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Beaver dam causes headaches for Saugus golf course

JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF

Sally Blanchard had to step around water at Cedar Glen Golf Course in Saugus. The flooding is being caused by a beaver dam on the Saugus River, and water has risen so high that the pallets have floated away.

SAUGUS - With sunny skies and balmy temperatures, Friday would have been a perfect day for nine holes at Cedar Glen Golf Course.

But a freshly constructed dam - a 25-foot-wide mound of stripped branches and bark - had turned swaths of pristine greenway into swampland.

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The course was so waterlogged Thursday by beavers’ handiwork that Burton Page, who runs the business, was forced to close down for the day, estimating $10,000 in lost revenue.

“If we get an inch of rain,’’ Page said, “we’ll be out of business.’’

Laws to protect the animals have prevented the golf course’s managers from taking any action against their new tenants, who are blocking a section of the Saugus River, which runs through the grounds. Page is hoping for a compromise - keep the dam intact and divert the river to drain the course of standing water - but the Saugus Board of Health denied a request for an emergency permit to alter the water flow around the dam.

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“We’re not looking to take their homes away,’’ Page said. “We just want to get the water moving around them. We think we can find a way to do that, if we could have the chance.’’

In the short term, maintenance staff have put out wooden pallets to help golfers traipse from one hole to the next. But it’s a less-than-perfect fix. On Thursday, the water level was so high that the pallets floated away.

‘We’re not looking to take their homes away. We just want to get the water moving around them.’

Burton Page 
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According to state law, residents with beaver problems can take complaints to their local board of health to apply for an emergency permit that would allow them to have the animals trapped or divert water around their dams.

But such permits are only granted if the board of health determines that the beavers’ presence has caused a threat to public health or safety.

The Saugus director of public health, Frank P. Giacalone, could not be reached for comment Friday, but Page said the Board of Health said the Cedar Glen Golf Course does not meet that criteria.

Zipping around the course in a golf cart Friday afternoon, course superintendent Matt Ellsworth pointed out waterlogged areas and a footbridge that once straddled the narrow river but now sits like an island in a pool of water and mud.

Ellsworth said he first noticed flooding in early April. It took a few days to realize that beavers were the culprits. “It gets discouraging when people come here to play and you have to turn them away,’’ Ellsworth said.

He said the city has been unresponsive to requests for information about how to get official approval to handle the problem.

“I want to do it by regulations,’’ Ellsworth said. “We’ll do all the work. We just want to get the OK to do it, because it’s encroaching into our business area and it’s only going to get worse.’’

Ellsworth said he is also concerned that the standing water will cause an influx of mosquitoes that could carry disease and become a public health hazard, in addition to making the golfing experience unpleasant for his customers.

“I know [beavers] help the ecosystem and stuff,’’ Ellsworth said. “But when they start affecting homes and businesses, that’s another problem.’’

Despite the presence of the river, the course has never before experienced problems with beavers, he said.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Flooding at the Cedar Glen Golf Course.

Beavers have only recently become a more common sight in Massachusetts.

Scott Jackson, who teaches in the department of environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and specializes in beavers, said the animals were almost entirely wiped out of Massachusetts centuries ago because of excessive trapping and deforestation.

Slowly, colonies have moved back east from New York, but they only reached Eastern Massachusetts in the past 15 to 20 years, Jackson said.

“I grew up in Massachusetts, and we never talked about beavers or saw them,’’ Jackson said. “All this has happened fairly quickly.’’

Jackson explained that if a property owner with a beaver problem does not qualify for an emergency permit from a board of health, he or she can request a permit from the Conservation Commission, but that process requires a public hearing and could take weeks.

Even then, there are concerns about reestablishing water flow too quickly; another property downstream can experience inadvertent flooding.

In the meantime, the beavers have proven fodder for clubhouse wisecracks.

Want to go for a round of 18? one golfer asked at the front counter. Better be prepared to take a swim.

Bruce McLeod, 77, of Peabody chuckled when asked what he thought about the beaver situation. “If we get a little bit of rain, we won’t be able to play at all,’’ McLeod said, “unless you get us some boats.’’

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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