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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Lake Pearl’s Red Dam in Need of Repair

Contributed by Joe Stewart

This is the third in a three-part series about Wrentham’s dams.

Many Wrentham residents are familiar with Lake Pearl as it’s a great spot for swimming, boating, kayaking, and fishing. And some may have noticed the earthen mound at the north end of Lake Pearl; that 320-foot-long, 10-foot-high earthen mound is Red Dam and it holds back Lake Pearl.  

This past March, the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation issued a Certificate of Non-Compliance and Dam Safety Order to Wrentham because Red Dam, which is categorized as a Large Size, Significant Hazard Potential Dam, has been found to be “structurally deficient and in poor condition.” Significant Hazard Potential Dams are dams that may cause the loss of life and property damage in the event of dam failure.

According to the lakeside venue Lake Pearl Wrentham, Lake Pearl was originally known as Whiting’s Pond, named after the Whiting family, who operated a mill there.  In 1885 the lake was purchased by William Enegren, who renamed the lake in honor of his young daughter, Pearl, who died shortly after the family moved to Wrentham.

Red Dam was reconstructed in 2002, according to ESS Group, a water resource management consultancy now owned by TRC Companies. However, since that reconstruction work took place, Pare Corporation, an engineering and planning services firm, has found dense brush, saplings, and trees growing on the downstream slope as well as undermining of the granite steps and thinning riprap along the waterline on the upstream slope.  

The Dam Safety Order directs Wrentham to hire a registered professional engineer to conduct every six months a “Poor Condition Dam Follow-up Inspection” and report results, perform a “Phase II Inspection and Investigation” with the final report due October 1, and bring the dam into compliance by October 1, 2024.  

Brian Anatoli, Wrentham’s director of public works, shared that Wrentham has hired Pare to perform the Follow-up Inspection and report the results.  Mr. Anatoli was unsure of the status of the Phase II Inspection and Investigation at press time but indicated that the town will collaborate with the Office of Dam Safety. He noted that ODS is familiar with municipal budgeting, particularly for significant unplanned expenses such as dam repair where grant funding plays an important role.  

Mr. Anatoli also noted that the Phase II report will give Wrentham a sense of the work required to return the dam to compliance.  As a point of reference, from its October 2022 Red Dam Phase I Inspection / Evaluation Report, Pare estimated that costs to repair Red Dam would range from $347,500 to $543,000. 

In collaboration with the Dam Safety Office, Wrentham has begun work to address the Dam Safety Order. Town Administrator Kevin Sweet said that it is reviewing Pare’s proposal to perform the Phase II Inspection and expects Pare to deliver its report in early October to comply with the state’s order.  

Further, Mr. Sweet plans to submit for grant funding, most likely through the state’s Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Program. He noted the program routinely provides 100% reimbursement for large size / significant hazard dams so Red Dam would be a good candidate.  He noted other sources of funding, such as the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, can be investigated as well. Sweet shared that the town would likely apply for the grant this winter and then post a Request For Proposal for work to commence summer 2024 or summer 2025.  

Additionally, Mr. Sweet noted that this Dam Safety Order illustrates the value of ongoing operations and maintenance.  As fiscally responsible stewards of the town’s infrastructure, the administration is looking to invest in preventative maintenance.