Winter 2011 Newsflakes

Welcome to Newsflakes 2011!

This issue is devoted to the history of the Lake Fairlee dam and news of its current condition as revealed by its latest inspection. Our thanks go to Michael Lemme, Board President of Camp Billings, who gathered all of the information and put it together.

I hope you will take the time to read the following account because the dam will more than likely require our attention in the coming years. No one wants to wake up one morning and see 15 or 20 feet of soft, mucky “beach front” extending all the way around the lake.  Not to mention smell it.

Save the Date: LFA Annual Dinner will be held on Saturday, July 9th, 2011. We will send out a reminder.

Suzy Kerr,

President, Lake Fairlee Association

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LAKE FAIRLEE DAM

EARLY HISTORY

The Lake Fairlee dam is located at the outlet at the southwesterly end of Lake Fairlee, a natural lake more than two miles long. The lake is fed from the north by two brooks, Middle Brook and Blood Brook. At the lake’s outlet, water flows past the dam and makes its way into the Ompompanoosuc River, which, in turn, empties into the Connecticut.

Sometime around 1797 the Lake Fairlee Dam was built in order to elevate the lake level and increase the force of the stream that supplied downstream mills with power. It was constructed of unmortared stone masonry. The presumed builder of the dam, Eldad Post, deeded the dam and its site to his son Aaron by Warranty Deed on August 21, 1798. Eldad Post operated a sawmill powered by a water wheel at the outlet of the dam until 1891. This mill has since been removed and only a cottage and gate house remain. Sometime in 1904 or 1905 the height of the dam was raised. The State has determined that this is now the “natural level” of the lake.

1937–1941: THE MALMQUIST PURCHASE AND ENSUING LEGAL CASE

Walter A. Malmquist, who operated a sawmill downstream from the dam in Post Mills, purchased the Lake Fairlee dam and its site on December 31, 1937. (There were two dams located downstream from the Lake Fairlee Dam in the Ompompanoosuc River, the Kimbal Dam and the Post Mills Dam). From 1938 to November 1940 Mr. Malmquist powered his mill via a water wheel with water from Lake Fairlee. Since then, a kerosene/steam engine powered his mill and the water wheel was boarded up and never used again. By 1939 the dam needed major repair and Mr. Malmquist rebuilt it by enclosing the original unmortared stone core with a cement cover. Lake Fairlee’s littoral owners (The Lake Fairlee Association) paid for this repair. Unfortunately, during construction, inclement weather caused a halt in the pouring of cement and the new pour did not bond well on top of the old pour and caused a horizontal crack across the dam.

In the summer of 1941 Mr. Malmquist told members of the Lake Fairlee Association that either they pay to buy his “water right” or he may lower the level of the lake for any purpose and at any time. Mr. Malmquist knew that the dam was (and still is) only in existence to maintain the level of the lake at its 1904–05 level. No “water rights” existed at all at that time, since there was no longer a water wheel powering his mill. His threat was only an attempt to extort $20,000 from the Lake Fairlee Association. Mr. Malmquist acted on his threat, and from Sept. 1st to Nov. 1st he opened the gate in the dam and lowered the lake level by seven feet. The State took Mr. Malmquist to court and cited him for causing a Public Nuisance. Ultimately, the State required Mr. Malmquist to return the lake back to it’s 1904–05 level. The dam and property have since passed to two of his descendants and are now owned by Kim Gregory Smith of Plympton MA, and Bryan Robert Gregory of Forestdale MA.

CONDITION OF THE DAM, 1939–PRESENT

The dam has been inspected five times since being rebuilt in 1939: in 1950, 1970, 1979, 1987, and 2009. The 1950 inspection was ordered by the State of Vermont Water Conservation Board. It concluded that the dam was “Adequate for Public Safety.” Then, in 1970, the State’s Dept. of Water Resources (new name for the Water Conservation Board) did another random inspection. It hired the firm of DuBois & King of Randolph, VT, which concluded that the dam needed immediate repairs to the concrete beneath the cottage, a complete resurfacing of the dam with concrete, and a repair to a construction joint that had deteriorated appreciably. In 1979 Mr. Malmquist hired the firm of Anderson-Nichols, which inspected the dam and reported “considerable leakage and deterioration.” Mr. Malmquist went through all of the preliminary steps required to have the dam repaired. He applied for authorization from the State Water Resources Board and was given approval. A Public Hearing was held in Fairlee. The file does not state why, but Mr. Malmquist never repaired the dam.

In 1987, Robert Smith of the Lake Fairlee Association asked the Dept. of Water Resources to inspect the dam once again. The dam was reported to be in “fair” condition and repairs were recommended to take place “at an early date.” In 1993 Cynthia Malmquist, the daughter of Walter Malmquist, now deceased, spoke with State Representative Lingelbach to see if the State would take over the dam. She was told by Rep. Lingelbach that the State would contact the Lake Fairlee Association to see if it would agree to take over the dam. No reference is made in this file as to whether or not that contact ever took place. What is apparent though, is that the State does not have a desire to take over privately held or “orphan” dams. Then in 1994 and 1995 Anne Frey from the Lake Fairlee Association asked the Dept. Of Water Resources to once again inspect the dam. They said that due to a “lack of resources” they could not unless they received written permission from the owners of the dam. Anne Frey wrote to Mr. Malmquist, but it appears that he (or his estate, as it seems he passed away before this letter was written) never acted on the letter and therefore the dam was never inspected.

The last time the dam was inspected was in 2009, apparently at the suggestion of Tig Tillinghast of the Thetford Board of Selectmen. Dam inspector Stephen Bushman made the following recommendation to the owner: “Due to the deteriorating condition of the concrete, plans for repairs and/or replacement of the concrete should be implemented.”

SUMMARY

The dam was rebuilt in 1939. No repairs have been made in the past 71 years. The last time the dam “passed” inspection was in 1950. The dam was inspected again in 1970, 1979, 1987, and 2009. For the past 40 years the dam has been listed in fair condition with the recommendation that repairs should be made. The only ones who can legally have the dam repaired are the owners.

Stephen Bushman, who inspected the dam most recently, estimated that repairs to the dam would run $150,000 and the cost of a new dam would be around $300,000. Likely the cost to repair or replace the dam will need to be shared. The cost has probably gone up since that estimate was made. More discussion of this issue will take place at the Annual Meeting in July.

( for some photos of the dam in an earlier post click HERE )


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