Finally, dam good news from the DNR for Mill Pond

 It was good news for the Plymouth Mill Pond and dam from the state Department of Natural Resources last month, but their future is still not clear.

A long-awaited dam failure and hazard rating assignment letter from the DNR finally arrived last month and it was a mixed message – though better than expected.

The DNR assigned a low-hazard rating for the historic dam, where city officials had anticipated a high-hazard rating – which could have imperiled the dam’s future and required extremely costly measures to have any chance, albeit slim, to preserve the picturesque structure.

But while the hazard rating was good news, it still came with a caveat – the DNR is still requiring the city to bring the dam into compliance by upgrading the spillway within the next 10 years.

The DNR’s concern is that the spillway currently can not handle overflow from high water or flooding, causing water to run over the top of the dam and create flooding hazards further down the river, including downtown.

The city now has to determine just exactly what needs to be done to adequately upgrade and enlarge the spillway and how much that will cost. But the cost should be less than removing the dam and restoring the river. Or, for that matter, creating a levee along the banks of the river throughout the downtown area, the other alternative which would likely have been prohibitively costly – not to mention ugly, disruptive to downtown views and attractiveness, and a likely death blow to nascent plans to upgrade the downtown riverfront area.

The hazard rating from the DNR is not only welcome, but makes sense.

The rating is based on the dam’s ability to handle what is termed a 100-year-flood – a flood event so large that it is only projected to occur once every century.

The Plymouth Mill Pond already has a much longer history than that and it has stood up to everything Mother Nature has thrown at it over that time without creating or exacerbating any catastrophe further downstream.

During that time, it has also stood as a centerpiece and gateway to the city’s downtown, a landmark that has identified Plymouth as much as cheese, giant cows, murals or any of the other things that the Hub City has been and is known for.

It has provided a unique outdoor ice skating area in the winter and fishing in the summer – not to mention serving for many years as the local swimming hole before the city built its first municipal swimming pool in City Park.

It has been enhanced by many public improvements, including a fishing pier in Anton Park and the Veterans Memorial Trail, to mention just a few.

It has enhanced the property values for its many neighbors, not to mention the quality of life for them and for the entire city.

It has provided a picturesque backdrop for community events, photos and much more over the years.

It has become the focus of efforts by the Mill Pond Lake Association - in conjunction with the city - to preserve, protect and enhance the dam, the pond and the surrounding natural setting.

Any news which makes its continued survival – and the chance to prosper and improve – is indeed welcome news.

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