Norwich Likely Without Pool Again

The destroyed dam on Charles Brown Brook in Norwich this week. The dam, built in 1944, was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in August, 2011, ruining what had been a swimming hole known as the Norwich Pool. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

The destroyed dam on Charles Brown Brook in Norwich this week. The dam, built in 1944, was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in August, 2011, ruining what had been a swimming hole known as the Norwich Pool. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

Norwich — Residents wanting to take a refreshing dip on a hot day in the town’s swimming hole are likely out of luck for a second consecutive summer.

Town Manager Neil Fulton said this week the project to rebuild the swimming holee_SSRqs dam that was partially destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 is progressing slowly because of environmental concerns by the state Agency of Natural Resources. That’s impeding the town’s quest to receive the necessary building permits, as Fulton told the Selectboard at its meeting last week that “it is unlikely the pool will be open this summer.”

“I anticipated the permitting process taking some time and I never put a time frame on it,’’ Fulton said. “If we get an OK from the Agency of Natural Resources in the next two or three weeks and could crank through getting a final design, (the pool) might be open by the end of this summer. But I don’t want people to get their hearts set on that.”

Fulton said among ANR’s worries are the ability of fish to swim upstream past a new dam in addition to the possibility of downstream water temperatures being affected, which would harm the fish.

“The top layer of water, if the sun is hitting it, can become warmer and when it goes over the dam it’s not good for coldwater fish,’’ Fulton said.

To rebuild the dam, e ngineers hired by the town proposed three options last year, one that would rebuild and repair what remains of the current dam and two that would involve tearing down the existing structure. Fulton said that after input from the public, he chose the third option: a 40-foot labyrinth spillway shaped like an accordion which allows a higher volume of water to flow over a shorter span.

The dam was built in 1944 and featured sections of wooden planks, resembling the tops of giant picnic tables, that were inserted and removed by hand twice a year to create a swimming area open to town residents during June, July and August. It’s commonly known as the Norwich Pool and is on Charles Brown Brook off Beaver Meadow Road.

Fulton said he believes the swimming area will be open for the summer of 2014 and that 95 percent of its estimated $500,000 cost will be borne by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the remainder paid by the town. He said voters at the 2012 Town Meeting approved storm repair funding that will cover Norwich’s share.

He added that the new structure will either incorporate a fish ladder or a natural channel that will curve through an adjacent bank and around the dam before meeting back up with the brook below.

“We will not complete final design and take (construction) bids until we have a permit for ANR,’’ Fulton wrote in an email.

Fulton said he met earlier this month with ANR Secretary Deborah Markowitz and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears at the statehouse in Montpelier. He said the meeting was facilitated by state REp.Margaret Cheney, D-Norwich. Neither Markowitz nor Mears responded to calls seeking comment this week and Cheney was traveling back to Vermont from Washington, D.C.

The Norwich Conservation Committee is a 10-person group whose stated goal is to “preserve… natural resources through planning, promoting and implementing strategies to assist the town planners and educate the residents.”

In an Aug. 31 letter to the Selectboard, the committee wrote that Charles Brown and Blood brooks “are not hospitable to ocean-going fish, like the American eel and the Atlantic salmon, because the mouth of Blood Brook has been raised far above the Connecticut River. Consequently, a fish ladder may not be appropriate.”

The letter went on to state that a natural fish channel would be cheaper. “According to a consulting firm being used by the town, a natural passage can be included in the project for half the cost of a fish ladder” the letter read, estimating the channel cost at $50,000 compared to $100,000 for a ladder.

Marie Elise Howard, a 27-year Norwich resident who was gardening in her yard near the swimming area this week, said she was disappointed to hear it probably won’t reopen this summer.

She said her three children, now 25, 23 and 18, spent many hours at the pool and that “for many people of my generation in town, that was where they learned to swim.”

“I remember taking my 2-year-olds there to dig in the sand and make and destroy little dams,’’ she said. “The water’s cold, though. It about gave my brother a heart attack the first time he went in.”

Howard said she liked the fact that the dirt lane off Beaver Meadow Road to the swimming hole is unmarked and that it is something of a locals-only secret. She enjoys the sight of young families and middle-schoolers on bicycles traveling alongside the stream. The swimming area featured an afternoon lifeguard in the summers, she added.

Looking at the spot now, however, there is only a small stream meandering over rocks and through the gaping opening on the damaged dam’s right side. Tree trunks lie in the stream bed and exposed roots dangle from sections of bank that were undercut by the swift current in 2011.

Jill Kearney Niles, Norwich’s Recreation director, said she gets weekly inquiries about the pool’s status and that two informational meetings, one in 2011 and another last year, each drew about 75 residents.

“People definitely want to see it be put back up and that’s why we’re forging ahead as quickly as possible,’’ she said. “It’s been frustrating that it’s taken so long, but we’re locked in and pushing as hard as we can to keep it moving.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.