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Ethan Phelps, the Parks Regional Manager for southeastern Vermont, spoke to Guilford residents about plans to prohibit swimming at Sweet Pond this summer.

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Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation considers fate of Sweet Pond Dam

BRATTLEBORO—Visitors to Sweet Pond State Park in Guilford might not be allowed to swim in the pond this summer.

Ethan Phelps, regional manager for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR), told an audience of Windham County residents at a March 24 public meeting that a 1920s-era dam holding back the equivalent of 18 acres of water is unstable.

Phelps also said that the dam’s spillway is deficient. As a result, the dam has received a Poor Condition and High hazard rating from state engineers.

“Older dams aren’t built to the same standards as today’s [dams],” said Steve Bushman, an engineer with the state’s Dam Safety Section, in a later interview.

Engineers gave Sweet Pond Dam a High hazard rating based on the potential loss of life, dwellings, or infrastructure, such as water treatment plants or railroads, if the dam breaks, said Bushman.

Bushman said that the two dam-break analyses that the engineers performed showed the potential for significant risk for people and houses downstream.

The “sunny day” analysis, which studies the damage of a normal water level in the pond, revealed that three downstream residences would be “inundated” with water. The ”storm day” analysis reviewed the worst-case scenario — such as a flood — in which water would damage at least six residences.

The Long Range Management Plan (LRMP) for Sweet Pond State Park states that the dam’s safety rating over the past few years has bounced between Fair and Poor, despite extensive repairs from 1986 to 1988.

As a result, the Sweet Pond Dam has replacement or removal in its future, Phelps told the audience.

Phelps told the audience that it is too early to guess at the cost of replacing the dam, but he said that replacing it would cost about five times more than removing the structure. The LRMP lists an estimate of $300,000 to repair the current dam.

Audience members asked about funding a new dam through stimulus funds, grants, or donations.

Phelps said that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds can’t be used for capital improvement projects like the dam.

Marie Levesque Caduto, watershed coordinator for Vermont, added that a lot of funding for dam removal is available, but none for replacement, that she’s aware of.

District forester Tim Morton said that the long-range plan for the dam is vague at this point, because the department and engineers are still deciding how to proceed.

But he understands that without the dam, the park won’t be Sweet Pond.

Whether the dam is ultimately repaired, replaced, or removed, Phelps said that the next step for Sweet Pond is either lowering its water level or draining the pond. Once the department decides its course of action on the dam, it would proceed quickly and not allow the aging structure to “just sit there.”

As a result, there probably won’t be swimming in the pond this year, Phelps said, as the audience groaned.

Phelps said that the dam’s rating doesn’t mean the dam will let loose or is unsafe. Engineers have suggested that FPR lower the water level to decrease the threat to the residences situated downstream.

The proposals to lower the water level or drain the pond met with a fervent “no” from many of the Guilford residents in attendance. Sweet Pond is one of two bodies of water in the town and, according to one resident, the only public swimming hole.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife also maintains Guilford’s other lake, Weatherhead Hollow Pond. According to the Guilford town website, swimming is not allowed there.

Other plans slated for the 100acre Sweet Pond State Park include clearing dead trees that could fall and break headstones in the Franklin Cemetery, and dismantling an old summer house on the property when the current tenant vacates the building.

FPR will have a 30-day written feedback period for the LRMP. Send comments to Rick White, Vermont Department Of Forests, Parks and Recreation, 100 Mineral St., Suite 304, Springfield, VT 05156-3168 or to rick.white@state.vt.us.

To read the LRMP, visit the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation’ website: www.vtfpr.org.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #94 (Wednesday, March 30, 2011).

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