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Fort Fairfield Town Council Still Considering 

Solutions for Libby Dam Gate Valves


By: David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, December 11, 2013

The Fort Fairfield Town Council received an update on the Libby Dam gate valve situation. The gate valves, which were installed for maintenance purposes have been inoperable for some time.

When the Libby Dam system was built, the town of Fort Fairfield signed an agreement that said the town would maintain it, but they haven't. “That's all fine and dandy, but is this a wise use of the limited resources that are at our disposal, considering everything else that we're responsible for,” Foster queried rhetorically. “I do not think so. In order for that to actually be fixed you have to take the old valves out and replace them. To do that you're either going to drain the pond or build a cofferdam. If the DEP's involved, you're going to build a cofferdam. There's not going to be anything simple or inexpensive about fixing that. The biggest issue I've had all along is the expectation that the town is going to assume responsibility for fixing the gates.”

According to a report on the inspection that was done in 2011 by the Maine Emergency Management Agency, it was stated that these inoperable gates are a public safety issue. “I spoke with Phil Christensen, who used to design these dams, and he did not concur with that position,” said Foster. “He said those gates are solely for maintenance. The way the riser is constructed is as water goes up, there's more open space for the water to go down and out the culvert that goes underneath the dam.”

“That culvert is only so big, it will only handle so much water. Whether that gate is open or not is not going to change the ability for that pipe to be full.”

“The two dams were built in the 1960's as a conservation project. “The whole intent was Libby Brook would break through the middle of town and it was to protect that part of the residential street plus the building section. Those two dams were to help handle the Spring thaws.”

The dams feature two fairly large spillways, one around each dam so if the water gets too high on the dams it goes around via the spillway. “To my knowledge, I don't know if there's ever been a time when the water's gotten so high on the dam - which would not be really that high, only two thirds of the way up - where it would actually go around the dam to the spillways to take pressure off the dam.”

According to former Fire Chief, Paul Durepo, the water has never come close to the spillways.

“It is not a public safety issue, it is a maintenance issue. I do not think it is fair, considering what the community is going through right now, that they expect us to fix that. Now, Phil said it should be fixed, it should be operating, but not because of public safety.

“The gate valves are there solely to drop the water levels to allow for general maintenance of the dam such as tree removal, inspection and to remove silt,” Christensen told the Fort Fairfield Journal. “The valves have nothing to do with the daily functioning of the dam and its ability to pass water through.”

Christensen also said if nothing is done, left to itself the ponds will eventually fill in with sediment. “It’ll probably take four or five hundred years, but eventually that pond areas will eventually become a marsh with a small stream trickling through it.”

The town manager can only make recommendations, the town council actually makes the decision to repair or not repair. “If they think resources should be allocated to that, they will. It's really up to the council,” said Foster.

“We have already started looking for other sources to help us with defining what's wrong and what they may be able to do to help,” said Tony Levesque, Fort Fairfield code enforcement officer. “It was originally put in by Soil Conservation Service, which is now called Natural Resource Conservation Services, and they have assumed responsibility to seek funds to find out what's wrong.”

“The gates don't work,” said Foster. “But it's never that simple.”

“We tried to fix one of them at the time the dike was built and could not,” said Levesque.

“It's not a public safety issue so I do not understand what the rationale is for why this should have to be done.”

The town council is awaiting further information from a meeting between the town manager, NRCS, and MEMA before making a decision one way or another on the gate valve situation.



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