful to include the context people will need to give thoughtful input.

A couple residents asked about the price of whatever final plans are decided upon for the dam.

Loehmann was clear that the work would be costly, but the town could apply for grants to defray costs.

The end-product of Fuss & O’Neill’s involvement is ultimately a conceptual design for a fundable project for the town to use for the dam, she explained.

The Parker Mills Pond Dam has long been an object of attention for the town. For a time the ownership, and thus responsibility for renovation, of the dam was under debate between the town and the cranberry company A.D. Makepeace.

In 2018, the town filed suit against the cranberry grower, claiming that it owned only 25% of the dam. The company claims that the town has full responsibility. The town later dropped the suit and entered into a series of negotiations with the company, an official said earlier this year. The town has not given up its rights to file litigation about the matter in the future.

The ownership of the dam was questioned during the meeting by residents, which Loehmann said she couldn’t speak about. Planning Director Ken Buckland said he had no more information on the ownership question.

In September, alternative plans for the dam are set to be presented at a public meeting. In October, the committee will present its final plans.