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Fairlee Dam Fix To Cost Less

Thetford — The cost of repairing the aging dam at Lake Fairlee looks to be significantly lower than initially projected.

An engineering report estimates that repairs could cost as little as $450,000, officials said. That is more than $500,000 less than earlier estimates of $1 million or more, which officials made before the dam had been thoroughly examined.

Selectboard members from Thetford, Fairlee and West Fairlee — the three towns that share Lake Fairlee’s shoreline — have planned a joint public meeting for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 at the Thetford Town Offices to present the study’s findings and plot a course for repairs, which likely would require bond votes in each of the towns. The $25,000 engineering study was completed over the summer by Randolph-based Dubois & King and funded by appropriations from the three towns.

A tri-town committee started meeting last year after officials began warning about the condition of the more than 200-year-old dam, which is situated on privately owned property in Thetford and governs water flow into the Ompompanoosuc River. If the dam failed, officials said, the lake would drain, leaving stinking mud flats in front of $63 million of exclusive lakefront property.

The expected cost of repair is “a lot less than we thought,” said Fairlee Selectman Frank J. Barrett Jr., an architect and member of the committee that had anticipated a higher price tag. “That was a huge sigh of relief.”

Barrett said Dubois & King confirmed that the dam is in “very rough shape,” with significant amounts of water flowing through cracks in the concrete spillways.

Still, the study found that it would be possible to fix the dam without sacrificing the camp house perched on top of it. Barrett said the dam’s owner, Bryan Gregory, has said he’s willing to deed over the right-of-way of the two spillways in order to ensure the integrity of the dam and health of the lake.

A potential sticking point had been the camp house, which has been in Gregory’s family for generations and which he had wanted to maintain for his children and grandchildren, Barrett said.

“State of Vermont officials working with Dubois & King said, ‘Yeah, we can find a way for the camp house to stay’ ... lift it up, then put it back down,” Barrett said.

The dam repair work would entail “replacing the two (spillways) in kind at the same time with new re-enforced concrete structures and restoring the landscape around them,” Barrett said. “It’s really come into focus in a way that we just couldn’t be happier.”

In addition to sharing the report’s findings, Barrett said the focus of the Nov. 4 meeting will be to determine how the three towns can jointly manage the dam and share maintenance costs. The committee will propose splitting the costs based on each town’s percentage of lakefront property. About 47 percent of lakeshore property is in Thetford, with 36 percent in Fairlee and 17 percent in West Fairlee.

That’s the same formula that towns used to come up with appropriations to fund the engineering study, surveying and legal expenses.

Four other organizations along the lake — the Aloha Foundation, which operates summer camps on the lake; the Lake Fairlee Association, a nonprofit which, among other things, oversees milfoil reduction on the lake; Camp Lochearn and Camp Billings — chipped in $5,000 apiece, for a total of $50,000.

Barrett said he expects there could be about $15,000 remaining.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.