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By Rachel Goff
The Warren timber crib dam is in a state of flux. Once a working part of a bustling mill town, the 200-year-old structure has started to disintegrate and it will continue to do so until the town can come up with a plan to remove it.
Until then, the dam is dangerous. "Almost every day there are kids climbing up and down [it]," one adjacent landowner told the Warren Select Board at their meeting on Tuesday, August 12.
This is especially concerning because "the dam has a sinkhole right above it," select board member Matt Groom explained. "Sometimes it's there; sometimes it's not," he said, "but if anyone falls in, they're not coming out."
Right now, the dam is owned by Warren Village Dam Preservation Trust which has tried to no avail to secure a stream alteration permit from Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to restore the structure to its former hydroelectric glory.
But the select board, operating under the notion that the ANR would never issue a permit to restore the dam, would instead like to see it removed from the river entirely.
"If we have another 100-year flood and [the dam] goes ... that's a lot of material into the river," said select board member Anson Montgomery.
With the town's recent adoption of the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District and the even more recent debate about the future of the floodplain at Riverside Park, "there's been a lot of talk recently about being good upstream neighbors," Groom said, and removing the dam seems to best align with the ANR's recommendations.
Brian Fitzgerald of South Duxbury, who in the past has worked with the ANR on river science issues, attended Tuesday's meeting to share his understanding of the agency's approach to dam restoration and removal.
According to Fitzgerald, the ANR would grant a stream alteration permit to remove the dam, but "the issue is money," he said. Removing the dam could cost "a couple hundred thousand," Fitzgerald said, depending on how much gravel needs to be removed. "And there may be some work that's needed on the river."
About 15 years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers authorized a plan to remove the Warren timber crib dam, but the town turned down a grant to move forward with the project because at that time they thought the structure could be safely restored.
According to Fitzgerald, the project is still authorized and can be completed, "but there's authorized projects and funded projects," he said, "and they may not be the same thing."
Moving forward, the town plans to contact the ANR and the Army Corps to see about securing a permit to remove the dam and to see if any funding is available. The project is a timely one, as the select board is currently in the design phase for repairs to the Warren covered bridge and what those repairs look like could depend on whether or not the dam still lies downstream.