October 29, 2010 - removing the Briggsville Dam

Friday, October 29, 2010

Photo: down by the West Point dock, Phippsburg.

In Clarksburg, Massachusetts, the Briggsville Dam on the North Branch of the Hoosic River is slated for removal next week.  Preliminary site work has already begun.  At 15 feet in height and 200 feet in length, the Briggsville Dam once provided cooling water to the adjacent Strong-Hewatt Mill.

Here is an interesting article on the pros and cons of removing the Briggsville dam. It's a story whose general contours will resonate with a lot of people in historic mill towns. We have a dam built in the early to mid-1900s to support a manufacturing facility. The factory changes hands several times, until a new mill owner finds it also owns the aging dam. For safety reasons (and in many places, to facilitate fish passage), the dam needs expensive upgrades -- or faces removal.

This is the story of many small dams and hydroelectric facilities across the country.  In Clarksburg, the mill was the Strong-Hewatt woolen mill.  The current owner is Cascade School Supplies Co.,who was apparently surprised to find that the building it acquired came with an aging dam.  Although fish passage will be improved by the removal of the Briggsville Dam, the primary driver of its removal are the safety issues caused by its poor condition.  Dam safety is an important issue, and without the proper capital investments in maintenance and repairs, maintaining an older dam can become an expensive liability.  (For example, see what's going on in Canton, Maine, with the Whitney Brook dam and Lake Anasagunticook.  Or what happened when the Colcord Pond dam failed this past spring.)

In this case, the Briggsville Dam appears to have been used to provide cooling water to the mill, not to generate electricity, so any policy reasons to leave it in are more clearly outweighed by the safety issues. Moreover, it will help the mill property owner avoid the costs of repairing the dam, letting Cascade stay in business at that location.

Certainly an interesting issue.  If you're near Clarksburg, swing by and take a last look at the Briggsville Dam.

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