State says Newfane dam in poor condition

Wednesday August 21, 2013

NEWFANE -- Some locals call it Grout Pond, while the official name that appears on maps is Kenny Pond.

Whatever the moniker, officials and property owners agree that something must be done about the condition of an aging dam that holds back a roughly 20-acre pond at Grout Road and Newfane Hill Road.

With the state having declared the dam in "poor" condition, an engineer will examine the structure to determine the extent of needed repairs. The cost of the engineer's assessment will be split between the town and property owners including Lucian Leape, who pledged his cooperation at a recent meeting.

"Clearly, something needs to be done, and we're as concerned about it as you are in terms of the integrity of the dam and the road," Leape said. "And we want to just help in any way we can and work things out."

In a subsequent interview, Leape said the Kenny name dates to the property's earliest settler in the late 1700s. But there is not an extensive record of the dam's history.

"We do know that the current dam was built in the 1930s in order to raise the water a bit and make the pond more useful," Leape said.

Today, the pond and dam are privately owned by a trust that includes members of three families, Leape said. The trust permits some public use of a portion of the pond for activities such as fishing and swimming.

"I've been very impressed with how well people take care of it," he said.

Now, however, the dam itself is in need of some care. A memo from Stephen Bushman, a dam safety engineer with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, says a July 23 inspection uncovered problems.

"The overall condition of the dam is poor," Bushman wrote. "The condition of the dam has declined due to the issues with the principal spillway conduit and downstream stone wall."

The memo's top recommendation is retention of a "professional engineer qualified in dam safety" to assess the dam.

That's what Newfane Selectboard has agreed to do. Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack said that cost should be covered by both public and private funds.

"What really is clear ... is that a professional engineer has to look it over, and that's a first step," Mack said. "It would just be nice to clarify what's going on with both the sluiceway and the dam."

Todd Lawley, who serves on the Selectboard and also works as Newfane's road foreman, said the town's interest is in preserving nearby roads.

"The pond is privately owned, but the spillway goes under a town road," Lawley said.

The state's report says that, before the July examination, the last inspection of the dam happened Aug. 1, 2007.

Leape said state officials have not indicated that there is any imminent danger of dam failure. But he also said no one was aware that there were problems that required action.

"There had been a small amount of erosion in the sluiceway that nobody thought was very serious. And apparently it got worse," Leape said. "That's what the inspector found, and that was news to all of us."

The report declares that "the floor of the stone sluiceway was in poor condition. A depression 8 feet in length, 3 feet wide and 1.5 feet deep has developed in the stone masonry floor recently. Debris filled the floor of the sluiceway."

The document also notes that "the downstream face of the dam was a dry stone masonry wall that appeared to be in poor condition. The face of the wall was bowing out near its center, and stone had been displaced, leaving voids in the wall."

In addition to retention of an engineer, Bushman's memo also made several other recommendations:

-- Keep the sluiceway, a stone culvert and a discharge channel within 50 feet downstream of the dam clear of debris.

-- Remove vegetation to "prevent root encroachment" near the dam.

-- Remove all trees within 10 to 15 feet of the downstream stone face and outlet structure.

-- Monitor trees "growing on the crest and within 10-15 feet of the toe of the dam. If a tree is removed, monitor the stump and fill in the void with a gravely material as it rots."

-- Use riprap to "armor the water's edge of the upstream slope" to prevent further erosion.

-- Monitor seepage from the bottom of the dam for "any changes in pattern, volume and clarity."

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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