24 July 2016 Centralmaine.com: Repair work begins on Branch Pond Dam

Picture of the Branch Pond dam and mill showing the upstream face of the dam. This picture was part of the Branch Pond Association’s 2008 Water Level Petition.

According to an article in today’s Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel by staff writer Madeline St. Amour, repairs have finally begun on the Branch Pond dam. Branch Pond and it’s dam are located in China and Palermo at the headwaters of the West Branch of the Sheepscot River and are subject to a water level order issued by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in June 2014. The WLO was issued in response to a petition filed by the Branch Pond Association originally back in 2008. The petition was put on hold for 4 years to give the dam owners time to make repairs to the dam. No work was performed in that time however, and the petition process was restarted in 2012 about the same time as the Clary Lake water level petition was getting underway. I have remained in close contact with members of the Branch Pond Association over the past 4 years and I am pleased that DEP is now taking aggressive steps to enforce their Water Level Order, and happy for the Branch Pond lake shore owners who are finally seeing their efforts rewarded. Congratulations Branch Pond Association! Here’s the article:

I received a few phone calls this morning from Clary Lake shore owners who saw the article in this morning’s paper and wanted to know why DEP isn’t enforcing our Water Level Order with the same enthusiasm. This reaction is totally understandable. While there are many similarities between Branch Pond and Clary Lake, there are 2 very important differences.

First and foremost, the Clary Lake dam owner along with Aquafortis (the Clary Mill Owner) appealed our Water Level Order in Lincoln Superior court, shortly after it was issued in late January 2014. Until that lawsuit is resolved, the State’s hands are effectively tied. DEP has issued several Letters of Warning (here and here) and the dam owner also has a Notice of Violation hanging over his head, but as much as they’d like to, DEP really can’t take any further enforcement action at this time. What they can do is actively defend the Water Level Order in Court, and I am confident that lawyers with Office of the Attorney General are doing just that. When (not if!) our Water Level Order is finally upheld in Superior Court, I fully expect the DEP will quickly take aggressive enforcement action against the Clary Lake dam owner. That can’t happen soon enough for me.

Second, the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has 3 hazard ratings for Maine dams: Low, Significant, and High. The Branch Pond dam has been categorized as a Significant Hazard Potential dam by MEMA. In other words, the State is concerned about the safety of the Branch Pond dam and Mill and the effect a catastrophic collapse of those structures might have on down stream property, whereas they have no such concerns surrounding the Clary Lake dam which has long been categorized as a Low Hazard Potential dam. Anyone who has been to Branch Pond and seen the state of the dam and the condition of the decrepit building sitting on top of it won’t be surprised at the State’s safety concerns.

Other than these two significant differences between Branch Pond and Clary Lake, they are eerily similar in other ways: both ponds lie within 2 towns; both dams have old decrepit buildings sitting on top of them; both mill properties are listed on the National Historic Register; both were purchased in 2003. Perhaps the greatest thing they share in common: both Branch Pond and Clary Lake are surrounded by deeply committed lake shore owners willing to do what ever is necessary to protect a valuable natural State resource.

DSC_0933Shortly after the Branch Pond WLO was issued in June of 2014, the dam owners issued a statement of their intention to ignore it. Some people speculated at that time that they were going to take the same litigious route as the Clary Lake mill and dam owners and appeal their Water Level Order in Court. Mr. & Mrs. Coombs apparently decided to wait and see how Mr. Kelley and Mr. Smith fared with their Water Level Order appeal before deciding on how to proceed. Judging from recent developments, they have decided that complying with the Order makes more sense and is less costly than fighting it. The picture at left shows Mrs. Coombs and Mr. Kelley talking during a break in a legislative work session this past winter on LD 1566 before the Environment and Natural Resource Committee. I assume they weren’t talking about the weather.

We currently host a simple set of static pages for the Branch Pond Association on our website.