Guilford Residents Voice Support For Sweet Pond

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(Host) Residents of Guilford are bombarding the state with pleas to restore a much-loved, 18-acre pond that’s scheduled to be drained this spring.

Town officials were surprised to learn late last month that the dam behind Sweet Pond is beyond repair and has been classified as a high hazard.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Host) The State Department of Environmental Conservation says the dam at Sweet Pond State Park was built in 1922. The pond itself is a couple hundred years older.

Al Franklin is a retired Guilford farmer.

(Franklin) "My grandfather, eight or nine generations ago, built that pond. And that was in 1775.  When I sold my farm here to my son, it’s on Sweet Pond Road, and when he got to looking at the deed it said it was on, ‘Franklin Pond Road.’ Well it originally was Franklin Pond."

(Keese) Franklin says the pond property was re-named for the Sweet family, summer residents who bought the land in 1935. It became a 100-acre state park in the 1970s.

(Franklin) "And it’s been a fishing place, a swimming hole, for years and years. Ever since I can remember, the kids around here all went up there swimming."

(Keese) Franklin was on the Guilford Select Board in the 1980s when the pond was dredged and the dam was last repaired.

Since then state dam safety engineers have inspected the stone and concrete structure every year. They’ve kept an eye on spots where water was escaping.

Ethan Phelps is the regional state parks manager.

(Phelps) "Most recently they found that there was water continuing to seep under the dam in a few places at a little bit higher rate, which made them determine to downgrade the condition from fair to poor."

(Keese) The poorer rating triggered a study called a "hazard analysis." Phelps says it looks not at the dam’s condition but at the damage possible to life and property if the dam fails.

(Phelps) "Primarily due to downstream development in the past 20 or so years, the hazard rating was increased to a class one or high hazard potential."

(Keese) The engineers say the dam can’t be fixed and that it should be drained as soon as possible. Town officials say the news has sparked a public outcry in Guilford. Anne Rider is on the town select board.

(Rider) "Our obvious concern is that we would like to see the dam rebuilt and the pond brought back.  And we’re worried about the amount that it would cost to do that, as well as the political will to get that done."

(Keese) Rider says she worries that the current trend is not to restore dams, but to let streams return to their natural channels.

The state has been accepting comments on the issue. Ethan Phelps of the Parks Department says local people overwhelmingly favor rebuilding the dam.

(Phelps) "We have heard from several folks, however, that would be supporting restoring the stream back to its original condition."

(Keese) Phelps says his department has hired an engineering firm to develop proposals for both options.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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