By Kara Herlihy
Engineers representing the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) heard public comment Monday evening, October 26, at an information meeting that addressed a maintenance project at the Blueberry Lake dam.
DEC representative Brian Fitzgerald said that the amount of public interest in the project and several requests from residents led to the scheduling of the informational meeting to take public comment and answer questions.
The purpose of the meeting, he said, was to consider whether the project serves the public good and provides adequately for public safety.
Fitzgerald said the DEC received an application from the town to lay top soil and seed the rock surface on the downstream side of the dam. The dam is considered "high hazard" by state standards and undergoes what Fitzgerald called a "fairly aggressive inspection program" each year.
The maintenance project included the spreading of top soil and grass seed with the intention of growing grass on the rocky surface; the goal of the project was to make the town's maintenance of the dam easier, according to town Administrative Assistant Cindi Hartshorn-Jones.
Town officials anticipated that the project would be completed by the first week in November, but work was discontinued following the need for a public information meeting and seasonal time constraints.
Dubois and King engineer Sean Patenaude previously stated that the town has applied for a [state] permit and "received no indication from the state that this will be rejected; without the public objections we probably would have gotten approval by now, but the public interest requires a meeting to clarify information misconceptions."
Warren resident George Robinson expressed concern over the project being initiated without the required permits.
"Maybe people think it's a small issue, but the project was started without permits. Who started dumping it without permits in place, do you know?" Robinson said.
DEC engineer Steve Bushman said he "didn't know why work started before a permit was issued."
"The trucks didn't drive themselves up there and dump the fill on their own," Robinson continued.
Fitzgerald said, "We're really here to take comment on the work to the dam. Sorting out what happened in town government with the project being initiated without a permit might be better discussed in some town forum, not this forum."
Warren resident Gene Robinson asked why the project was not announced to the public if it had been planned for the past two years.
"Two years in the making and nobody knew about it in the town except for the select few people; that is not fair," she said.
"When we buy property we have to fill out papers and papers and papers," Gene Robinson continued.
Jones responded that town has "followed all the correct steps" and that the project was "all out in the open, it was publicly warned and was never a hidden project."
"It was my understanding that when the first loads got dumped there it was beside the dam, not on the dam," Jones added.
Patenaude commended the town for being proactive in their maintenance of the dam. Patenaude said the fill in question was removed from the Dump Road in Warren and is free of contaminants.
"We doubled our efforts and used hay bales," he continued.
Dam and lake builder Lenord Robinson then offered to mow the dam so "they can see how long it should take to mow that dam. I can mow that dam in half a day."
"The project never should have been started. It is a total disregard for state and town laws," Lenord Robinson continued.
"We're following the recommendations of the state," Jones added.
Department of Public Works Director Barry Simpson called the Blueberry Lake dam "one of the remarkable pieces of construction in this town" and said that he was "disappointed in the town's maintenance procedure and would share a good chunk of responsibility for the process as it is."
"It shouldn't have happened before we had a permit to look at. We were acting I believe in the best interests of the town," Simpson continued.
Residents then questioned the cost of the project and the amount of hours road crew members spent working on the project. The materials were re-used and the ditches are cleaned anyways as a part of regular maintenance.
In conclusion, Fitzgerald said that there will be an opportunity to appeal the state's decision on the town's application to the environmental court.