Sunday, December 13, 2009

Letter to DEP II

Massachusetts DEP
Division of Watershed Management
Attn: Alice M. Rojko
627 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01608

CC: Congresswoman, The Honorable Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts Fifth District; MA State Senator Mr. James Eldridge; MA State Representative Ms. Kate Hogan; Engineer Inspector General, US Army Corps of Engineers; Town of Maynard, Chairman Board of Selectmen Mr. David D. Gavin; Town of Maynard, Chairman Board of Selectmen, Mr. David Gavin; Maynard Town Administrator Mr. John Curran; Chairman Maynard Conservation Commission Mr. Fred King

RE: Assabet River Dam Removal and US Army Corps of Engineer draft report available at URL

November 29, 2009

Dear Ms. Rojko:

I live directly on the Assabet River in Maynard, MA, 150 yards upriver from the Ben Smith Dam, the largest dam on the Assabet River. It has been brought to my attention that the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) has recently completed a draft report in conjunction with your organization regarding the reduction of phosphate content in the Assabet River. The primary set of recommendations from this draft report includes the removal of dams on the Assabet River and sediment dredging and removal in an attempt to reduce phosphate levels. The removal of the Ben Smith Dam specifically has been identified as among the highest recommended items. My letter to you is intended to outline my concerns and requests regarding this report. I would be appreciative if you could please reply to my letter. In your reply, I would also appreciate understanding how these concerns are being tracked.


1. I have serious concerns about the integrity and credibility of the referenced report in question. If the objective of this report to improve the water quality of the river why is the report titled, “Assabet Sediment and Dam Removal Feasibility Study” vs. “Improving Assabet River Water Quality.” It appears that the answer to the question is assumed and not in question. What other alternatives were studied? Alternative methods were to improving water quality were not studied or researched to anywhere the same degree as dam removal.

2. There may be a conflict of interest in the ACoE submitting a report with recommendations if the ACoE will direct, supervise and/or participate in completion of the work to remove the dams.

3. As an abutter, I would like to better understand the relationship between the Massachusetts DEP and ACoE, as it is possible there is a conflict of interest here too. I also want to understand if MA DEP will direct, supervise and/or participate in completion of the work to remove the dams.

4. During public meetings held on 17 and 19 November 2009, nearly every picture of the river shown of the Ben Smith Dam shows duckweed and presents the river as “polluted” yet this condition exists for 3 weeks per year the past two years (I know as I live on the river and look at it every day). Yet, one would not know this if one did not live on the river. This drives misperceptions in communities.

5. The Ben Smith Dam removal only is, as of today, estimated at $13 Million but is likely to increase upwards of $50Million – especially if heavy metals and PCB’s are found in higher quantities than identified in sediments that were identified by samples taken by USGS in 2003, and this is likely given the river was heavily used during industrialization). We need to see an independent third party estimate and a study of the health effects on abutters from sediment removal with more samples taken given the impact the industrial heavy metals identified as being present (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel and lead) and PCB’s. It is often safer to leave these substances where they are.

6. Phosphorous reduction of the river can be accomplished by requiring waste water treatment plants that currently discharge into the river to comply with already existing regulations of 0.1mg/l phosphorous discharge. I quote from the report on page 15, para. II, “The Primary issue is too much phosphorous input to the waterway.” Communities upriver from Maynard are being allowed to discharge above this rate during the winter months causing externalities downstream. If the recommendations of the report are followed, downriver communities will unfairly and unjustly pay for the externalities of these upriver communities and not just in dollar terms. The cost of treatment to reduce winter discharge rates at waste water treatment plants is never outlined in the report which calls into question the credibility of the report. I quote again from the report on page 24, para. II “field surveys found that waste water treatment plants contributed 88 to 98 percent of the biologically available phosphorous…”

7. How much would it cost for upriver communities, who have four point sources at waste water treatment plants, to improve waste water discharge compared to the cost of removal of dams at a today estimate of $42.7M (and this dam removal cost is very likely to be larger, potentially 5 to 8 times more)?

8. If the removal of aquatic vegetation up river from dams was accomplished, without removal of the dams, how much would dissolved oxygen be improved?

9. In 2005 several upriver communities visited Washington, D.C. in a search for monetary aid to clean up the Assabet River without success. Several upriver towns, due to budget constraints have imposed moratoriums on sewer connections. They know they are in violation of effluent discharge rates, and are discharging greater than 0.1mg/l phosphorous rate. It appears that their work with ACoE and their influence to get the report drafted will reduce moneys they otherwise would have had to spend to fully update their waste water treatment plants to meet the standard all year long. Why are these communities being allowed to discharge above the legal limit and why are they being given waivers? And why is there now a report from the ACoE to remove dams? It appears that the upriver community strategy today is for downriver communities to remove dams so upriver communities do not have to pay to improve phosphorous effluent (especially during the winter, which is where the highest quantity of phosphorous problem lies as outlined in the report).

10. Even if dams are removed, phosphorous would merely be moved downstream to more communities if upriver waste water treatment plants will not fully comply with legal limits. In other words, the source of the problem will not be fixed!

11. In the 330 page report, there is little mention of how abutters will be affected. There will be a 20 month construction period with significant noise and smells and traffic (at 67,600 estimated cubic yards of sediment to be removed from Ben Smith dam alone, traffic will be a factor) and loss of quality of life from construction, smells from muck at the bottom of the river, potential health effects and other effects. This work must be done during non-winter months further aggravating abutters’ quality of life. My back yard is the river. How will quality of life for abutters be compensated?

12. I live at a section of the river that is approximately 500 feet in width. If the Ben Smith dam is removed, the width of the river will be reduced to approximately 15 yards, an over 90% reduction in width (see page 58 of the report for a before and after computer generation of how the width of the river will be affected). This computer generation is likely to depict a season with maximum flow and hence width. During the summer, it would not be surprising to see the width to lessen to 10 feet or less and may be 1/3 the width of what is depicted when the dam is removed. It is hard to understand how recreationally valuable the river will be then.

13. The property value of the 18 homes located directly on the river (direct waterfront homes only counted) and upriver from the Ben Smith Dam to the White Pond Road Bridge, a distance of approximately 2000 feet, will be forever deleteriously affected. Who will pay for the serious and negative reduction in the value of me and my neighbor’s property and reimburse me for the incremental property taxes I have paid over 15 years from what my property was worth to what it will be worth if the Ben Smith Dam is removed? The market value of these homes will deeply decline.

14. When one reads the report, it is inferred that the Assabet as a highly polluted river, further inferring it has little natural beauty or recreational value. In the 330 page report, there is very little mention of how the public will lose this valuable and beautiful resource. As I live on this river, I know, because I see it every day, that this is a most beautiful, bucolic river. Every day there are walkers. Every day there are canoeists, kayakers and boaters and those who fish the river. The serious reduction in water quantity acreage will destroy this resource forever. Yes, there is some duck weed and algae that can be seen in August/September for two to three weeks, however this has been significantly improving as phosphorous levels in the past 10 years have improved and is getting better. Is this enough to radically and forever change this resource? We need a study done to determine the recreational value that the river has today, just as we need a study to determine how to reduce phosphorous loading other than just dam and sediment removal. For an example of a study that was undertaken for the Minnesota River reference where recreational value is compared to phosphorous reduction cost.

15. It would appear that the ACoE is attempting to change the classification of wetlands upriver of the Ben Smith dam to open water (see page 165 of the report, under “Table 1, Estimated Change in Wetland Areas Following Dam Removal.”). Regardless, the loss of valuable wetlands will be significant to wildlife which we see on a daily basis. It is conservatively estimated that we will lose 125 acres of wetlands.

16. Dredging upriver from the Ben Smith Dam will leave a dirt pit at a size of 145.8 acres. What is the plan to revegetate these ~146 acres? How long will we be looking at a mud pit (and how long will it smell)? This is not addressed in the report. Also, the area size of 146 acres is in question and may be as large as 450 acres.

17. We are likely to lose most of the river trees behind my home and this will forever open my home up to views and we will lose privacy. This is not addressed in the report. Also not addressed is the fact that walking lanes are likely to open up behind my home that were previously not there, further impacting our privacy in ways that we could have never imagined when we purchased our home. It is also possible that homes could be built on what was previously river.

18. Current waste water treatment plants (WWTP) are just now beginning to come online after having spent approximately $100 Million. We need time to see the impact and effect of this monetary spending and resultant reduction in phosphate loading. The report uses as a base period the year 2000 for phosphate levels. Base lining phosphate levels in the river from the year 2000 (in order to reduce TMDL by 90%, the stated goal of the report) is misrepresentative at best and does not take into account the new WWTP’s coming online nor improvements from the past 9 years.

19. The participation and charter of the ACoE and MA DEP is not to make recommendations, which was clearly stated during public meetings, yet when one reads the report in question -- and if a policy maker reads the report -- it is clear that the recommendation is to remove dams, especially the Ben Smith Dam.

20. By the ACoE’s own admission, the “Simple Mass Balance Model” used to model hydrology and phosphorous loading of the river is a new model, just recently being published by a Tufts professor with no real world data behind it. This calls into question the credibility of the “recommendations” and calls for alternate data modeling at best.

21. Waivers of current WWTP’s discharging effluent into the river are wrongly being granted. WWTP’s should be held accountable for maintaining legal limits not greater than .01 mg/l year round. In addition, the report does not model what would happen if WWTP’s were required to do so as an alternative to the set of recommendations given (further hampering integrity and credibility).

22. The town of Wayland recently signed an agreement with the US EPA in August 2009, limiting discharge of effluent to not greater than .01mg/l phosphorous year round on the Sudbury River.

23. There are serious concerns about the health impacts from the removal of sediment from the river, 15 yards behind my house. The Assabet River was heavily used during industrialization and it is likely that sediments blocked by the dam will have high levels of heavy metals, such as cadmium, chromium, lead, arsenic, etc., and also PCB’s. What will happen to the safety and health of my family when exposed to these materials? The area behind my home will be turned into a brown field. Is that really what communities’ desire?

24. Citizens learned during open meetings that communities upstream who discharge effluent into the Assabet have allowed other cities to hook into their sewage treatment plants to discharge additional effluent into the river. This will have a significant impact on water quality, even if discharge rates are lowered and should be outlawed.


1. I request that a study be undertaken to better understand the health effects from removals of sediments from behind dams relative to exposure to heavy metals and PCB’s.

2. I request that the recommendation to remove the Ben Smith Dam be stricken from the US Army Corps of Engineers report “Assabet River, Massachusetts Sediment and Dam Removal Feasibility Study.” The proposal in the report does not meet the TMDL Phase II requirement of a 90 percent reduction in sediment phosphorus flux.

3. I request that the report should be altered to recommend that, based on the CDM modeling results, phosphorous discharge levels of no greater than 0.1 mg/l should be mandated for any and all discharges into the Assabet River with no exceptions. Waste Water Treatment plants should not be allowed to discharge over legal limits.

4. I request that all abutter objections, including those in this letter, are clearly outlined in the ACoE report.

5. I request that a cost study be undertaken to understand the cost of upriver towns reducing phosphorous effluent to the legal limit of 0.1mg/l (especially during the winter when effluent discharge regularly is greater than 0.1mg/l), and that this be placed in the ACoE report for comparison to the cost of dam and sediment removal.

6. For the record, I want to know the relationship between the MA DEP and ACoE.

7. For the record, I want to know if the ACoE or MA DEP is going to manage, supervise and/or do the actual work for dam removal. It is important to understand this potential conflict of interest.

8. I request that a study of “human factors and considerations” and recreational value be undertaken such that all constituencies understand the human side of the loss of the river and its dams and that this be placed in the ACoE report or incorporated by reference.

9. I request that a study be done to determine the effectiveness of sediment deactivation as an alternative to dam removal, and that this study include sediment deactivation be done every 5 years and the cost of this compared to dam removal. In addition, the report should clearly outline other methods and combination of methods so that if decisions are made, trade-offs can be holistically understood .

10. I request that a study of real estate values for homes directly on the Assabet River upriver from the Ben Smith dam be undertaken, indicating pre and post dam removal values and that this be placed in the ACoE report or incorporated by reference.

11. I request that an independent comparison of costs to remove dams be undertaken and compared to an independent estimate of costs to reduce phosphate effluent from upriver communities and that this be placed in the ACoE report or incorporated by reference.

12. I request that a study be taken to determine the effects on abutter’s privacy from walking lanes that are likely to be opened up and trees that will be forever lost.

13. I request that all alternatives and solutions for reducing phosphorous in the Assabet River be included in subject report.

The ACoE report appears to be heavily one sided in the favor of removing dams on the river and little if any attention paid to represent competing views or alternatives. I can testify that this is a beautiful river worthy of keeping as is. Removing the dams, especially the Ben Smith dam, will significantly reduce water acreage (by at least 90%) and river width and depth. Those with whom I have spoken on my street, Taft Avenue in Maynard, agree with the view that it would be wrong to lose this resource. Please do not allow our way of life and the loss of a valuable recreational resource to be forever lost.

We welcome a dialogue and reply to these requests and concerns.

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