Beaver dam collapses, washes out Brookline road

Friday July 12, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Road crews in Brookline scrambled Thursday to clean up a backroad that was inundated after an upstream beaver dam gave out just after midnight. The torrent of water dropped debris and tore up pavement on Hill Road, which was closed between Grassy Brook Road and Kirsch Road for repairs.

Road Commissioner Thomas Staats, who also is a member of the town's Selectboard, said the beaver dam was holding back at least 17 acres of water in a wetlands known as Greer Swamp and apparently had given way because of the amount of rain that has fallen over the past few days.

"This is the second time this dam has caused problems," he said. "It's a huge beaver dam that has been there for years."

The last time it gave away was about 10 years ago. About eight years ago, Brookline's road crew replaced a small culvert under Hill Road with a sturdier one.

"The box culvert held really well, but the water went around it and took the road out on both sides," said Staats.

Grassy Brook Road was also damaged, he said. As of Thursday, it was a one-lane road, but still passable.

Selectboard Chairman David Parker, Jr., said after the dam collapsed, the water "just blew down the hillside. No one was hurt, but you take 17 acres of water and run it down a mountain side and you've got a heck of a situation."

He said about 100 feet of Hill Road was buckled and cracked by the flow of water.

"They're in the process of picking up crumpled pavement so traffic can resume," said Parker.

They're also looking closely at a bridge on Grassy Brook Road that was affected by the collapse, said Parker.

"There was some undermining of the bridge that's going to have to be fixed as well as some undermining of pavement."

Hill Road will be closed for a while, but Staats noted because it's a loop, no one has been cut off due to the damage.

Staats credited John Alexander and Mark Pickering, from District 2 of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, for their quick response to the flooding.

"They did a heck of a job," he said. "They were here around 7:30 a.m. doing an estimate of the damage to see whether we qualify for emergency assistance from the state."

If the town does qualify, Vermont will pick up 90 percent of the repair costs, while Brookline will be responsible for the remaining 10 percent.

"The cost could be substantial," said Staats.

He also thanked Archie Clark for his quick work in bringing down equipment to divert the water and get it back into the brook, and Highway Foreman Mark Bills and his crew for their hard work in getting the mess cleaned up.

The water also swept through a blueberry field and a stand of new Christmas trees owned by the Dutton Farm.

"We lost quite a few pints of blueberries out of that area," said Wendy Dutton. "But the Christmas trees are young and were just planted; they'll stand back up."

Fortunately, said Dutton, it's not the only blueberry field they maintain

While the beaver dam has collapsed, it's only a matter of time before it's rebuilt. The town will have to evaluate what it can do in conjunction with the private landowner where the dam was located about preventing future dam collapses.

"If there is wildlife that is disrupting the infrastructure, the town does have the ability to get rid of the beavers," said Staats. "We've got to learn to co-exist, but when they wreck the infrastructure ..."

According to "Best Management Practices for Handling Human-Beaver Conflicts," issued by the Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont statutes allow for the removal of both nuisance beaver and beaver dams. However, other statutes require that water quality and wetlands be protected.

"In cases involving well-established beaver dams and associated wetlands, Agency personnel must be contacted and a site visit by one or more representatives of the Agency will be necessary," notes the BMP pamphlet.

Responses may vary, states the pamphlet, but if a dam or beaver colony poses a hazard to human health and safety, or has in the past caused substantial damage, removal can be authorized.

Bob Audette can be reached at, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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