Repairs at Belchertown’s Upper Bondsville Dam almost complete

BELCHERTOWN — Repairs to the Upper Bondsville Dam, which suffered from decades of poor maintenance, are nearly complete and have remained under budget.

The repairs, which began in August after the dam’s fate had been in jeopardy, were originally set to conclude at the end of October. But aside from removing stormwater controls and establishing sod, the project is complete and all machine work is finished, said Daniel Beaudette, a lawyer for the Belchertown Land Trust, which acquired the dam in 2006.

Repairs were sorely needed, Beaudette said. In 2008, the Office of Dam Safety called the dam a “significant hazard” and ordered the structure either repaired or removed.

Dam conditions were so poor that there was no way to know just how much longer it would last, Beaudette added, and its high hazard rating meant that failure could lead to loss of life and significant damage to surroundings. But now, he says, the dam has “a new lease on life.”

The project is also set to conclude under budget. Consulting firm Milone & MacBroom estimated in 2010 that repairs would cost around $425,000, while a second study suggested that this figure would be closer to $483,800.

But so far, permits and design expenses cost around $35,000, while the contracting price was approximately $272,600, bringing total expenses to around $307,600, according to Beaudette.

In 2013, the state appropriated $350,000 for repairs to the Upper Bondsville Dam. The land trust initially thought that fundraising would be needed to cover remaining expenses, but now anticipates having extra funds available.

“We were opening up structures that hadn’t seen the light of day in a long time, and you never know what you’re going to find,” Beaudette said, noting that the dam’s structures were in better shape than expected. “Luck so far has broken our way.”

Any savings will go back to Belchertown Land Trust. Under state restrictions, any excess funding must be used in a way that is pertinent to the dam.

The Belchertown Land Trust is considering projects such as creating a maintenance plan, establishing a canoe portage, adding additional fencing around the restricted area and removing the old factory that sits on the river, which Beaudette said is a safety hazard due to remaining debris.

“We have another project ahead of us,” Beaudette said. “The eventual goal is that this is quieted down and made safe, and you have a nice, natural area instead of the remains of an old factory.”

But for now, Belchertown Land Trust is dealing with the property “one crisis at a time.”

“We’ve been putting all of our attention on the dam,” Beaudette said.

Repairing the dam has been a long road often paved with difficulties.

The Belchertown Land Trust initially bought the property because it wanted to acquire the nearby rail trail, known locally as the Chickadee Trail, that is used for recreational activities such as walking, snowmobiling and horseback riding.

The land that the organization purchased included the dam, which came along with greater challenges than the land trust anticipated. No one had done any major work on the dam since the 1960s, Beaudette said.

When the Office of Dam Safety ordered the structure removed or repaired, many locals were strongly against the prospect of the dam’s removal. The dam creates a lake-like impoundment area of about 60-acres, which serves as a popular recreational area in the community.

The Belchertown Land Trust’s two options of removing or repairing the dam each came with a high price tag: while the estimated cost of repairing the dam was the more expensive of the two choices, removing the dam would still cost $366,000, according to the Milone & MacBroom report.

Advocates for repairing the dam formed the Swift River Preservation Association, which filed a lawsuit against the Belchertown Land Trust in 2011 in an effort to save the dam. The association dropped the lawsuit in 2012 and began working with the Belchertown Land Trust.

Association president Martha Knightley said that she has gone to the dam site every few days and has been “absolutely thrilled” with its progress.

“We’re very happy about the outcome,” Knightley said. “We will continue to work with the Belchertown Land Trust to do whatever we can for them in any capacity. I know that we’ve been to several meetings and tossed some ideas around, and we hope that this relationship will continue for a good many years.”

The first step in repairs, Beaudette said, was removing trees that had grown too close to the dam, as the Office of Dam Safety mandates that trees can only be a certain distance from the structure in order to avoid erosion and damage to the dam.

Crews also needed to repair the pad in front of the lee side of the dam, which was damaged during the 1938 New England hurricane. As a result of this damage, a 15-foot hole was undermining the dam as it eroded and needed to be filled.

Other major repairs included filling in scoured-out areas, replacing mortar and repairing the short spillway, which required the use of a temporary cofferdam.

In July, Belchertown Land Trust executed a contract with Northern Construction Service, LLC, a Palmer-based company. Beaudette said that he “can’t be happier with the contractor.”

“I think the people that live on this river and use it are going to be happy too,” he said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at

Author: Going Green

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