OXFORD — It’s all about the money.
That’s the message Town Manager Butch Asselin and members of the Oxford Board of Selectmen gave a small but vocal group of residents who came to a special workshop on Oct. 25 to discuss the future of the Welchville Dam.
Selectmen met to continue discussions about the Welchville Dam – a structure on Route 26 in the Welchville section of town that Myron Petrovsky of MBP Consulting in Portland said last May was in “imminent danger” of collapsing.
The town could fix the problem by replacing it or rebuilding it. The dam could also be torn down.
Petrovsky told the board earlier this year that it could cost about about $1.4 million to repair the dam or about $900,000 to build a new dam. Former Interim Town Manager Becky Lippincott recommended to the board that the dam be replaced, but concerns over money and other questions stalled action.
“To be honest with you, we don’t have a million dollars right now. And I’m not sure anyone would like to see a $1 million [impact] in their taxes next year,” Selectman Floyd Thayer told the group at the recent workshop.
Although the Welchville Dam is considered a “low-hazard” structure, Petrovsky has said if the dam fails he expects the water levels of Whitney and Hogan ponds to drop at least five to six feet.
And that possibility has many property owners on the ponds worried.
“If we lose this waterfront it’s going to be a huge hit for the town,” Hogan Pond summer resident Christopher Glass said of the potential loss of property taxes by the lowered values and probable loss of homeowners should the ponds disappear.
Whitney and Hogan ponds, which are popular summer destinations and home to several campgrounds, lie parallel to each other and are interconnected at the northern end. The outlet leads to the Little Androscoggin River and on to the Welchville Dam.
The 170-acre Whitney Pond has a maximum depth of 24 feet, while the 177-acre Hogan Pond has a depth of 34 feet.
According to information from the Hogan-Whitney Ponds Association, more than three-quarters of the land surrounding the two ponds is residential and about 15 percent is vacant. The number of property owners who live on their land year-round is less than 25 percent. The Hogan and Whitney ponds watershed covers about 2.6 square miles.
“We need these two lakes to sustain this area,” said Glass. Glass, who hopes to relocate full time to his Oxford home of four years, said whether or not the dam will be torn down, replaced or rebuilt, will determine the future of the Hogan and Whitney ponds area and subsequently the tax base of Oxford.
Glass, who builds bridges for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the majority of property owners on the two lakes are “summer people” and account for probably about 5 percent of the total population – but as much as 10 percent of the town’s tax base is paid by these residents.
“If our houses become riverfront, you’ll lose tax money and you’ll have to recoup it from other people,” he said. According to Glass, people are putting money into upgrading the homes around the lakes and just on his street, a number of houses have been sold for a substantial amount in recent years.
“If we lose this waterfront it’s going to be a huge hit for the town,” he said.
“If we’re going to remove it (the dam) we will try to sell out. Many people will,” agreed Hogan Pond resident Dolores Payne, who with her husband, James, have lived on the pond for many decades.
Resident Lewis Staples, who has a deep knowledge of the dam’s history, said he would like to see the dam back to the way it was in the 1950s.
He and others say the dam was rebuilt in recent years some three to five feet higher than it had been and therefore keeping water level in the ponds higher.
Like others, he did not favor removing the dam because of the impact to the ponds.