Watershops Dam Project Update Provided to Mayor Sarno and Springfield Park Commission
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno joined with members of the Springfield Parks Commission and Executive Director of PBRM Patrick Sullivan, Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan, Capital Asset Construction Director Peter Garvey, and Director of Disaster Recovery and Compliance Tina Quagliato-Sullivan for a presentation on the Watershops Dam project.
Tom Jenkins of GZA provided a PowerPoint presentation of the Watershops Pond Dam and the Resiliency Improvements Project to Mayor Sarno and the Springfield Parks Commission via Zoom video conference.
The City of Springfield received a significant grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC). One of the important projects being funded by the NDRC grant is the Resiliency Improvements at Watershops Pond Dam. Watershops Pond Dam is a High-hazard potential dam owned and operated by the City. The dam impounds the Mill River to form Watershops Pond, also known as Lake Massasoit. The Project will support the continued existence of Watershops Pond by constructing resilience improvements at the dam to provide for its continued function in a safe and effective manner, in compliance with the requirements of the Massachusetts Dam Safety Regulations and allowing for improved operations and maintenance. The Project includes replacing two sluice gates, the crest gate and the upstream left training wall; permanently closing two penstock openings at the right abutment of the dam; repairs to various components of the dam; replacement of electrical service; and vegetation and tree removal.
On June 15, 2020, the City filed an Expanded Environmental Notification Form (EENF) under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). The EENF provides a full description of the Project, its potential for environmental impacts, and proposed mitigation for any unavoidable impacts. State agencies that must issue permits and approvals will use the MEPA review process to assess the Project’s overall environmental impacts and proposed mitigation of unavoidable impacts. The project requires MEPA review through a Mandatory Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The City has requested a Waiver from the requirement to prepare a mandatory EIR or, alternately, approval to prepare a Single EIR
In addition to multiple State agencies, the EENF was circulated to the following City offices:
- Springfield City Council
- Springfield Office of Planning and Economic Development
- Springfield Conservation Commission
- Springfield Department of Health and Human Services
The EENF can be reviewed and downloaded from the web link below:
The City has already commenced the design and permitting of the Project. The Project is proposed to include a drawdown of Watershops Pond during much of the work, based primarily on the following considerations:
- Drawdown offers the least impact on the Project schedule.
- Drawdown offers the least cost to the Project.
- Drawdown offers the greatest potential capacity for flood storage and protection of the dam, the work, workers, and downstream areas during the period of work.
- Drawdown allows for ancillary benefits of a full pond drawdown, as described in Section 3.4.5 of the EENF.
- Drawdown has been successfully performed many times over the life of Watershops Pond.
- Drawdown minimizes potential environmental impacts associated with the Project and offers mitigation opportunities for unavoidable impacts.
The City has commissioned a side-scan sonar study of the pond bottom and underwater debris is clearly discernible, including several automobiles. Noxious items such as automobiles and tornado-related debris from homes and buildings are prime targets for removal while the pond is drawn down. Independent from the dam repair activities, it is the goal of the City to take advantage of the drawdown and will organize to remove detrimental items from the pond and properly dispose of them.
A public consultation session under MEPA was held by video conference on July 9 to receive advice and comments from agencies, officials, and citizens regarding which environmental issues, if any, are significant for this Project.
MEPA will be receiving public comments on the Project up to July 24. Comments should be directed via email to the MEPA contact:
Alex Strysky: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please reference “EEA 16234 Resiliency Improvements at Watershops Pond Dam, Springfield” in the subject line of your email, and also please cc the following:
Tina Quagliato Sullivan: email@example.com
Peter Garvey: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Jenkins: email@example.com
Mayor Domenic Sarno stated, “Springfield has long been on the cutting edge of climate change and disaster preparedness. Since enduring two federally declared disasters in 2011, the city has initiated several programs related to community resiliency. This project meets two goals set by my administration: Removing the Watershops Dam from the state’s High Hazard category, and implementing green energy-efficient measures by installing solar panels at the Brookings School. In the future, this school can be used as an emergency shelter due to electricity produced by the solar panels. Successful implementation of the proposed repairs will bring Springfield significantly closer to creating a more resilient community prepared to face the challenges of climate change. I’m appreciative of the efforts of Congressman Neal in identifying funding for city and towns for these projects.”
Congressman Neal said, “I am thrilled the City was successful in their application for NRDC Grant funds. When you see catastrophic events happening across our country, it emphasizes the need for these types of projects to prevent such events in the City of Springfield. I applaud Mayor Sarno and his team in identifying the need to rebuild and make resilience upgrades to this dam to ensure the protection of the residents downstream from this water source.”
Park Chairman, Brian Santaniello stated; “I commend the Mayor and Congressman Neal in their efforts to secure the funds to repair this high hazard dam. It has been the goal of the Park Commission to ensure our residents are safe and protected during future climate related storms events. This project will protect the South End of our city and at the same time preserve the natural resources associated with Watershops pond dam. This is great news for our city to be moving this project forward”
CDO Timothy Sheehan added, “Our team continues to be grateful for the CDBG-NDR funding granted by our partners at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that have made it possible for this crucial infrastructure project to happen. We are encouraged by the neighborhood and stakeholder support we have received to date, and look forward to completion of the permitting process and getting construction underway. We encourage all interested residents and stakeholders to continue monitoring our dedicated project website for ongoing updates. The website can be accessed at www.springfield-ma.gov/planning/index.php?id=634”
Executive Director of PBRM Patrick Sullivan said, “This NRDC grant accomplishes a significant goal for our city in the rebuilding of this dam and, more importantly, ensures the protection of the South End neighborhood from future flooding events. The proposed plans presented and prepared by GZA offer the safest and efficient means in the repairs to this high hazard dam. The ability to conduct an assessment of our current conditions and identify the resources necessary to improve the operation of this dam are key in guaranteeing this dam is operational for another 100 years. It is a critical safety issue to have this high hazard dam properly repaired. The city completed repairs at the Lower Van Horn Dam last year and this project will ensure all high hazard dams are properly repaired across the City.”
Capital Asset Construction Director Peter Garvey stated, “This significant project ensures that a 160-year old structure will maintain its integrity for at least another 100 years. This location holds great history for our city and to be part of the rebuilding of this dam and preserving its history is very special. I am very excited for the residents of this neighborhood and the South End. As future storms develop, we can safeguard the public and, if needed, provide residents with shelter at the Brookings School with the installation of the solar panels.”
Watershops Dam is a High Hazard-potential concrete and masonry gravity dam owned by the City of Springfield with a maximum structural height of about 32 feet and with a concrete ogee overflow spillway that is approximately 105 feet long. The dam impounds the Mill River to form the 200± acre Watershops Pond, also known as Lake Massasoit.
The dam was reportedly constructed circa 1857 and last substantially modified in 1958, following significant damages to the original structure during flooding resulting from Hurricane Diane in August 1955. The original purpose of the dam was to supply hydropower to the U.S. federal government’s Springfield Armory, which operated from 1794 to 1968. The federal government sold Watershops Pond and the dam to the City of Springfield on August 1, 1969. The sale of the property to the City was subject to the City’s Offer to Purchase, which included a proposed “Program of Utilization” for the future use of the properties as public parkland. Effectively, the Federal Lands to Parks (FLP) program of the National Park Service (NPS) conveyed Watershops Pond and the dam to the City subject to a requirement that Watershops Pond be used and maintained as public parkland per the deed.
The earliest forms of hydropower at Watershops Pond Dam included water wheels and mechanical turbines. The U.S. Army first commenced hydroelectric power at the Watershops Pond Dam circa 1920, installing a 470 kVA 375 kW 600V General Electric generator with a submerged turbine. It is not known when hydroelectric generation ended at the dam; however, the turbine and generator were reportedly no longer in place when the City took possession of the dam in 1969.
Watershops Pond has been conserved by the City for the public’s passive recreational use ever since the property transfer. The City’s Department of Parks, Buildings, and Recreation Management (PBRM) operates and maintains two city park properties with direct waterfront access to the pond: Harriet Tubman Park on Hickory Street and Alden Street Park on Alden Street. PBRM is responsible for the operation and maintenance of Watershops Dam, and the structure is critical to the City’s requirement to maintain the Watershops Pond public space and access.