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Exeter River neighbors face dam dilemma

Union Leader Correspondent

July 14. 2017 1:50AM
Dyon Cummings of Fremont lives along the Exeter River in Fremont and is worried about the future of her well water if a dam in Brentwood is removed. (Jason Schreiber)

FREMONT — Homeowner Dyon Cummings was relieved when the extreme drought conditions that began last summer were washed away this spring, but now she has a new problem.

Her Riverside Drive home along the Exeter River is out of water once again.

Cummings blames this summer’s dried-up well on the recent opening of the nearby Exeter River hydroelectric dam along Mill Road in Brentwood.

The opening dramatically lowered water levels upstream, which Cummings said caused her dug well to go dry earlier this month.

Cummings is now trying to figure out what to do next. She was given a quote of $12,000 to drill an artesian well, but she said she’s not sure if the equipment can maneuver on her property to drill because of trees and the tight spaces between homes along the river.

The water woes plaguing Cummings’ property come as the dam’s owner, Brentwood Dam Ventures LLC of Arundel, Maine, looks to either sell the dam or have it removed. 

Town officials in Brentwood and Fremont have held meetings in recent weeks with residents and representatives from the dam and the state Department of Environmental Services.

Upstream water levels in the Exeter River have been dramatically lowered after a dam along Mill Road in Brentwood was opened. (Jason Schreiber)

In addition to lowering water levels, particularly in dug wells, the possibility of dam removal has some residents concerned about potential ecological impacts on the river, water table and septic system issues, and the loss of recreational opportunities.

A meeting will be held Friday at 4 p.m. at the Portsmouth law offices of Stephen Roberts, the lawyer representing Naoto Inoue, principal of Brentwood Dam Ventures.

Inoue is expected to attend along with Roberts, officials from the state Department of Environmental Services, concerned residents, and representatives from Brentwood and Fremont.

According to a letter from Roberts, the purpose of the meeting is to discuss various options, including the sale of the dam to one or more abutters, and the “likely” removal of the dam if it isn’t sold.

Residents first learned of the possible dam removal in May when Inoue sent a letter to upstream abutters.

“I knew nothing until the letter,” Cummings said.

The dam is no longer used to generate hydroelectric power. Inoue said in his letter that the dam would require “significant” generator repairs to remain in use.

He said the company is considering removal of the dam, which would “return the river in this area to its natural lower level.”

Inoue acknowledged the potential issues the dam removal could create, and has offered to sell the dam to abutting landowners.

“Absent an interested purchaser, in the near future the company will very likely seek approval (from the state) to remove the dam,” he said in his letter.

He added that the company would move “quickly” on dam removal.

Charlie Krautmann, a dam safety engineer with the state’s Dam Bureau, conducted an inspection of the dam earlier this year; he said he expects his final report, including any safety issues, will be completed in August.

He agreed with the dam owner’s assessment that significant improvements would be needed if it were to continue operating as a hydroelectric dam.

Cummings said she would like to see the dam closed and remain in place, but acknowledged that it’s unlikely abutters would be able to purchase the dam — at least not in the near future.

Like Cummings, Mallory Wilkens is also worried about her well. She lives on Riverside Drive in Fremont as well and had her dug well converted to a point well system during last summer’s drought. If it fails again, she’s not sure a new well could be drilled on her property because there’s little room.

“Our concern is with the fluctuating water levels. If it does cause our well to go dry again we basically have a house we can’t live in,” she said.

Residents have discussed the idea of forming an association to buy the dam, but that’s a long-term goal.

Brentwood Town Administrator Karen Clement said one Fremont resident proposed moving the town line to put the dam in Fremont to make it easier if residents there formed a group to buy it.

But moving the town line would be difficult, Clement said. “That creates a huge hurdle because you would have to get two town meetings to agree,” she said.

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