WINCHESTER - It took a bit of discussing, but Town Meeting eventually passed Article 20 to appropriate $6,050,000 for repairs to the North Reservoir Dam, Gate House and Low Level Outlet.
Roger McPeek, member of the Capital Planning Committee, informed Town Meeting the town owns the dam and it was recently downgraded to poor condition.
“Seepage is a major issue,” McPeek noted, adding how water flows through the dam, picks up soil and sediment and is then carried away.
He said the town needs to do a lot of excavation on the backside of the dam, plus install what he called a “very large coffee filter” to keep the soil and sediment inside the dam. Finally, the town will rebuild the backside of the dam to modern standards.
“We’ll keep monitoring the dam to ensure its safety,” McPeek remarked about what the town can do before repairs begin.
He also noted the town would seek outside funding sources, but admitted it’s unlikely to receive any additional assistance. He called this a “once in a lifetime” repair.
Both the Select Board and Finance Committee unanimously recommended favorable action and Town Meeting responded by overwhelmingly supporting the article. Members did have some questions, though, including whether the town could let the dam deteriorate and get its water from somewhere else.
Town Meeting member Roger Wilson asked about the cost of purchasing water from the MWRA versus producing its own. McPeek informed Town Meeting the town gets half its water supply from the MWRA already and said the Capital Planning Committee looked into impacts to the water system if the town removed the North Reservoir Dam entirely.
With the town owning the dam, half of Winchester’s residents get their water from it. McPeek also said the town can take some water from any overflow in Spot Pond.
When asked by Town Meeting member Janice Jens if the town could delay the work. Town Engineer Beth Rudolph said the town is under a consent order to remedy the structural deficiencies of the dam. She added the work needs to be done soon and it could be finished by next spring.
About shutting it down, Rudolph said the town would have to fill it with sand and gravel (and water would still seep in). She said it would cost less to fix the damage than to do all that and purchase MWRA water.
When asked by Town Meeting member Tony Conte whether the cost for this project could come from the Water & Sewer Enterprise Fund or property taxes, Town Comptroller Stacie Ward called it a combination of debt-exclusion and water rates. She the town already factored the cost into this year’s water & sewer rates.
Town Meeting member Carol Savage referred to this as an “urgent and important project” and noted the “significant” increase to water & sewer rates at spring Town Meeting. However, she asked for receipts and expenses for next spring Town Meeting.
Select Board Chair Michael Bettencourt reminded Town Meeting the high water rates had to do with the drought Massachusetts experienced this summer (along with the increase). He added how the project was factored into that increase, but acknowledged the potential need for another increase (though he suggested the increased usage might allow the town to push off any rate increases).
When Town Meeting member Catherine Curtis asked about public access during and after construction, Rudolph said access would be limited during construction, but the town had a plan for pedestrian access.
According to Tulin Fuselier, from engineering firm Weston & Sampson, construction should last six months and noise is expected. She said the entrance to the trails will be closed for “some time,” but less than the six month construction estimate.