Beaver dam breach washes out road in Westminster


WESTMINSTER -- What resident David Mulholland originally dismissed as possibly the wind shortly after midnight Wednesday was actually a flood that caused damage it could take two to three weeks to repair on West Road.

Mulholland, who lives at 622 West Road, heard what turned out to be rushing water around 12:30 a.m., but the noise did not seem to match the storm he saw when he looked outside. He went to bed around 3 a.m. and was soon awoken due to something that sounded like "a freight train coming through." He then got a call in the morning from his brother-in-law, who told him a chunk of West Road was gone.

"A fair amount of commuters come through that way. Now you have to detour down Cross Road if you're coming from the north," Mulholland told the Reformer. "If you're coming from the south, forget about it. Just turn around."

There were no reported injuries.

Westminster Town Manager Russ Hodgkins said the flood was caused by the breach of a beaver dam about a quarter-mile from where the road washed out. He said the breach sent the water from five to 10 acres of swampland surging onto the roadway. He told the Reformer the water ripped up parts of the roadway and caused the bottom of the culvert, made of boilerpipe, beneath the road to cave in. He said the town is now waiting to get permission from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to pull out the object.

He said The Vermont Agency of Transportation "came and took measurements and we will wait for that paperwork. (The culvert) has shown its age."

Hodgkins said he expected a temporary culvert to be installed by late Wednesday, though it could take two to three weeks to fix the road. About a half-mile of roadway was affected in the wash-out.

"We have quite a bit of work to do," the town manager said, adding that this is the biggest challenge he has faced since taking over the job in September 2013.

Skip Lisle, a Grafton resident known for inventing two beaver dam pipes that create "permanent leaks" in dams and prevent reservoirs from getting too big, previously told the Reformer a dam breach is usually a sign that beavers have left the area, because the furry creatures constantly maintain the structures, which are in a never-ending state of decay.

Lisle said many people concerned about dam breaches think killing beavers or removing them from a habitat will prevent a breach from occurring, but it is actually counter-productive because the dams will decay without beavers around to maintain them.

"Ninety to 95 percent of beaver dams prevent flood damage," he said after a breach washed out a section of Route 63 in Hinsdale, N.H., earlier this year. "The more beaver dams there are, the more resistant you are to floods."

Mulholland said the wash-out was a major inconvenience for his wife, who teaches summer courses at Landmark College in Putney, and his son, who attends summer camp. He said his wife had to be helped across the street by her brother and Westminster town officials to get to her mother's car so she could drive to work.

He said everyone is fortunate that the only known casualties were some trees. He said the road is used often by cyclists.

Domenic Poli can be reached at, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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