By Max Sullivan
Hampton Union, February 27, 2015
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON - The fate of a local dam will be determined in less than two weeks, as a citizen’s petition warrant article to repair the Mill Pond Dam will live or die on voting day March 10.
Article 38, petitioned by Norman Hurley and 200 registered voters, asks the town to vote to repair and/or rebuild the Grist Mill Dam, also known as the Mill Pond Dam, a potentially $650,000 project.
The article asks the town to rescind a $400,000 approved plan from 2014 to decommission the dam and then to raise an additional $250,000 in 2015. The money raised in both years would be combined to meet the price of the proposed repair project.
The Mill Pond Dam became the subject of concern when the state Department of Environmental Services told the town in 2012 that fines would be coming if it didn’t start evaluating options to remedy the deteriorating dam, referring to it as a “significant hazard.” In response, the town hired Stephens Associates Consulting Engineers, LLC, an engineering consulting firm, to look into options for remedies.
The consultants provided seven options, five to repair and two to decommission, in a report issued to selectmen in October 2013.
Article 15 from 2014 and Article 38 on this year’s warrant represent two of the seven options found in the Stephens report.
If Article 38 does not pass, the town will go forth with the 2014 plan to decommission the dam, removing the dam and putting a sloping path under the mill for water to travel through.
Candice Stellmach, whose High Street property overlooks the pond, said Article 38 is a reaction to last year’s plan, which was put on the ballot by the then-Board of Selectmen and approved by a vote of 1,858 to 1,025.
The Friends of Grist Mill Pond successfully lobbied selectmen for permission to ask voters to support a plan to repair the dam. The group contended the town didn't fully explore alternatives or the consequences of the removal of the dam.
The pond will disappear if the dam is decommissioned, Stellmach said, becoming a wetland. That, she said, is one of the biggest factors in the Friends’ push for the repair.
“We love, absolutely love, the setting here, the wildlife, the historic importance of it,” Stellmach said. “It’s just rare and it’s just beautiful. We’re talking about what it adds to the cultural resource to this town… We get 50 to 60 artists coming down here a year. Kids come down here to have their senior pictures taken in front of the mill.”
Former selectman Dick Nichols said the board favored decommissioning the dam because it was the most cost-effective plan.
“Certainly the cost was a significant concern for me,” said Nichols, who was on the board when the decision to decommission the dam was made. “I knew we had a lot of expenses going forward for central service type of things. Roads. Drainage. I just felt the dollars need to be focused on more central services.”
Long-term costs for the town’s decommissioning plan would be $30,000 over 30 years following the completion of the project, according to the Stephens report, while the long-term costs for the repair plan would be $200,000.
A concern for the Friends is that the Stephens report, which the town used to decide on the decommissioning plan found in Article 15, does not present the entire picture. Decommissioning the dam would cause potential damage to the 329-year-old Grist Mill, something that is not addressed in the Stephens report, Stellmach said.
Jim Metcalf, a mechanical engineer who is working in support of the Friends, said that the Stephens report did not hydraulically analyze repair options for the dam. This, he said, is an “oversight.” He said the report gives no analysis of the foundation of the mill that confirms it can withstand pressure loads and turbulent erosion imposed by water-flow during a heavy flood, which would be greater once the decommissioning of the dam was complete.
“Keep in mind that with the dam in place historically (before being decommissioned), such flows will never have been seen by the structure,” Metcalf said.
But according to Bob Stephens, principal engineer of Stephens Associates, the fact that the Stephens report gives no such analysis of the mill’s foundation is to be expected. He said the report was strictly a preliminary study, not a final design for all the options. Doing so would be very expensive for the town, he said, and it would be a waste of money to pay for such designs before an option was chosen.
“It was never meant to (provide analysis of the mill’s structure),” Stephens said. “The fact that our report does not address that is to be expected, but it doesn’t make it an issue. If the town selects either alternative, a safe solution will be designed that will address the flooding and stability… and the mill.”
Opponents of Article 38 have also questioned whether or not the town should be paying for the preservation of a pond that has no public access.
The Mill Pond Dam is one of two dams in Hampton that are featured on the warrant this year, the other one, Article 47, asks for $90,000 to repair the Ice Pond Dam.
That article was sponsored by Jay Diener, of the Conservation Commission. Diener said there is no reason why voters cannot support both projects. However, he pointed out that the difference between the two dams is there is public access to the Ice Pond, while there is none at Mill Pond.
“It’s not an overwhelming factor, but it is a factor,” Diener said. “I think having that access is important.”
Stellmach said she would encourage the town to provide access. In the mean time, Stellmach said she does not mind residents going through her property to get to the pond. The pond is for the town’s enjoyment, she said.
“It may send people a little closer to my yard,” Stellmach said. “If that’s the only access they have, then go for it.”
At Town Meeting the vote to repair the dam passed by the narrow vote of 1205 to 1199.