George Rizer for The Boston Globe
State officials kept a close eye today on a centuries-old dam in the southeastern Massachusetts community of Freetown that is deteriorating under the stress of increased water flow due to the recent heavy rains. At the end of the day, they announced that the dam would be demolished because of safety concerns.
The state declared a dam safety emergency and plans to breach the Forge Pond Dam to alleviate the threat to public safety downstream, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation said in a statement.
The dam's former owner did not maintain or repair the dam, which holds back 45 million gallons of water, for many years, despite orders and recommendations from state dam safety officials, DCR said.. He died in 2009.
Undersecretary of Public Safety and Security Kurt Schwartz said this morning that the dam was "unsafe" and warned that if it were to fail, two dams downstream, the Monument Pond Dam and the Tisdale Pond Dam, could also fail.
Schwartz spoke at a news conference at the dam. He was flanked by other state officials, lawmakers, and local officials.
"If there were to be a catastrophic failure of this dam, there is a real potential for significant property damage and/or loss of life," he said. But he added, "At this time, we do not see an indication that a catastrophic failure is likely."
Schwartz said the next 48 to 72 hours is a critical time period during which officials will be monitoring the dam.
Brown, frothy water poured over the top of the concrete structure this morning in a residential neighborhood. Forge Road, which crosses the stream just below the concrete dam, was closed. Throughout the morning, residents stopped by to check out the scene.
DCR spokeswoman Wendy Fox said breaching the dam was a long-term solution that would prevent the dam from someday bursting on its own. The breaching, which will cost an estimated $300,000, will be done in "days, not weeks, not months," she said.
The dam is 8 feet high, 260 feet long, and estimated to be more than 200 years old, the DCR said. The earth-filled dam includes concrete, masonry, and stone walls.
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