BRENTWOOD — The state is taking legal action against the company that owns the Exeter River Dam, alleging it has failed to maintain and repair the dam.
The Department of Environmental Services has filed a petition in Rockingham County Superior Court seeking an injunction to force Brentwood Dam Ventures LLC to address the problems and submit an Emergency Action Plan.
The future of the aging hydroelectric dam along Mill Road has been a concern for state officials and local residents for some time.
The structure was built in 1927, but has not operated as a hydroelectric dam for many years. The dam was under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 1981 to 2017, which is when the state took jurisdiction.
Naoto Inoue, principal of Brentwood Dam Ventures, said the issue comes down to money. He said the company can’t afford to make the repairs or pay for the dam’s removal — both of which would likely cost thousands of dollars.
“I’ve just got a basket of bad apples here that I’m trying to deal with,” he said Monday.
According to the state’s petition filed last week, DES performed a visual inspection of the dam in June 2017 and found several deficiencies, including significant cracks along the upstream concrete face and additional cracks and leaks on the downstream face.
The state also noted that gate stems and boards were rotten and the gate was stuck partially open and collecting debris. Inoue said the company hasn’t had the money to fix the gate.
DES changed the dam’s hazard classification from low to significant after determining there would be potential impacts to at least two residences downstream if a breach were to occur.
DES issued a letter of deficiency Aug. 8, 2017, and an administrative order Sept. 6, 2018, requiring the dam owner to clear all debris from the entrance area of the low level gate and to remove the gate panel and stem completely between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15, 2018.
Brentwood Dam Ventures was also told to clear any accumulating debris from the low level opening on a routine basis to maintain full discharge capacity, and was told to submit an Emergency Action Plan to DES within 60 days of the order.
The company was also required to seek the services of a qualified engineering consultant by March 1, 2019, to investigate and evaluate the problems, including the multiple leaks, the degradation and cracking of the concrete faces, and the stability of the dam.
The state wants all necessary permit applications for dam reconstruction submitted by Dec. 1, 2020, or design plans for the dam’s removal. The dam is required to be fixed or removed by Dec. 1, 2021.
In 2017, a group of Fremont and Brentwood residents formed the Fremont-Exeter River Dam Association in an effort to keep the privately owned dam from being removed. Concerned about the impact its removal would have on residential wells, the association explored options for acquiring and maintaining the privately owned dam that controls water levels in the river.
Inoue said he offered to sell it for $1 to the neighborhood group or the towns of Brentwood and Fremont, but no deal was reached.
Inoue said he doesn’t think removing the dam would be the best option, given the impacts on residents — especially those in Fremont — who live upstream.
He also said he doesn’t believe the state’s legal action is the best way to resolve the problems. “It seems like a huge waste of an attorney’s time and resources,” he said.
However, he said he doesn’t have a plan for the dam’s future.