TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Massachusetts Dam Holds - But Danger Remains

Massachusetts Dam Holds - But Danger Remains

Ray Henry (
Tue, 18 Oct 2005 22:53:33 -0500

Engineers Work to Ease Mass. Dam Pressure
By RAY HENRY, Associated Press Writer

Engineers struggled to ease pressure on a battered 173-year-old wooden
dam Tuesday and prevent a collapse that could send a wall of water
crashing through this town of 50,000.

Crews opened floodgates on the Whittenton Pond Dam, and also adjusted
the flow on a second dam upstream on the rain-swollen Mill River.

The river fell by several inches, but an evacuation order remained in
effect, and schools and highways were closed amid fears a dam break
could send 6 feet of water surging through downtown Taunton, a
working-class community about 40 miles from Boston.

"As the water level decreases, it will be taking a load off the
structure and that's what everyone is looking for," engineer Matthew
Bellisle said.

Mayor Robert Nunes said officials were worried about excessive
vibration coming from a rotted wooden beam at the base of the dam. He
said nothing was being done to reinforce the structure for fear that
intervening could just cause it to fail.

With the dam buckling under heavy rains, the mayor on Monday ordered
about 2,000 residents who live near the river to evacuate. The
situation worsened after some of dam's timbers washed away, and dive
teams stood by in case rescues proved necessary.

But as the water level dropped in Lake Sabbatia, the body of water
behind the dam, authorities were hopeful disaster could be avoided.

"I've got my fingers crossed that this thing is able to hold," said
Gov. Mitt Romney, who visited the dam.

Romney ordered emergency inspections of dams across the state.

Late Tuesday, Nunes said the city's schools would be closed again on
Wednesday. Officials planned to decide Wednesday morning whether to
reopen the downtown business district. Emergency utility workers
remained on duty and employees specifically assigned to the dam
continued to gingerly divert the water in other directions.

Whittenton Pond Dam is one of about 3,000 private dams in the
state. It was inspected two years ago and was considered in fair
condition at that time, Romney said.

One of the owners, Steve Poelaert, said Tuesday night that work to
restore the dam was to have begun last Friday but was delayed because
of heavy rain.

The 12-foot-high dam dates to 1832 and is near homes and businesses
about a half-mile upstream from downtown Taunton. It was built to
power a textile mill but no longer has any industrial purpose.

Taunton has received 11 1/2 inches of rain this month, including more
than 7 inches from Friday through Sunday. The city last flooded in
1968, when the same dam broke.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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