Part 2: Economic Benefits
Fifteen years ago, very few dam owners had even considered the option of removal. But then these aging dams began to require extremely expensive repairs, or even worse, had catastrophic failures that resulted in damage and liability costs. More and more dam owners began to understand that permanently eliminating the problem was the only cost effective solution.
These days, dam removal has become a commonplace activity and is seen as a routine way to address aging and failing infrastructure that no longer serves its purpose. There are a number of economic considerations for dam removal, here are a few:
Routine Maintenance of the Dam and Associated Structures
All infrastructure requires maintenance and repairs over the course of its life so that it continues to function and serve its purpose. In the case of the Elm Street Dam, the function and purpose it was built for no longer exists, but the costs of maintenance and repair continue to grow. The most recent dam safety inspection report recommended that the Town hire a qualified dam engineering consultant to conduct hydraulic and hydrologic analysis to determine spillway adequacy in conformance with state and federal laws. This analysis typically costs about $30,000. The engineers also recommended that the dam needed at least $10,000 in immediate repairs (we find this estimate to be low). These repairs are for patching the old concrete – and like all patches – they are not considered a long-term solution and will be recurring costs. The inspection reports themselves cost about $3,000 to $7,000 and are required every five years. The Town also spends time and effort on routine management of the dam. All of the maintenance and repair costs are recurring and increase as long as the dam remains in place. Generations of Kingston residents will continue to pay for the dam until they decide to remove it. Removal of the dam is a one-time cost that permanently addresses the problem.
Recently, MA Division of Ecological Restoration produced a report called “Economic & Community Benefits from Stream Barrier Removal”. This study and report was developed to provide a cost comparison of alternatives facing the owners of failing dams. Costs for dam removals were compared to repairing and maintaining the dams in place over 30 years. This study found that on average, removal of the dams in the study was 60% less expensive than repair and maintenance over 30 years.
Dam owners are responsible for damage to surrounding properties (including residential, commercial, roadways, etc). The Elm Street Dam is classified as a “Significant Hazard (Class II) where failure may cause loss of life and damage to home(s), industrial or commercial facilities, secondary highway(s) or railroad(s), or cause the interruption of the use or service of relatively important facilities.” Additionally, the dam is estimated to have only ~40% of capacity required for a 100-year storm. As a result the dam is likely to cause flooding on a regular basis. Due to its status and classification, the Town has been unable to obtain insurance for liability associated with the dam. Removing the dam removes the associated liability.
The encircled “wing-wall’ and eroding bank in the pictures below were not included in the most recent site survey, yet this part of the structure was intact only 6 years ago, and was apparently unaffected since modifications to the dam c.1938.
In our last installment, we talked about the ecological benefits of improving water quality through dam removal. There is also a significant economic component to water quality. The Elm Street Dam directly creates and exacerbates several state regulated water quality criteria. This results in the Jones River being listed as ‘impaired’ under 303(d) regulation. The 303(d) rule requires the Town to mitigate these impairments. This may include expensive stormwater upgrades or other mitigation. Dam removal would directly address many of these water quality issues as part of the removal costs.
There is substantial external funding available for dam removals as part of a river restoration project. There is no external funding available for maintaining a dam that no longer serves a purpose. In the DER study, funding and technical support from agencies and private organizations minimized the costs of the project to the property owner while ensuring ecological, social, and economic objectives were realized. All three sites they studied received significant funds from outside sources to support the dam removal projects. Because these funds were from conservation partners, these contributions would not have been available for repair and maintenance of the outdated dam structures.
JRWA successfully secured federal, state and private funds to assist with the removal of Wapping Road Dam in 2011, and has been working for several years to seek external funding for removal of the Elm Street Dam. We currently have a funding proposal in to the federal entity, NOAA. The budget for this proposal includes the Town of Kingston contributing only 20% of the total costs, with state, federal, and private groups funding the other 80%. The Town Meeting warrant article is focused on approving the $125,000 that comprises the 20%. If the Town does not commit these funds the external funding will not be available.
In the DER study, the dam removals substantially reduced flood risk to surrounding properties. All of the study site dams caused some levels of localized flooding due to stormwater accumulation behind the dam, or from a downstream surge due to a dam break. Removing the dams reduced the flood risk, and at each site, flooding has not been an issue since the dam was removed. Decreased flood risk reduced costs of flood response and management, and potentially increased property values. The reduced risk of area flooding generated a variety of positive social and economic outcomes, including avoided costs of infrastructure damages, avoided travel delays on area roads, avoided costs of emergency response operations and business closures, and potential increases in property value both for private dam owners and neighboring property owners.
And if this were not enough: the positive ecological benefits of restoring the native and migrating fish populations will have a positive economic benefit on the fishing industry. By increasing the abundance of forage fish, dam removals support recovery of the sport and food fish stocks that were once abundant in Massachusetts Bay. The economic benefit of this recovery, like water quality improvements, should be considered as producing a high annual recurring return on our investment in removing the damaging obstruction that is the aging Elm Street Dam.
Don’t forget to voice your support by attending Kingston Town Meeting on Saturday, June 11th (and succeeding sessions on the following Tuesday and Wednesday, if the meeting goes that long). In the meantime please share your thoughts or questions with us! Call the Landing at (781) 585-2322, or email email@example.com.