Town Meeting could urge Select Board to probe Makepeace ownership of Parker Mills Dam

Apr 11, 2023

Voters at the April 24 Town Meeting will be asked to direct the town to determine what portion of  the crumbling Parker Mills Dam is owned by the A.D. Makepeace Company, so that work to repair or remove the dam can proceed.

Wareham resident Barry Cosgrove, who brought the citizens petition to Town Meeting, contends that the cranberry company’s failure to acknowledge its partial ownership of the structure — and thus partial financial responsibility for work on the dam —  is preventing the town from addressing the problem that has closed Elm Street in front of the Tremont Nail factory for nine years.

“Imagine if any other citizen in Wareham owned property in the town, and a big bill came in, and they refused to acknowledge their ownership,” Cosgrove said. “They’d be laughed out of City Hall.”

The Parker Mills Dam lies largely under Elm Street. In 2014, the state classified it as a High Hazard Potential Dam, which means its failure could result in loss of life and the destruction of homes and businesses. Elm Street has been closed since that time. 

The dam’s legal ownership has been under contention for years. The town filed a suit against A.D. Makepeace in 2018, claiming that the town owns only 25 percent of the dam. The town dropped the suit in 2019 after entering into negotiations with the company. Cosgrove has sought out multiple public records to demonstrate the dam’s disputed ownership.

A.D. Makepeace Vice President of Marketing and Communications Linda Burke said last week that the company is actively working with Town Counsel Richard Bowen to sort out the dam’s ownership.

Meanwhile, the Parker Mills Dam Assessment Project, completed in December 2022 and paid for by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, presented three options for dealing with the dam, ranging from partial removal to full removal. At the time, the Select Board preferred full removal. Director of Planning and Community Development Ken Buckland said the town is awaiting approval of a state grant for a design for full dam removal.

Cosgrove said he’s concerned that A.D. Makepeace’s prior refusals to publicly acknowledge any ownership of the dam will affect the town’s future ability to remove the dam.

He found public records from 2019 that showed the town wanted to replace the long-closed Elm Street bridge, but the state required a dam safety permit. To get this permit, A.D. Makepeace would have had to admit partial ownership, but did not, which was documented in a public record Cosgrove received from November 2022. The state department said it was “unwilling to review or issue the permit application without some resolution to the issue of ownership.” 

“What likelihood is it that you’re going to give us a permit for the dam if you won’t even give us a permit for what’s touching the dam?” Cosgrove asked. 

Cosgrove also pointed to the refusal of A.D. Makepeace to register the dam with the Office of Dam Safety in 2022. He received documents from the Department of Conservation and Recreation via a public records request. These documents show emails from December 2022, in which a legal representative for the company says that “Makepeace does not hold legal title to the Dam,” and that the company only has rights to “construct and operate ‘fishways and outlets’” from the dam. 

The Department of Conservation and Recreation responded to the email, stating that “A.D. Makepeace Company holds an ownership interest in Parker Mills Dam,” and asked the company to complete the dam registration process. The email points to “several deeds” that signal Makepeace as a partial owner.

Cosgrove said the disputes show that the dam’s ownership will be a significant problem for the town as it proceeds with removal of the Parker Mills Dam. 

He wants to make sure that the town does not buy the dam from Makepeace or even allow the company to donate its ownership to the town, as the town would be accepting the financial burden of dam removal.

“I think Makepeace is playing with the town, as they always do,” Cosgrove said.