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Historic dam removed in Rutland

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 5:10 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Residents in Rutland no longer have to fear the Dunklee Pond dam failing during heavy rains. That’s because the historic dam was finally taken down.

“Two years after Vermont became a state it was built by soldiers who served in the Green Mountain Boys with Ethan Allen,” said Todd Menees of the Vermont Rivers Program.

The dam provided power during the industrial age, first in the 1790s for a linseed oil mill, in the 1830s a wood planing mill, metal mill, slate pencil mill and tannery.

It then became a commercial ice pond in the 1850s, eventually morphing into the local hockey rink and swimming hole.

“In the ‘50s, ‘60s there were photos of the people diving, jumping off the dam, off the wall up here, swimming, fishing, etc.,” Menees said.

But the dam blocked wildlife and trapped sediment. It was abandoned and deteriorated. It contributed to flooding, causing nearby households to evacuate about eight times in just two years.

Rutland City Fire Chief Bill Lovett says if the dam failed now, at least 28 houses downstream would be affected and the bridge over busy Route 7 destroyed.

“It’s a lot easier sleeping at night,” Lovett said. “I live a few blocks from here, but every time it rained you’d haul yourself out of bed and come up here to make sure nothing was happening.”

The dam was partially removed in 2019. Construction to finish the job just wrapped up in the past month.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council worked with the state and Rutland City to get it done. It cost around half a million dollars of federal and state funding through clean water, fish and wildlife habitat and flood mitigation initiatives.

Tenney Brook, which flowed into the former Dunklee Pond, empties into the Otter Creek and eventually Lake Champlain.

“The sediment that has been removed was a potential contributor to phosphorus to Lake Champlain, the cyanobacteria blooms,” Menees said.

Rutland City will use the sediment to fill holes, saving money on topsoil. The aquatic habitat is restored, some fish are traveling downstream, and vegetation is already growing.

Not only are there wildlife and safety benefits, but it also benefits the public.

“People can walk up this stream, during flood events they can kayak now-- that’s exciting,” said Karina Dailey of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

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