The new Mill Pond Dam has only been completed since January, but it has already faced some major tests, including the blizzard of 2013 and a subsequent major rainstorm and snow melt.
“The dam has worked perfectly,” said Joe Parisi, who heads Rockport’s Department of Public Works. “We had a lot of water come down from upstream and drain into the pond, through the spillway, and down the channel into the ocean.”
Everything flowed fine, at least until it reached the culvert, which was clogged for a time with seaweed and ocean debris, creating a flood at that end of the meadow, which serves as a public park.
Despite last week’s snow, residents who pushed for reconstruction of Mill Pond Dam can turn their attention to the next step: reinvigoration of the meadow and pond beside it.
The granite dam, built around 1840, failed in the Mother’s Day storm of 2006, when the entire meadow flooded. Sandbags and rocks were piled up to stop the breach before the dam was permanently restored.
“Everybody’s happy with the result,” said Sam Coulbourn, chairman of the Millbrook Meadow Committee, who is now anxious to move forward to improve the meadow and Mill Pond.
The DPW has removed truckloads of debris, and the contractor will smooth and reseed the lawn to complete the dam project.
Even before that work is done, some are looking to the future. A meeting will be held later this month to solicit ideas and build support for the work officials say is needed at the popular recreation area.
In July 2012, contractor T. Ford Co. of Georgetown began rebuilding the dam, completing the work in January.
The cost was $980,000, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the town.
Coulbourn’s 14-member committee oversees activity in the park, including an annual cleanup and scheduling of community events. Along with the town’s Department of Public Works, the committee is seeking $240,000 for a feasibility study and design work to improve the meadow and the pond.
“We’ve got a big job of restoring, and that’s one of the reasons we’re trying to get the word out about this visioning session,” Coulbourn said.
The committee is hosting a meeting to seek public input at 7 p.m. March 20 at Rockport Public Library, 17 School St.
“We want people to come and talk to us, because we want to make it better,” said Charmaine Blanchard, a member of the committee. “We don’t want to change the meadow so it’s unrecognizable, but we want to give it a face lift. We want to bring it back to what it was.”
Situated near Front Beach, close to downtown, the meadow is one of the town’s charming and popular public parks, but has shown the effects of age and nature.
Some trees were removed as part of the dam project, and others have reached the end of their lives, or are near it, and need to be removed or replaced.
The spillway has been repaired, but several of the granite stones that line the man-made brook that goes from the dam to the ocean have been displaced, and the area floods more frequently than in the past.
Parisi noted that stones on the embankment near the Beach Street culvert also are caving in. Other areas have storm-water runoff and drainage issues.
On the other side of the dam, Mill Pond has grown heavy with sediment and vegetation, both on its banks and in the water, including the invasive cattail plant species.
Parisi said the popularity of the park was underscored by the volume of requests to use it for various functions, including weddings, made during the construction period.
“It’s such a heavily used park, we’ve got to maintain it,” he said.
In February, the committee received $60,000 from a trust created by Lura Hall Phillips, a longtime Millbrook Meadow Committee chairwoman who died at the age of 94 in 1994.
The committee and Public Works Department are seeking additional funding from the annual Town Meeting April 6, including $120,000 from the Community Preservation Fund and $60,000 from other town funds.
The cost of the improvements is not known, Coulbourn said.
The entire dam project cost approximately $1.37 million, Parisi said, including design and permitting.
Built to modern standards, the dam includes new features such as a granite bench and an eel ladder to allow the species to spawn upstream. The designers also sought to maintain the historic feel of the dam, so it was built using concrete with a granite façade, incorporating pieces from the dam it replaced.
This is the third incarnation of the dam.
It was originally built in 1702 from stones, logs, and dirt.
It was replaced around 1840 by the sturdy granite dam. That was around the time that Rockport became a granite-quarrying town.
While the March 20 meeting is seeking public input, the committee is also trying to gather support for a project that will have to compete against other community needs.
The Department of Public Works recently sought $350,000 in capital improvement funds for the project (including dredging the pond), but it was not supported by the Capital Improvement Committee.
“If you talk to people individually around town, everybody wants to see the meadow be what it can be, everybody wants to support it, but I don’t think a lot of people in town realize the damage that’s in the meadow right now and the amount of repairs that are needed,” Blanchard said. “We’re trying to get [information] out on a mass scale, so that when people come to Town Meeting they understand that this is really important.”