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Old Mill Pond Dam

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HAMPTON ó A group of concerned citizens will ask voters this March to approve a new plan for the Old Mill Pond Dam.
September 12, by Kyle Stucker
Friends and supporters of the Deacon Tuck Grist Mill complex are distributing a petitioned warrant article that would rescind a $400,000 dam decommissioning project that voters approved at the 2014 Town Meeting.

The petitioned article calls for the decommissioning project to be replaced by a $650,000 appropriation to be used to repair or rebuild the dam. Petitioners have said this is needed in order to prevent the 328-year-old High Street complex's historic value from being irrevocably lost.

"We are working hard to show ...; we think this is the better option, by far," said Norm Hurley, a retired Kingston fire chief and Planning Board member who is leading the petition. The petitioned warrant article would return the $400,000 that was appropriated from the town's non-lapsing fund through Article 15 of the 2014 Town Meeting. If voters approve the petitioned article, $400,000 would be withdrawn from the town's unassigned fund balance and the remainder of the funds would be raised through taxation.

The petitioners claim the repairs are more responsible than a removal. They also claim officials inaccurately presented Article 15 and a connected $235,000 article to voters as the only way to avoid fines from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

A July 2012 NHDES report indicated fines would be coming if the town didn't start evaluating options to remedy the "significant hazard," but the report didn't require the town to remove the dam.

Hurley has said the town didn't fully explore alternatives to the removal before proposing those articles, even though the law requires "all" options and alternatives be explored before performing work that would "destroy or disrupt the historic value" of any properties that meet the National Register of Historic Places' eligibility requirements.

The dam, pond and Grist Mill all meet these requirements.

Dam supporters presented information to selectmen again Monday, making a case that the dam's repair would improve water flow problems in the area. They also argued Monday that removing the dam would actually worsen the area's flooding issues.

Selectman Rusty Bridle said he believes town officials "really need to take a look at" the repair option. He also backed the petitioners' remarks about the flooding issues, adding that opponents of the dam may have inaccurately attributed some issues to the dam.

Selectman Jim Waddell agreed with Bridle, although he and Town Manager Fred Welch said the town needs to investigate whether there could be any issues due to the fact that money has already been appropriated for the decommissioning.

"We have to make sure we're doing it properly and we have to make sure we're honoring what was done last year," said Waddell. "We have to honor that vote...; (and) work around that." One selectman voiced opposition to the petitioned article Monday because she feels the town already has the vote of the taxpayers on the matter.

"I am not in favor of your warrant article and doing anything other than continuing our effort to decommission that dam," said Mary-Louise Woolsey. "Period."

Background News Articles

Crowd cheers support for Old Mill Pond Dam repair.
July 18, 2014 by Kyle Stucker
Vote to decommission may be reconsidered

Hampton - several selectmen received celebratory rounds of applause from the audience Monday night after they expressed support for finding a way to repair old mill pond dam instead of removing it .

Dozens upon dozens of concerned residents packed Town Hall for an hour-long public hearing about the dam, which voters designated for decommissioning through the approval of two warrant articles in March.

Residents called for the hearing to urge Selectman to back a warrant article changing the purpose of the combined $635,000 appropriated for the decommissioning, and Selectman Rick Griffin, Rusty Bridle and Jim Waddell voiced support for those efforts Monday.

"By taking things like this away, it makes it much harder for people to realize what their heritage is," said Griffin. "I think the town has the responsibility to maintain the property they control. I think the town shouldíve been maintaining it and doing whatever it takes to make sure it can continue (to exist). I think this is an example of last yearís board of SelectmenÖ where three members were voted out of office. I think they misled the public on a lot of issues. Letís take another look"

The vocal support by Griffin, Bridle and Waddell received cheers, whistles, hearty applause and even a "Right on" shout from the crowd Monday.

The dam and old mill pond of existence in 1686 and were created as a way to fuel the machinery used at the adjacent Deacon Tuck Grist Mill to grind corn

The group of local engineers, historians and abutters contends the town didnít fully explore alternatives to the removal of the dam, which is owned by the town, prior to bringing the $635,000 removal project to the annual Town Meeting through two different warrant articles

These residents have said they want the historical, recreational and educational value of the mill, dam and pond protected and enhanced. The structures qualify for the National Register of Historic Places, and by law this means "all" options and alternatives be explored before performing work that would "destroy or disrupt the historic value," according to Norm Hurley, a member of the group.

Dozens of residents echoed the groupís statements during Mondayís hearing while making a case as to why the Old Mill Pond "complex" shouldnít be decommissioned "Last year, I voted to decommission it," said David Wood, a Budget Committee member. "I thought we had to because we were being forced to (by the state). After reviewing more about it, Iím not sure we have to decommission that dam I think it is a jewel for the town of Hampton. Iíve reversed my decision and Iíll do everything I can to reverse my peers on the Budget Committee. This is history that canít be replaced."

The two warrant articles were proposed after a July 2012 New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services report deemed the deficient dam a "significant hazard."

NH DES said fines would be levied if the town continued not to do anything about the deficiencies. Although the department didnít mandate that the dam be removed or decommissioned, according to the residence.

Selectmen stated last year that repairs to the deficient dam could be costly. Kevin Grondin, a member of the resident group, said Monday night that he has received a "thumbnail-only estimate" of about $50,000 to $60,000 to repair it using up to 18 feet of Clay topped with 10 inches of riprap.

Phil Bean, chairman of the selectmen, thanked the residence for their comments Monday while stating, "without looking in the rearview mirror," that "last yearís board" did "the best" they could while forming the warrant articles.

Bean suggested the group "elect" a spokesperson our spokespeople to work with Town Manager Fred Welch to "integrate" their offers to help research the options and find fiscally responsible ways to repair the dam. This integration could include the formation of the special committee. The damís decommissioning was slated to begin in fall 2015 after the town obtains at least hundred and $147,000 in grant money to perform the removal of the damís culvert. This grant stipulation is required by one of the projectís warrant articles.

Public Works Director Keith Noyes has said has said he will wait until the repair research is completed be before beginning the removal.

Group Ready to Fight Townís Plan to Remove Historic Dam
July 13, 2014, by Kyle Stucker
Hampton - Local residents are concerned Hamptonís efforts to remove Old Mill Pond Dam may not only irrevocably eliminate one of the oldest parts of the town, but that the removal itself may not be allowed by law.

A group of citizens is hoping to convince selectmen the town needs to take a step back in the decommissioning of the 1686 dam and pond, the funding for which was approved at this yearís town meeting. The group, led by local engineers, historians and abutters, believe repairs and other options could be cheaper and ensure the town doesnít lose the historical significance of the adjacent Deacon Tuck Grist Mill, which relied on the dam to mill corn, and the recreational opportunities at Old Mill Pond.

"The mill without the pond or dam has lost its existence," said Jim Metcalf, a local engineer whose property doesnít abut the pond or dam, which are located off High Street. "Itís the package that is historical, not just the structure. They preserved the mill in the first place because of its historical significance."

Metcalf will be joined by Hampton Historical Society President Candice Stellmach, state Rep. Chris Muns and abutters Norm and Cheryl Hurley and Kim and Kevin Grondin, among others, as they request during a public hearing Monday that the town pursue dam repairs instead of removal.

The 328-year-old dam, pond and mill all meet the National Register of Historic Placesí eligibility requirements, according to Norm Hurley, a retired Kingston fire chief and Planning Board member. Because of this, Hurley said, law requires "all" options and alternatives be explored before performing work that would "destroy or disrupt the historic value."

"This is probably, with a few exceptions, one of the most historic parts of the town of Hampton," he said.

The group contends the town didnít fully explore alternatives to the removal of the dam, which they claim is owned by the town, prior to bringing a $635,000 removal project to town meeting through two different warrant articles.

The two warrant articles were proposed after a July 2012 New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services report deemed the deficient dam a Ďsignificant hazard. "

NHDES said fines would be levied if the town continued not to do anything about the deficiencies, although the department didnít mandate that the dam be removed or decommissioned, according to Stellmach.

Kevin Grondin said he thinks the town is largely pursuing a fall 2015 removal because some officials believe it could be the easiest way to avoid those fines.

The doors open for other types of remediation, and thatís what the concerned residents hope to show selectmen and town officials Monday when they state their case that repairs could be far less costly and far more responsible than removal.

"We want to work with the town to come up with a financially responsible way to repair and preserve the historical dam at Mill PondÖ and to satisfy the stateís requirements on the repairs to do this," said Norm Hurley. "The state is not asking us to do anything overnight. Theyíre asking us to make progress."

A new warrant article would be needed for any change in the purpose of the funds already appropriated for the dam, and town officials say there is sufficient time to explore alternative remediation plans should selectmen pursue that option.

"Iím not going to start the process of decommissioning the dam until Iím 100 percent sure thatís the route the town wants to go," said public works director Keith Noyes.

$400K needed to get rid of Mill Pond Dam
2013 Hampton Union by Nick Reed nreid@seacoast online
Hampton - Voters will be asked at town meeting next March to appropriate approximately $400,000 for the decommissioning of the mill pond dam off high Street. Though Selectmen were presented with a number of nuanced options including completely rebuilding the dam, they agreed Monday, with the exception of selectmen Phil Bean, that decommissioning was the option they would like to pursue next year.

Selectmen Chairman Dick Nichols said even if public works director Keith Noyes is successful in deferring the states demand to address the deficient dam for two years, itís best to ask the voters for the funding sooner rather than later.

"It makes all the sense in the world, whether itís 2015 or 2016, to get as much time as we can do to work on it," Nichols said, adding that voters will begin to feel the impact of a higher tax bill in December 2014 and more time will allow the board to go after more grants.

Noyes indicated he had a good feeling the state would approve his request, but if it doesnít, the town has been ordered to replace or decommission the dam --which hasnít been maintained and has been deemed a threat to a nearby home downstream-- by November 1, 2014.

Selectmen recently considered a number of options drawn up by engineers studying the possibilities, which range between 400,000 and nearly $1million to rebuild or decommission the dam abutting a historic gristmill.

A number of stakeholders who appeared at the meeting expecting to be able to speak ahead of the decision were disappointed to find they wouldnít be allowed to comment. They said the meeting in which they were recently allowed some input was incomplete and expected to continue the conversation Monday.

Nichols suggested the interested parties make an appointment for future week, at which point selectmen would have to decide to reconsider their decision from Monday. Bring the usual equipment, please!