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Epsom’s Route 4 gem dividing town and state

  • (Left to right) James McGee, Lucas Rouillard and Mason Collette hang out and fish at the Cass Pond Dam on Sunday, September 1, 2013 in Epsom. The Cass Pond dam along Route 4 in Epsom has sparked a debate between local officials and state regulators. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services wants to replace it with a smaller rock weir because they're worried that the structure won't survive the next big storm. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    (Left to right) James McGee, Lucas Rouillard and Mason Collette hang out and fish at the Cass Pond Dam on Sunday, September 1, 2013 in Epsom. The Cass Pond dam along Route 4 in Epsom has sparked a debate between local officials and state regulators. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services wants to replace it with a smaller rock weir because they're worried that the structure won't survive the next big storm.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • The Cass Pond Dam along Route 4 in Epsom has sparked a debate between local officials and state regulators. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services wants to replace it with a smaller rock weir because they're worried that the structure won't survive the next big storm. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    The Cass Pond Dam along Route 4 in Epsom has sparked a debate between local officials and state regulators. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services wants to replace it with a smaller rock weir because they're worried that the structure won't survive the next big storm.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • (Left to right) James McGee, Lucas Rouillard and Mason Collette hang out and fish at the Cass Pond Dam on Sunday, September 1, 2013 in Epsom. The Cass Pond dam along Route 4 in Epsom has sparked a debate between local officials and state regulators. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services wants to replace it with a smaller rock weir because they're worried that the structure won't survive the next big storm. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • The Cass Pond Dam along Route 4 in Epsom has sparked a debate between local officials and state regulators. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services wants to replace it with a smaller rock weir because they're worried that the structure won't survive the next big storm. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

One of Epsom’s more scenic and historic spots, Cass Pond and its 1800s-era dam along Route 4, is fast becoming a battleground between local officials and state dam regulators.

The state Department of Environmental Services, tight on money and concerned the dam can’t survive the next big storm, wants to remove or at least replace it with a much smaller rock weir. Doing so would save the state maintenance costs on a dam that no longer serves its original purpose – powering mills – said Grace Levergood, a civil engineer with the dam bureau.

The state is taking a similar approach to dams across the state, she said.

Epsom officials, however, are calling that a win for the state and a huge loss for the town. According to the selectmen, removing the 6-foot dam or reducing it to a weir, a small rock barrier, would lower the 15-acre pond so much it would eventually be overtaken by brush and trees.

“They should leave it the way it is,” said Selectman Bob Blodgett last week. “It’s a scenic area. If you take (the dam) out we’re going to have a mud hole, and nobody wants to look at a mud hole.”

The selectmen asked the state to reconsider its position in an Aug. 12 letter, which they bolstered with a petition signed by about 30 residents. Meanwhile, locals have also been writing letters to the dam bureau, Blodgett said.

“This is not going to be the end of Epsom if they take (the dam) out,” said Don Harty, chairman of the selectmen. “But it’s going to be the end of one beautiful portion of Epsom.”

Cass Pond, also known as Bixby Pond, sits along Route 4, just east of the Epsom traffic circle and just before a state rest area. There is a pull-off along Route 4 with a picnic area that overlooks the pond for drivers seeking a peaceful respite on a busy road.

It’s such a pretty setting during foliage season that a Northwood puzzle shop has put the scene on a jigsaw puzzle that sells online for $12.95. Search the web a bit more and you’ll find the dam on old post cards.

Richard Frambach’s home overlooks the dam and he and his wife, Mary, treasure not only the pond’s picturesque setting but also the setting’s historic significance.

The dam once powered a saw mill, grist mill and a carding mill that prepared wool for spinning, Frambach said. The couple has kept their own historical record of activity on the pond, awaiting the annual arrival of Canada geese; anticipating spring as the pond thaws; and sharing the area with otters, muskrats, beavers and turtles.

“It’s an icon in the town,” said Frambach, who has written the dam bureau opposing the dam’s removal.

In the Frambachs’ 40 years on the pond, they’ve never seen it flood, Richard Frambach said. He doesn’t share the state’s concern that the dam will fail in a serious storm.

Neither does road agent Gordon Ellis. During a particularly bad storm a few years ago, the town put sandbags around the edge as a precautionary step.

“The banks on both sides got saturated, but it didn’t flow over,” Ellis said. “There was a potential problem that it could wash out, but it didn’t.”

The selectmen have told the state the pond also serves a practical purpose: The fire department would pull water from the pond to fight a fire in that area, Harty said.

Levergood, who has made one presentation to the town about the dam bureau’s plans, said the state’s discussion with Epsom is in the early stages and will likely require more meetings with the town.

“Lots of times, it’s an educational process,” she said.

Levergood said the pond is already more marshy and full of sediment than some in town believe. The dam, she said, is in need of repair. She also said her office is committed to keeping some level of water in the pond to protect endangered bridle shiners that live in the pond.

Levergood anticipates meeting again with town officials in an effort to reach a compromise.

Harty isn’t convinced that the state is truly interested in a mutually agreeable solution.

“My fear is that having dealt with the state before, they have the meetings they have to hold with abutters and with the town . . . and still do what they want to do,” he said. “I have no empirical proof, but it seems to me that that’s how they’ll go through this.”

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3320,
atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

If they do away with this, it will be a dam shame.

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