Town secures grant to begin Parker Mill Dam design planning

Jul 13, 2023

A $187,00 Dam and Seawall grant secured by the town will go toward the project to remove the hazardous Parker Mill Pond Dam, according to Ken Buckland, director of Planning and Community Development.

This grant, which comes from the state’s Office of Dam Safety, will partially pay for 10-25% of the design planning and reviewal process for the project, according to Buckland.

The total cost of this phase of planning is $250,000. The remaining expense for this phase will be covered by town funds, according to Buckland.

The first 10-25% of the design plan will be focused on the work needed to fix the other bridges in the area that will be affected by the water level in the upper watershed, Buckland said. There will also be an initial review completed by the permit granting agencies to address potential requirements for the mitigation.

He added a portion of this grant will also be used to assist in securing an additional $450,000 grant to be used toward the dam design planning.

The dam, which lies under Elm Street, was classified in 2014 as a High Hazard Potential Dam by the Office of Dam Safety at the Department of Conservation and Recreation. If the dam were to fail, the aftermath could include loss of life and destruction to homes and businesses. Therefore, the street has been closed since.

Buckland said this grant is only the beginning of a long planning process. 

He added it will be years before the town will complete a complete design plan and can put the project up for bid and start the basic construction work. 

“There may be some different components of it — some work on some of the other bridge crossings in the watershed — that can be done in the interim or as precursors to the basic work on the dam itself at the Parker Mill Pond,” he said.

“But it's going to be a phased project where there's going to be a lot of separate work that is going to be done in different areas in the watershed to accommodate the change in elevation of the water level,” Buckland added.

Legal ownership of the dam has been in contention for years. 

At the recent Town Meeting in April, residents urged the town to inquire further about the ownership of the dam.

In 2018, the town filed a lawsuit against A.D. Makepeace, claiming the town only owns 25% of the dam. 

Therefore, the belief is that Makepeace should assist in the cost of removing the dam. This was demonstrated when Wareham resident Barry Cosgrove started a citizens petition, which he brought to the April Town Meeting.

The town dropped the suit in 2019 after entering into negotiations with the company.

Select Board Chair Judith Whiteside said she is unable to comment on past or pending litigation involving the town.

According to the July 11 Select Board meeting agenda, the board anticipated an executive session discussion regarding litigation of Town of Wareham v. A.D. Makepeace.

While the current status of litigation between the two entities is unclear, Buckland said in the meantime, any work the town decides to take on will be its financial responsibility.

“The dam has been noted as a high-risk dam by the state for many years,” said Whiteside. “Virtually 80% of the dams in Massachusetts are rated high risk.”

“I don't think our dam is at any more risk than any other because there are spillways to lessen the water pressure behind the dam,” she added.