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New laws require local dam inspections

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD "People are currently running all over the state inspecting dams," Ron Michalski, an inspector from Tighe and Bond said to Reminder Publications last week.

On Sept. 20, at 10 a.m. Mayor Richard K. Sullivan, members of the Westfield Flood Commission, the Emergency Management and the Water Works Departments attended an inspection at Arms Brook Dam conducted by Michalski and ordered by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

"There is nothing unusual about the Westfield Dam. That is not the reason for the inspection today," Michalski said. "Inspections are being done in Holyoke, Worcester, little communities and for private owners."

According to Michalski Massachusetts gave the DCR and the office of Dam Safety, a subset of DCR, effective in 2005 the power to determine what needs to be done pertaining to Dam Safety Regulations. In June of 2006 the DCR issued a September 30 deadline for all dams in cities, communities and by private owners to be inspected. DCR issued the mandate in June of 2006.

"The biggest thing," Alvin See, the chairman of the Flood Commission, said "is that we did not know about this when the budget went through in March and April of 2006.

"When they [the state] came out with the mandate it was not a budget item. So we found a way to change the money around. It will not hurt any programs in Westfield. It is a priority in terms of public safety. You have to do it," Sullivan said. "I would rather see the state paying for it but it is a matter of public safety." "In the past the state used to inspect dams and I believe the new regulations and the new stature would say the state was getting out in 2005. They certainly could have given communities as well as other dam owners a little more time," Michalski said. "They [the Dam Safety office] do not have a lot of employees, so the easy thing to do is to put it on the municipalities."

"The motivating purpose was the result of the dam in Taunton," Michalski said. "The state went out and did some quick investigating and then decided to turn it over to cities, towns and private owners for these inspections."

Michalski was referring to the Taunton Dam that almost broke last October during heavy rains.

"The state has been doing the inspection every year through the DCR. The DCR would come out every other year. Now dam owners must do their own inspection. Before the state would pay," See said. "It will probably be more expensive now because they are taking a wish list of everything that must be done for requirement."

In addition to Arms Brook Dam, Powdermill Dam will also have to be inspected as well as two water supply areas in Granville and Montgomery, Michalski said.

Michalski said that inspectors are looking for specific components- if there is a hazard with the dam, if the water will fare and the condition of the dam.

Michalski commented on the Arms Brook Dam, "The spillway will take an awful lot of water from this impoundment," he said.

Michalski's concerns rested with mowing around the Dam that the mayor said was in the process.

In addition to inspections the city of Westfield must also devise two emergency plans for the Arms Brook and Powder Mill Dams that must be completed within the next two to three months Michalski said.

Sullivan said Michael R. Boulanger, emergency management director for the city, will device the plans.

"I suspect that we will have people burning the midnight oil,"Michalski said "It is an awful lot of burden on the engineers. It is great but you don't want people to be working longer and harder then they have to be. Some cities have to write to the DCR stating that they cannot pay for the inspections."