July 8, 2008

Rockport: Group Pushes to Restore Dam in Millbrook Meadow

By Michael Farrell, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

Jul. 8--ROCKPORT -- A grassroots effort to restore the Millbrook Dam and the neighboring park and waterways is underway but it may cost more than $700,000.

Tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., a group of concerned citizens will gather in the meeting room at the police station to discuss the issue in the hopes of developing a report that will go before the next meeting of the Department of Public Works Commissioners.

"As residents we feel that Millbrook Meadows is such a beautiful asset to the town (that) we don't want to see it go by the wayside," said Charmaine Blanchard, who lives on King Street across from the park.

The heavy rains on May 15, 2006, over the Mother's Day weekend, caused Millbrook Dam to breach, allowing the water to spill through Millbrook Meadow, a small park where community events are often held.

After the dam broke, Blanchard said that the park looked more like a salt marsh.

The dam was stabilized with a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. However, according to residents, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

The primary concern, Blanchard said, is that Mill Pond is being filled with sediment. Mill Pond feeds a frog pond through a small waterfall under the dam. The frog pond then runs into a stone culvert that leads down to Front Beach and the ocean.

Without a pond, there is not much reason for a dam, Blanchard said. And Mill Pond is a key feature of the park. Since the ponds have started to fill in, Blanchard said, invasive plant life has been creeping in and wildlife is being displaced.

Mike Anderson of 25 King St. said, "We found a dead turtle and some dead fish, and the overgrowth is just taking over the pond."

According to Blanchard, the salamanders and turtles that live in the pond are being replaced by rats, skunks, raccoons and coyotes. And as the pond fills in, the stagnant water is also creating an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Anderson said that there was a time when you could catch large-mouth bass and pickerel in the pond. Kids still fish there today, he said, though the adults know it is futile.

"The only thing we see that has increased is snapping turtles," he said.

After the dam was damaged, water moved through it much more quickly, eroding the waterway. As a result, Blanchard said, the culvert that carries the water away has deteriorated. Blanchard pointed out the large granite blocks that normally line the culvert that have fallen into the stream.

She also mentioned that the instability of the culvert makes her worry about people, especially children, walking along its edge.

Blanchard and the other citizens who are concerned about the park are working against the clock to restore this community landmark. According to George Robertson, the Department of Public Works' senior field coordinator, the window to appeal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for additional restoration funding is this December.

According to Blanchard, a report prepared by GEI Consultants for the Mill Pond Dam Reconstruction Committee, which is now defunct, estimated it would take about $719,000 to repair the dam. This figure does not factor in the repairs to the park and the culverts.

FEMA, however, has approved only $340,321 for the project.

Ultimately, the citizens' goal is to have the entire park restored, not just the dam.

"That's good," Robertson said. "Tell me where the money is coming from?"

Blanchard hopes to appeal to FEMA for more money before the window closes.

Because DPW is in transition between directors, from John Tomasz to Joseph Parisi, they do not know when the next meeting of the commissioners will be. When that meeting does occur, though, Blanchard hopes that Millbrook Meadows and the dam will be on the agenda.

Michael Farrell can be reached at [email protected]


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