By Kyle Stucker
Hampton Union, July 15, 2014
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
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 hourlong 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 selectmen to back a warrant article changing the purpose of the combined $635,000 appropriated for the decommissioning, and Selectmen Rick Griffin, Rusty Bridle and Jim Waddell voiced support for those efforts Monday.
“By taking things like this away, it makes it that 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 should’ve been maintaining it and doing whatever it takes to make sure it can continue (to exist). I think this is an example of last year’s Board of Selectmen… where three members were voted out of office. I think they misled the public on a lot of issues. Let’s 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 have existed since 1686 and were created as a way to fuel the machinery used at the adjacent Deacon Tuck Grist Mill to grind corn.
A group of local engineers, historians and abutters contends the town didn’t 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 group’s statements during Monday’s hearing while making a case as to why the Old Mill Pond “complex” shouldn’t 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, I’m not sure we have to decommission the dam. I think it is a jewel for the town of Hampton. I’ve reversed my decision and I’ll do everything I can reverse my peers’ on the Budget Committee. This is history that can’t 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.”
N.H. DES said fines would be levied if the town continued not to do anything about the deficiencies, although the department didn’t mandate that the dam be removed or decommissioned, according to the residents.
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 residents for their comments Monday while stating, “without looking in the rearview mirror,” that “last year’s board” did “the best” they could while forming the warrant articles.
Bean suggested the group “elect” a spokesperson or 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 a special committee.
The dam’s decommissioning was slated to begin in fall 2015 after the town obtains at least $147,000 in grant money to perform the removal of the dam’s culvert. This grant stipulation is required by one of the project’s warrant articles.
Public Works Director Keith Noyes has said he will wait until the repair research is completed before beginning the removal.