Wareham officials take A.D. Makepeace to court over Parker Mills Dam

Aug 7, 2018

The Town of Wareham is taking cranberry grower A.D. Makepeace Co. to court over a longstanding dispute regarding which entity owns a troublesome dam.

The complaint, which will be filed this week in Plymouth Superior Court, should settle a question that’s dogged both parties for decades: Who owns the dam?

Located on Elm Street, the dam was classified as a High Hazard Potential Dam by state officials in 2014, which means its failure could result in the loss of life and damage homes and businesses. The decision closed the road indefinitely.

Selectman Peter Teitelbaum made the announcement Tuesday during the board’s meeting, saying A.D. Makepeace representatives have argued for decades the town owns the dam. According to Teitelbaum, Wareham officials believe the town owns roughly 25 percent of the dam and shouldn’t be responsible for covering the entire cost of repairs.

He noted the estimated cost to repair was $1.5 million in 2013. In 2014, the state awarded Wareham a $165,000 grant and a $835,000 loan for construction costs. However, the town never spent the money due to questions surrounding ownership. The funds are no longer available because the deadline to use them has long expired.

“None of us wanted to go to jail for spending public funds on someone else’s dam,” said Teitelbaum.

He explained the complaint is set to go before a judge who may appoint an expert to examine titles and deeds related to the dam’s ownership.

“These cases are usually handled quickly and quietly,” said Teitelbaum. “It’s the only way we can get to the end of the road here and figure out who owns the dam.”

The dam’s poor condition has put a damper on town plans to develop the nearby Tremont Nail Factory District. Starting in 1819, the site was home to the Tremont Nail Company. For more than 100 years, cut nails and other products were manufactured in the complex before the company moved to Mansfield.

In 2004, the town of Wareham bought the site using Community Preservation Act funds. The act is a Massachusetts law that allows participating cities and towns to adopt a real estate tax surcharge, supplemented by state matching funds in order to fund community preservation.

Until recently, the property has languished, attracting few tenants and drawing ire from residents tired of town funds being used to maintain the eight buildings on the property.

Over the past two years, planning officials have stepped up efforts to revitalize the property, developing a master plan and hosting events at the site to generate interest.

“It is a public safety and an issue that impedes development of the Tremonty Nail Factory complex,” said Teitelbaum. “It’s hard to get people to come here if they think they’re going to be washed away by a wall of water.”

Teitelbaum and Selectman Chair Alan Slavin said the complaint shouldn’t sour relations between the cranberry grower and the town.

“It’s been a fairly amicable relationship,” said Teitelbaum. “This is just a technical thing we have to figure out so we can move on.”

Slavin agreed.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘friendly lawsuit,” he said. “But this is as close as we’re going to come.”