Hartford OKs plans for damaged Quechee dam and covered bridge; public asked to stay away

Devon Santos talks to his wife on the phone while checking out the Quechee covered bridge and dam on Wednesday, July 19, 2023, in Quechee, Vt. Santos, who lives in Cape Cod, is an electrician who has work at DHMC and had been swimming on July 6 at the bridge. Santos saw a social media post about the damage to the bridge and dam in Quechee and wanted to see what it looked like for himself. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Devon Santos talks to his wife on the phone while checking out the Quechee covered bridge and dam on Wednesday, July 19, 2023, in Quechee, Vt. Santos, who lives in Cape Cod, is an electrician who has work at DHMC and had been swimming on July 6 at the bridge. Santos saw a social media post about the damage to the bridge and dam in Quechee and wanted to see what it looked like for himself. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

A photograph taken on Thursday, July 13, 2023, shows a portion of the Ottauquechee River dam next to Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vt., leaning forward. The image was part of the agenda for the Hartford Selectboard's July 18 emergency meeting about the dam and nearby bridge affected by the recent flooding. (Courtesy Town of Hartford)

A photograph taken on Thursday, July 13, 2023, shows a portion of the Ottauquechee River dam next to Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vt., leaning forward. The image was part of the agenda for the Hartford Selectboard's July 18 emergency meeting about the dam and nearby bridge affected by the recent flooding. (Courtesy Town of Hartford)

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-19-2023 4:02 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Hartford Selectboard has approved two plans of action concerning the covered bridge and the dam located on the Ottauquechee River near Simon Pearce — which both sustained damage during last week’s flooding.

At an emergency meeting on Tuesday, the Selectboard voted unanimously to authorize town officials to spend up to $100,000 to rebuild an embankment at the base of the Quechee Covered Bridge that was washed away by the river’s fast moving floodwaters.

And in a separate motion, the board voted to endorse a plan of action with Simon Pearce, which owns the hydroelectric dam located upriver from the covered bridge.

Last week, municipal officials noticed structural “abnormalities” in the dam’s appearance and anomalies in the water flow. Photographs taken on July 12 show a section of dam wall that appears to be pushed forward and out of alignment.

An inspector from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who visited the site believes the damage is primarily at the top of the dam where concrete appears to have broken off, Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney told board members.

“We will have to wait until the flow of water drops down to see what’s going on, but we think there is something structurally wrong with it,” Cooney said.

Notably, the state does not conduct inspections of hydroelectric dams, which are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Simon Pearce has contacted the federal agency about the situation and the concern for public safety.

Town officials are asking the public to stay away from the stretch of the Ottauquechee River between the dam at Simon Pearce and the Quechee Gorge Dam because of concerns about the former’s integrity.

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Cooney said this restriction will remain in place until the dam is repaired and deemed safe by federal inspectors.

“The biggest hazard we see is life safety,” Cooney said. “I don’t know if anyone has been to that location in the summertime and seen the activity (but) that’s where my concerns lie, with recreation.”

The town has currently cordoned off public parking areas, as well as the entries to Quechee covered bridge. Cooney said they likely would place signage in river access areas to warn people against swimming and other recreational activities.

Simon Pearce, which operates a restaurant, retail store and glassblowing workshop, is responsible for monitoring the dam in coordination with federal dam regulators and communicating progress with the town. The dam provides power that fuels its businesses. Simon Pearce CEO Jay Benson said last week that it will likely take a few months to restore the hydroelectric system.

In a separate discussion of the covered bridge on Tuesday, the Selectboard authorized town officials to seek bids immediately to expedite the repair work. The project will be eligible for full reimbursement through funding from state and federal agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration, according to Gail Ostrout, the town’s acting town manager. However, the repair work must be completed within a 280-day time period to receive the full reimbursement.

Ostrout said the town wishes to repair the bridge as soon as possible to reopen it to traffic. The town consulted Tim Schaal, of Schaal Engineering, to determine a scope of work for the project. Ostrout said she does not know when the project will be completed because of unknowns such as the availability of contractors, who were already in short supply before the flooding.

“We may not even have a bid come,” Ostrout told board members.

Patrick Adrian can be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.