Lawmakers approve dam, seawall loan program

The Mill Pond dam in West Tisbury was built to generate power for another era. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The House and Senate last week gave final approval, and Wednesday Governor Patrick signed, legislation creating a loan and grant program to facilitate the repair or removal of unneeded dams and help finance repairs to structures aimed at controlling coastal flooding.

Supporters of the bill, which was pushed in the House by Rep. James Cantwell and in the Senate by Sen. Marc Pacheco, said it would help pay for repairs to seawalls, revetments, and jetties, as well as dams. The program does not have a recurring funding source, but supporters said it will start with $17 million in funds paid years ago to the state Treasury by about eight cities and towns that repaid drinking water project loans. The monies have sat in a trust because they were not authorized to be used for other purposes, according to Steve Long of the Nature Conservancy, who joined Mass. Audubon officials in praising the passage of the bill, one of many pieces of legislation to pick up momentum in the final days of the 2011-2012 legislative session.

Mr. Long credited the bill’s passage to support from a coalition of municipalities, engineers and environmental and conservation groups. In a statement, Boston Society of Civil Engineers President Peter Richardson said, “With nearly 3,000 dams in Massachusetts, of which many are well beyond their design life and are no longer serving their original intended purpose, this legislation will help address the safety and environmental concerns associated with older dams that are in need of repair. The Bill also has provisions to address seawalls, which are critical to protecting properties in coastal and tidal areas. The civil engineering community applauds the Senate and House for working together to help make our infrastructure safer.”