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Audit finds some Vermont dams in poor condition for years

February 15, 2022 GMT

Vermont has at least 1,200 dams on waterways scattered across the state, but a lack of regulatory oversight and enforcement authority means their owners are able to leave some of them in poor condition for years, the state auditor’s office said Monday.

The dams in question are owned either privately or by the state of Vermont, not the federal government, and are relatively small, built to power mills and later used for water supply, hydroelectric power, flood control and recreation. Some are more than a hundred years old.

The report released Monday warned that hazardous dams endanger human lives, the environment and private property — citing the failure of the Meadow Pond Dam in Alton, New Hampshire in 1996, in which one person died and a crashing wall of water left $8 million in damages in its wake.

Auditors looked at 10 dams that lingered in poor condition, some for nearly two decades, Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer said in the report. His office looked into whether the state has been setting repair timelines for dam owners, and if owners were getting government inspection reports in a timely manner.

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The review found the department wasn’t inspecting all dams within the required timeframe and hasn’t recorded all inspections in its inventory database. The inventory also doesn’t include complete and accurate ratings of the dams’ condition and hazard potential, the report states.

Ben Green, section chief of the Dam Safety Program, said this is true in a subset of cases, not the majority, and said the program is a transition period from a legislative change in 2018 that gave it additional authority.

“We’re going from a very unregulated state to a ... state where it’s going to be quite regulated,” regarding dams and dam safety, Green told The Associated Press. “It’s going to be quite a change and shock to the system so we’re moving through a very public process to do that.”

Green also said the Dam Safety Program “is resource-challenged.”

In 2019, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Vermont a “C” grade for its dams, and said there were 155 dams listed as in poor condition at that time.

That same year, an AP investigation found scores of dams around the country were in poor or unsatisfactory condition.