Baker announces $17.3M in grants to repair dams, seawalls

Massachusetts

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced more than $17.3 million in grants Wednesday aimed at helping repair failing dams, coastal infrastructure, and levees across the state.

The grants — awarded by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs as part of their Dam and Seawall Program — will support construction projects in more than two dozen communities.

The Republican said the grants will help toughen critical resilience projects in the face of a changing climate.

“The Commonwealth’s cities and towns are seeing the impacts of climate change every day,” Baker said. “These grants will help municipalities make substantial progress to maintain and repair aging dams and seawalls across Massachusetts.”

Baker made the announcement Wednesday during a visit to Haskell Dam Pond in Gloucester.

The Republican also used the stop to highlight other proposed environmental infrastructure investments included in the administration’s $2.9 billion COVID-19 pandemic recovery proposal using federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Democratic lawmakers have pushed back again the proposal, saying they want to take more time to hear from other advocates and local officials before moving ahead with spending the one-time federal dollars.

State Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Republican leader in the Massachusetts Senate, said the dam and seawall project represents a critical partnership between the administration, the Legislature and local municipal leaders struggling to balance the needs of maintaining dams while also funding local schools and public safety needs.

“All over this state and particularly on the coast there are a lot of local officials and others that every night lay awake thinking about how they’re going to meet their obligation to maintain some of the most complex and challenging pieces of public infrastructure that exist in our state and a lot of time they’re doing it with very limited municipal budgets,” Tarr said.

“That answer is that we do it in collaboration and we do it with partnership,” added Tarr, who represents several coastal communities north of Boston including Gloucester and Rockport.

The problem of crumbling dams and seawalls is not new in Massachusetts.

A 2019 review by The Associated Press found there were 39 high hazard dams in poor or unsatisfactory condition in the state. Fourteen of those were on a list of 100 that a 2011 state audit determined were in poor and unsafe condition. Many of the deteriorating dams were decades old, and in some cases date back more than a century.

The review was part of a larger investigation by the AP that found there were at least 1,688 high-hazard dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of 2018 in 44 states and Puerto Rico. The actual number was almost certainly higher with some states declining to provide condition ratings for their dams.

The grants announced Wednesday will help pay for projects in Acton, Ashfield, Braintree, Brockton, Chicopee, Dracut, Dudley, Essex, Gardner, Gloucester, Hull, Ipswich, Leominster, Marshfield, New Bedford, Northborough, Oxford, Peabody, Quincy, Salem, Saugus, Somerset, Stow, Springfield, Wareham, Weymouth, the Wildlands Trust in Kingston, and Worcester.

With the new grants, the Dam and Seawall Program has provided more than $95 million in grants and loans to address deficient dams, seawalls, and levees since the program began in 2013, according to the administration.

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