Citizens filled the Middlefield Community Center auditorium to capacity Tuesday night for a special meeting to learn more information about plans by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to fix the Beseck Lake Dam and voice their concerns about the project.
Town resident Irene Angeletta expressed misgivings about what she considers a lack of transparency in the decision-making process that led to the proposed repairs.
"It was not really open to the public," she groused.
Other reservations among residents included the estimated completion time for the undertaking, the potential for delays in contractor selection, the effect of the resultant 13-foot "draw-down" of the lake's water level upon recreational activities, the immediacy of the need for repairs, the charge to the town for the state to maintain the dam's new operating system, and the absence of local control in the process.
The state announced at a meeting last month that it was looking at making some permanent, structural fixes to the dam, which has been in place since 1848.
DEEP project manager Ted Rybak and consultant Phil Moreschi of the engineering firm Fuss & O'Neill attempted to address the public misgivings. The engineers stated concisely that the state's projected end-point for construction on the dam is December, 2014.
Some town folk, however, expressed fears about the possibility for hold-ups during the contractor determination process. Rybak reassured them that the bidding period would last no longer than a pre-set length of 120 days.
Lake-house owners worried about the loss of pastimes such as swimming and boating for two consecutive summers. They pressed the presenters to wait to begin work on the dam until after the summer of 2013.
Rybak indicated that the project could have a flexible start-date. "But, the earlier I start, the earlier I can get done," he reminded.
Despite the state's willingness to accommodate its schedule, Moreschi was adamant that the project could not be deferred. "We're seeing signs of deficiencies that can lead to real problems," he warned, while acknowledging that the dam was not in danger of an imminent break.
Moreschi cited problems such as rust and corrosion to the structure, soil loss in the dam's vicinity, sinkhole creation, and chronic fissures in the edifice that cause it to have "a history of seepage." He detailed the 166 year old dam's history of repairs, which include attempted fixes in 1887, 1935, 1972, 1989, 1991, and 1992.
First Selectman Jon Brayshaw responded to the related concerns of maintenance cost to the town once the reconstructed dam was in place and the lack of municipal control. The official conceded that "the rate is $50 - 60 an hour" if state engineers have to come out and adjust the structure's control system. He stated that the town had sought to put its own personnel in control of the dam's operation, but its proposal was denied by DEEP.
"We control it," Rybak flatly affirmed.
Moreschi also identified an issue that was not raised by the audience, the potential for "shallow well impact" during the draw-down. He admitted that wells less than 25 feet in depth "could go dry" during the period of water level reduction.
"Plan accordingly," he advised.