The Massachusetts legislature has approved a bill that will strengthen dam safety and provide a new loan fund to help remove and repair dams and coastal infrastructure. The bill has been in the works for many years and has taken several forms. This newest incarnation had the added strength of including structures like seawalls in the $17 million loan fund.
The bill strengthens dam safety by requiring that emergency action plans be written for high and significant hazard dams. It also raises the fines that the Department of Conservation and Recreation can collect from owners whose dams are in violation of dam safety regulations. Another provision allows towns to bond for dam removal projects.
Rhode Island has similar rules about emergency action plans for high hazard dams, but many towns are in violation of this regulation and the Department of Emergency Management has no authority to enforce this portion of the law. In 2011, the Rhode Island legislature did include dam removal as an activity that towns can bond for using the authority of the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency.
Advocates in Rhode Island are interested in developing some type of funding mechanism for the repair and removal of dams, and Save The Bay has worked on legislation for the last two sessions that would require dam owners to inspect their own dams. This has been a rule for several years in Massachusetts. We will continue to make this a priority in the next legislative session.