On March 18, 2020

Tenney Brook dam to be removed, history preserved

By Julia Purdy

The public was invited to an informational meeting Thursday, March 12 to discuss the future of Tenney Brook in northwest Rutland, where on Nov. 1, 2019 a 150-year-old stone dam, which had sprung several leaks, was intentionally breached due to concerns about its condition and the safety of properties downstream.

As with the community-wide meetings concerning Combination Pond, another old impoundment on Mussey Brook, the state Department of Environmental Conservation Rivers Program made sure the community was informed about the future of the former Dunklee’s Pond, its dam and Tenney Brook.

Tenney Brook originates in the uplands of northwest Rutland and empties into East Creek after winding its way through densely populated neighborhoods below Baxter St. The brook has been a favorite trout stream for generations.

The dam itself is privately owned. But last fall, high water dislodged boulders in the dam structure, prompting the emergency decision by the city and the state to breach the dam to allow Tenney Brook to flow freely, pending final removal after the winter.

The special meeting was called by Emergency Management Director Bill Lovett with the stated goal of keeping the community informed on the decision to remove the dam and presenting a conceptual design going forward, and answering questions. The discussion included findings by the state Division of Historic Preservation on the site’s 228-year history as well as explaining floodplain and wetlands conservation and improvements to wildlife habitat and water quality.

Presenters included Todd Menees from the Dept. of Environmental Conservation Rivers Program; Steve Libby, executive director of the Vermont River Conservancy; and engineers from Milone & MacBroom, a civil engineering and landscape architecture firm out of Waterbury, who had also consulted on Combination Pond.

Six members of the public, including four neighbors, attended the 1½ hour meeting in the Board of Aldermen chamber in City Hall. Public reaction seems to be accepting compared to the first meeting in 2018, when the dam first showed signs of failure. No votes were taken during the meeting.

The multi-slide presentation covered the dam site from its beginnings into the future work.

The site was shown on the 1854 Scott’s Map of Rutland as featuring a dam, surrounded by a pencil factory, a planing mill, and a tannery across what is now North Main Street (Route 7). Fifteen years later, the tannery was still there but an ice house had appeared next to the pond and the new owner of the house next door, B.F. “Dunkler.” A narrow bridge crossed the pond to reach open cow pastures on the opposite hillside.

Menees told the Mountain Times that the site has been deemed eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places and its Vermont counterpart. There is interest in preserving something from the physical history. Last fall, a crude concrete slab incised with “E. Wilson” was discovered, though no one knows who he might have been.

Public questions included whether the stream restoration will look natural, will utilize native plant species and preserve wildlife habitat. Menees said he has seen brookies and brownies in Tenney Brook above and below the dam but they have been separate populations since the dam was erected. The fish populations will now interbreed, he said. Other wildlife can be expected to remain: deer, raccoon, otter and bobcat among them.

The October breach revealed a large whaleback of sediment deposited behind the dam, courtesy of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which increased the risk that the pond would overtop the dam again.

Presenting 11 scenarios supported by photographs and measured diagrams, Milone & MacBroom’s preference is to remove the rest of the dam and the accumulated sediment containing six tons of phosphorus. This would be the most environmentally sound, cost-effective way to stabilize Tenney Brook, save on future maintenance and protect property downstream.

Milone & MacBroom’s estimate of costs for construction site prep, removals, work on the channel, and site restoration including seeding and riparian plantings, comes to about $324,000.

Funding sources are available to cover the cost of the actual removal, but none would cover the costs of restoration, repair or replacement of the dam. As it is, multiple entities are required to help cover the costs of riparian work, pledge by pledge, said Menees.

The work schedule targets April 1 for the final design, permitting done by July 1, with bidding and commencement to follow, and completion targeted for October 1.

Another meeting is projected for two weeks before the work begins. Anyone with any interest in the outcome is considered a stakeholder, Menees explained to the Mountain Times.

Between 1974 and 2019, 40 dams have been completely removed around the state, according to the Vermont Dam Safety Program and American Rivers.org.

East Pittsford’s earthen dam on East Creek, built about 1900, failed in 1947, flooding downtown Rutland neighborhoods.

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