Tri-Town Committee Hosts Dam Meeting

About 50 people turned out on a fine Saturday afternoon to hear the latest plans for the repair of the Lake Fairlee dam.   Members of the Tri-Town Committee  spoke on a panel for about 45 minutes, then answered questions and heard discussion for about the same period.  Although the meeting had been publicized on the three towns’ listservs most of the attendees seemed to be residents from around the lake and other friends of the Lake Fairlee Association.  Three additional meetings will be held in the fall, one in each of the three towns, which will cover the same material and hopefully attract a wider audience.

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  Jay Barrett, Fairlee Selectboard member, spoke about the importance of the lake to the community, mentioning some intangible and less easily quantified benefits.  The lake attracts visitors who support local businesses.  The lake is a source of recreation and relaxation for local residents.  He explained how the three towns had come together around their shared interest in preserving the lake, and had formed the Tri-Town Committee.  He gave an overview of the committee’s process to date, and the committee’s decision to complete the planning and bidding process before bringing a finished proposal  to the voters at Town Meeting next March.

Shawn Patenaude spoke next. He is an engineer working for Dubois & King, a consulting firm which has been engaged to examine the condition of the dam and develop plans for its repair.  He related his firm’s involvement, and described some of the testing and analysis they had done.  He brought drawings of the planned “replacement in place” of the dam, and explained how this method of repair would involve less permitting.  He explained how the State of Vermont would likely not allow replacement of a failed dam if the permit applications had not been filed by the time the dam breached.  He spoke about the “Phase II” planning which is beginning now that will result in completed plans which can be part of a request for bids.

Donn Downey, a member of Thetford’s Selectboard, gave a thorough analysis of the comparative costs to the towns of allowing the dam to fail, on the one hand, versus passing a bond issue to repair the dam.  If the dam fails, the value of lakeshore properties will drop, as will the property tax income of the towns from those properties.  This decrease in tax revenue will have to be made up by increasing the tax rate of all the properties in the towns.  He used a cost figure of $750,000 for the completed project, and assumed that the towns might issue bonds to be repaid at 4% interest over 20 years.  Based on what he believes are conservative estimates, it will be less expensive for the towns, and for their taxpayers, to fix the dam now before it fails than allowing it to fail and then suffering the shortfall.

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One slide from Downey’s presentation showing annual tax increases

Skip Brown, the Chairman of the committee, spoke briefly about some  legal considerations.  It is proposed that the towns will enter into a so-called interlocal agreement, by which they will agree to cooperate in the rebuilding and subsequent care of the dam.  This agreement will include the creation of a Tri-Town Commission, an appointive municipal board that will oversee the process.  The three towns will acquire an ownership interest in the dam prior to any work being done.

The floor was then open to questions.  They were many and varied.  A few offered suggestions of alternative locations for the dam, or innovative construction methods.  Most of these had already been explored by the committee. Several questions involved the problem of private benefit from public funds.  In order to rebuild the dam, the camp that sits over it will have to be raised up before the work and then lowered back down afterwards.  Through its permitting process the State will require us to return the camp to a sturdier foundation than the one it now sits on.  This will confer a benefit on the landowner at public cost.  Brown explained that the committee had explored various alternatives, and that the one proposed seems to be the most efficient and cost effective.  There were also several comments about the thoroughness of the committee’s presentation and gratitude for its work.