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Lantern Hill neighbors want state to care for dams

By Judy Benson

Publication: The Day

Published August 20. 2012 4:00AM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Bob and Betsy Graham stand at the state boat launch on Long Pond in North Stonington. The Grahams and a number of their neighbors in the Lantern Hill Valley Association want the state to take over maintenance of three dams in the area.

The Lantern Hill Valley Association is asking the state to take over three dams around Long Pond and Bush Pond in Ledyard and North Stonington.

In a letter to local state lawmakers and the commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the 40-member association, comprising about a third of the residents who live around the two ponds, say the ponds are an asset enjoyed by the public. Maintenance of the dams is too expensive and complex an undertaking for such a small, aging group with only about $3,500 in its bank account, members say. The group was formed in 1973 to undertake work on one of the dams, and cannot afford maintenance in the long term, the letter states. The dams date to the 1800s.

Betsy Graham, recording secretary of the association, said the group already talked with state Reps. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, and Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, before sending the letter, which also went to state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, and Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia. The letter asks the four lawmakers to introduce a bill that would allow the state to assume ownership of the dams.

"Our issue is that we want to put the dams and the spillways in competent hands," said Dana Vigue, president of the association. With the increasing complexity of state regulations and requirements for dam maintenance, he said, it is neither financially feasible nor practical for a small group to continue shouldering the burden of the dams.

The letter notes that the ponds are used for fishing and boating by those who don't live around them. A state boat launch is located on the north end of Long Pond. Local fire departments use the pond to test equipment and conduct rescue drills, and town recreation departments run summer rowing programs on Long Pond, the letter states.

Adding to the complexity of the situation is the convoluted nature of the ownership and easements of the dams, spillways and the lands around the ponds, Graham said. In addition to the homeowners and the state boat launch, lands around the pond are home to the Eastern Pequot Tribe's reservation. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe is also a landowner.

The issue, said Graham and her husband Robert, came to the group's attention after the 2010 floods. When it sought permits to make some repairs to one of the dams, DEEP officials said the group first needed to undertake a hydrological study of the ponds and the streams that feed them. The study would have cost about $10,000, Betsy Graham said.

"It's become apparent to the members of the Lantern Hill Valley Association that we can't even afford an insurance policy, much less any repairs (to the dams)," said Robert Graham. "The members have everything to lose and nothing to gain by being members."

If the state doesn't take over the dams, he said, "people would probably leave the association."

The Grahams said residents have kept up on routine work, such as keeping the grassy top of the dams mowed and adjusting the flows out of Long Pond into Whitford Brook.

"When I've heard there's a hurricane coming, I've come and pulled the weir boards out" to keep the pond from flooding, Robert Graham said.

His wife added: "It isn't the daily maintenance that's the issue. It's the worry about the changing environmental policies and what that will mean for us, if we had to regulating the flows into Whitford Brook."

She was referring to the state's new streamflow regulations, which she believes could require the installation of expensive equipment at the dams to adjust water flows out of the dam to ensure adequate levels downstream.

The dams are rated by DEEP as Class B, meaning they could cause "significant" hazard to people and property downstream if they failed. The Long Pond dams are currently in good shape, but the one on Bush Pond is not, said Dennis Schain, DEEP spokesman.

"There is an interconnectedness to the ... dams given flow of water, drainage, etc.," Schain said. "Any work on them needs to be coordinated and they need to be considered as a whole."

He added that DEEP "does not generally support the concept of turning over new dams" to the agency.

"Our resources are stretched very thin maintaining and repairing dams that are already state-owned, and it would be difficult for us to take on responsibility for additional dams," he said.

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