130-year-old Bulkley Pond dam to be removed

When Jonathan Baron leased his office space on Bulkley Pond, the view was a big selling point.

“I established and leased this office space because of the pond views,” he said. “Right now I’m looking at mud flats.”

The Bulkley Pond dam was completed in 1885. It lasted for more than 130 years until a 2018 storm was too much for it to handle.

The dam breached, and caused some flooding downstream.

“It was breached partially, about half of the dam height-wise,” said Peter Ratkiewich, Westport director of Public Works. “There was a couple of houses that did get a little more water but they were flooded anyway.”

“Relatively speaking it could have been a lot worse,” he said.

The dam is privately owned, and like the former Sasco Mill building, it has changed hands a few times.

Dam technology was not very advanced 130 years ago, and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Conservation “had examined it and determined that it was not a strong dam,” Ratkiewich said. “It had been under a compliance order from DEEP for those owners to either repair or breach the dam.”

Dams are categorized by their “hazard class,” essentially the damage that would be caused if they were destroyed in a storm.

The Bulkley Pond dam was classified “BB” in 2008 — “If it were to fail it could potentially damage infrastructure, not necessarily lives,” according to DEEP dam specialist Chuck Lee — after a bridge downstream was strengthened.

Then the dam breached, and DEEP asked for more decisive action.

“They need to breach it so it can withstand a 100-year weather event,” Lee said. “Right now it would cause further flooding.”

During a large enough storm, the dam — even in its current, half-breached state — could cause water to build up. Then, if enough pressure built up, that water would flood downstream.

So DEEP is asking the current property owners, Mercator Companies, to fully breach the dam as a preventative measure.

“The DEEP has asked them to take it down even further, basically complete the breach so it can pass the 100-year storm,” Ratkiewich said.

Mercator did not respond to requests for comment, but Lee said his office had been notified in April that an engineer had been hired to do an inspection.