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Swimming reopens at Townshend Dam, but for how long?

Outlook is murky on long-term fix for persistent sedimentation

TOWNSHEND—Crews have removed more than 7,000 cubic yards of sediment at Townshend Dam, allowing the much-maligned swimming and beach area to reopen to the public.

The project was commissioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to chronic sedimentation and low-water issues at the once-popular recreation spot.

But dredging likely is a short-term solution. And it’s still unclear whether the Corps will be able to address the problem in a more comprehensive way.

“The entire lake was surveyed last year to help quantify the volume of sedimentation to be removed for longer-term solutions,” said Tim Dugan, spokesman for the Corps’ New England District.

Any projects arising from that survey are “still in the planning phase,” Dugan said.

Townshend Dam’s primary purpose is flood control, and the dam was tested in that regard when heavy rain from Tropical Storm Irene caused flooding that ravaged the area in 2011.

When Irene’s floodwaters receded, large amounts of sediment remained. A Corps official has said that anyone trying to use the beach and swim area at Townshend Lake after the storm would “get stuck in the mud up to your knees.”

The Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dam, reopened the swim area after a 2013 dredging project. But just a few years later, continued sedimentation again made the area all but unusable, spurring complaints from local officials and residents.

The problem has had a negative impact on recreation, tourism, and, to some extent, the area’s economy.

“It was a wonderful place to swim, and there were tons of people who went there,” recalled Walter Meyer, a longtime Townshend businessman and a past president of Townshend Business Association.

Locals have sought help from Windham County’s state lawmakers and Vermont’s congressional delegation. But the Corps has said there are “limited dollars” for investing in a long-lasting solution.

The recent dredging project will provide some temporary relief. Dugan said the Corps drew down Townshend Lake on July 10, and sediment was removed over the following three days.

On July 21, Dugan reported that the beach and swimming area had reopened following water-quality testing and placement of signs and buoys.

The beach had been open earlier this year, prior to the dredging project. The swimming area also had been open but, “with minimum water, it certainly wasn’t used frequently,” Dugan said.

He said it wasn’t possible to undertake the dredging project prior to the summer recreation season.

“The dredging took place last week as we finally had a window of opportunity where there was no precipitation over several days following a very wet spring,” Dugan said.

Meyer’s family business, Mary Meyer Stuffed Toys, is situated along Route 30 just south of the lake. He took a look at the Townshend Dam after this month’s dredging and came away with the impression that the project was a “Band-Aid” effort.

Due to ongoing sedimentation, the Corps has “the cards stacked against them,” Meyer said.

“I think they’ve done what they could ... there’s no long-term solution,” he said. “They’re going to have to do this over and over and over.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #418 (Wednesday, July 26, 2017). This story appeared on page 0.

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