Tuesday July 3, 2012

It's no secret that America's infrastructure -- from bridges to highways and from sewers to sidewalks -- is on an overdue, costly and oftentimes delayed maintenance schedule. While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a welcome and needed investment to make repairs roads and bridges in recent years, it's still not been enough. What makes the United States great -- its vast highway networks, its massive municipal water supply systems, its numerous bridges that span the breadth and depth of waterways -- is also what prevents us from paying for its upkeep.

On a somewhat smaller scale but no less significant are the number of publicly and privately owned dams throughout Massa chusetts in severe need of repairs or outright removal or replacement. The severe weather in recent years brings to mind how tenuous the hazardous dam situation is in the state and right here in the Berkshires.

The state says about 1,700 publicly and privately owned dams are in such bad condition that they pose a risk to people and property, according to a news report on Monday by The Eagle's Trevor Jones. Most are more than a century old, and four of every five don't even serve their original purposes. Five dams in Berkshire County are listed in a 2010 state auditor's report of unsafe dams in the state. Other state reports list other dams in the county and state that are potentially dangerous, but it doesn't take an engineering degree to see they'll be dangerous in a matter of time.


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Yet someone owns these dams, be it the state or a private entity, and they are faced with the prohibitive cost of removing or repairing them. Dealing with a dam is no easy matter.

But groups including The Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts Municipal As sociation are behind a bill to turn $17 million in existing funds from the state's Water Pol lution Abatement Trust into a low-interest loan fund for dam repairs or removals. The bill appears to be gaining support in the House and Senate. While $17 million won't be nearly enough to take care of all the hazardous dams in Massachusetts, some action is better than none at all.