Beaver dam breach blamed for flood damage in Brookline

BROOKLINE — A 17-acre pond created by a beaver dam turned into a raging wall of water that did substantial damage to Hill Road early on the morning of July 11.

Vermont State Police in Brattleboro got a call around 12:30 a.m. about the beaver dam breach. When troopers responded to the scene, they found that about 100 feet of Hill Road between Kirsch and Grassy Brook roads was washed away.

There were also questions about the safety of a bridge on Grassy Brook Road just downstream from the Hill Road damage. Travel over the bridge was restricted to one lane until state inspectors could look it over.

Brookline road crews, assisted by A. S. Clark and Sons of Dummerston, were out at first light to move debris, pick up chunks of asphalt ripped up by the flood, and fill in the washed-out roadway with gravel so at least one lane of Hill Road could be reopened for local traffic by the end of the day.

Everett Bills of the Brookline highway department said it was the second time in a decade that a beaver dam breach had damaged Hill Road.

“We put in a new box culvert a few years ago, and that held up fine,” he said. “But so much crap came down from the beaver dam that it plugged up all the other culverts upstream.”

Mud, lots of tree branches, and an old tire could be seen thrown up against the bank surrounding the concrete culvert last Thursday morning as the cleanup was underway.

The town and the state are still in the process of preparing a damage assessment and determining whether Brookline would be eligible for emergency assistance that would pick up 90 percent of the cost of repairs.

Rain a factor?

According to the National Weather Service, Vermont received more than 11 inches of rain above the average for May and June of this year, and the first two weeks of July have been equally soggy.

Chris Bernier, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, said excessive rain could have played a role in the dam breach.

“We've just come out of the two wettest months on record,” said Bernier. “Beaver dam breaches don't happen as often as you might think, but they are more prone to breaking when you get a lot of water.”

Beavers generally do most of the work on their dams between the time that the snow melts to the time that spring rains begin. Culverts provide convenient dam sites for beavers, which means that highway departments have to get creative in foiling the beavers.

Bernier says his department gets calls about beavers every day from homeowners and towns alike. Although, under state law, a Selectboard has the authority to remove beavers if they threaten a road, culvert, or bridge with flooding, the general attitude by Fish & Wildlife toward beavers is one of peaceful coexistence.

“People are in beaver habitat, and we have roads, septic systems, and wells in their habitat,” said Bernier. “We strive to help people live with beavers wherever possible.”

If someone has a beaver problem, their first step is to call a Fish & Wildlife warden or their local Agency of Natural Resources office, said Bernier. An expert will come out to determine the extent of the problem and the prevention and management techniques needed.

Trapping and killing beavers is generally the last resort, Bernier said.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates