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MEMA Bureaucrat Still Doesn’t Understand Libby Dams Gate Valves Even When Explained by a Designer of Dams

By: David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, December 25, 2013

Fort Fairfield town manager, Dan Foster and incoming town manager, Mike Bosse met with Tony Fletcher from Maine Emergency Management Agency on December 3 to discuss the agency's determination that the gate valves at Libby dams are a public safety issue. Also at the meeting was Phil Christensen who used to design dams like those on Libby Brook.

After Christensen explained to Fletcher that the gate valves are not part of the dam's ability to pass water through on a daily basis and were designed solely for dropping the pond's water level to allow for general maintenance, tree and shrub removal, etc. Fletcher held to his decision that the stuck gate valves are a public safety issue and mandated they need to be replaced or repaired.

“The dam is designed to increase water flow through the riser as the water level increases,” Christensen told the Fort Fairfield Journal. “About two thirds of the way up the dam there is a spillway that will allow excess water to pass around the dam and the gate valves have nothing to do with that process.”

If water levels increased past the spillway and actually breached the top of the dam it would be a flood of Biblical proportions. “If that were ever to happen, I'd be looking around for an ark,” said Christensen.

The gate valves on both dams on Libby Brook have seized shut and their incoming drainage pipes clogged with silt. George Watson, from Public Works performed some work on one of the gates some time ago but was unsuccessful at repairing it.

“We met with MEMA for an hour and discussed where the town stood on repairing the gates. The gates are not functioning so we can't drain either Bryant or Flint Ponds down to a level where Mr. Fletcher can climb into the pipe and inspect it,” said Bosse. “There's no money in the budget to either fix the gate valves or take the silt out of the pipes. Consequently, we've had this back and forth discussion as to how he's going to be able to do this and how we're not going to be able to repair it, for lack of funds. It's not a safety issue, if it was a safety issue, the conversation would be different.

After Fletcher did a cursory inspection of the two dams he sent his recommendations on how the town can conform to MEMA's specifications. “We have agreed with all of the recommendations except for the repair of the gate.”

Fort Fairfield Public Works will address some of the shrubbery and mowing of the grass around the dams, spillways and other areas next year. Fletcher has indicated he would like to inspect again on May 1. “That's just not practical or achievable,” said Bosse.

One of the recommendations of the meeting was to seek funds from Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) to do a review and assessment of the dams. The town has received a verbal commitment that there will be funds available up to $5,000 per dam. The studies will essentially tell the town what they already know - the gate valves are stuck and not operational. But, it will expend up to $10,000 and keep a few bureaucrats and engineers gainfully employed for a couple of months while the “study” is taking place.

“We'll try to accomplish that by mid-summer when the water level is down and reasonable,” said Bosse. “Once we have an assessment from those folks we'll go back to Mr. Fletcher and let him know how we'll proceed with repairing the gates, if at all.”



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