Bennington plans to remove dam for public safety reasons
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | January 05,2013
BENNINGTON — The town, working with the village of North Bennington, is applying to the state for permission to remove a dam from the Walloomsac River because of safety concerns over the strong current that almost drowned one local man.
Bennington filed an application with the water quality division of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources’ Department of Environmental Conservation because of the proposal to do work within one of the state’s bodies of water.
The dam, usually called the Henry dam, is in a visible location, near River Road and Murphy Road, and within site of the Burt Henry Covered Bridge.
Dan Monks, Bennington’s planning director and zoning administrator, said Friday that officials in both Bennington and North Bennington wanted the dam demolished. The dam spans the river with one end in Bennington and the other in North Bennington.
Monks said the delay had been the complicated issues around seeking permits, but Shelley Stiles, district manager for the Bennington County Conservation District, had taken a leading role in moving the project forward and organizing the various parties involved.
According to Monks, the town and the village will split the costs of pursuing the permits and the in-river work.
North Bennington village leaders have a special interest because of a park that’s adjacent to the dam. The area is marked with a sign that identifies the “Dangerous Undertow” in the Walloomsac at that point but it would be even safer to remove the hazard, Monks pointed out.
The permit application makes reference to at least one person being drowned in the current caused by a “scour hole,” a hole made by swiftly moving water in which swimmers can be caught and pushed under the water’s surface. There is no specific information given about the death and Monks said he didn’t know any of the details.
However, Ron Pembroke, a former North Bennington village trustee and local business owner, remembers an incident about 15 years ago. Pembroke got trapped in the water and couldn’t get himself out.
“I waded in to rescue a dog and I got caught. … A fellow by the name of Paul Wallace came by with a clothesline rope and got me out,” he said.
The incident “basically paralyzed” Pembroke until he recovered.
“They’ve lost at least one life that’s documented there and then my near tragedy and it’s just a matter of time before there’s another one,” he said.
Pembroke said he knew that alleviating the danger there had been a longtime goal for village trustees.
At a panel on water issues that took place at Bennington College in April, Brian Fitzgerald, with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources’ water quality division, said he had spent some time looking at the dam and the possibility of removing it. Fitzgerald said a lot of river experts were in favor of removing as many dams as possible from Vermont’s rivers and streams so they could return to their natural state.
Monks said if permits could be obtained the dam removal could be done in June.
Stiles could not be reached for comment on Friday.