BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts lawmakers have given final approval to a bill designed to make it easier for cities and towns to repair or remove crumbling dams and seawalls.
The legislation approved Monday would set aside $17 million for the repair or removal of unsafe, abandoned or useless dams while also helping strengthen the state’s coastal infrastructure.
The bill would require the commissioner of conservation and recreation to issue a report on all dams in the state and require that emergency plans be drawn up for all dams deemed to be at a high or significant hazard.
There are about 3,000 dams in Massachusetts.
The bill would also create a Dam Repair and Removal Revolving Loan Fund to provide low-interest long-term loans to private dam owners and cities and towns to inspect, repair and remove dams.
A portion of the money will also go toward coastal infrastructure improvements, including improving jetties, retaining walls, and levies.
One of the bill’s top sponsors, state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said one of the top concerns for lawmakers was public safety.
In 2005, floodwaters pummeled the then-173-year-old Whittenton Pond Dam in Taunton, threatening the downtown area and closing businesses, highways and schools. Two thousand people were temporarily evacuated.
The threats posed by extreme storms haven’t gone away, Pacheco said.
‘‘In the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, it is clear that we cannot afford to have an underdeveloped or out-of-date flood-prevention infrastructure,’’ Pacheco said in a written statement.
Environmental and engineering groups have been pushing for final passage of the bill, which supporters say will also improve the health of rivers and aquatic wildlife by restoring the natural flow of waterways that have been blocked by dams that have outlived their function.
‘‘It’s a fantastic way to provide a set of tools for the commonwealth to address climate change impacts,’’ said Steve Long, director of government relations with The Nature Conservancy.
The bill sets up an inspection schedule to ensure that all ‘‘high hazard dams’’ are inspected at least every two years and all ‘‘significant hazard dams’’ are inspected at least every 5 years to ensure the accuracy of the dam classification.
Abbie Goodman, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts, also hailed passage of the bill.
‘‘We are deeply concerned about maintaining the safety of infrastructure to protect the public,’’ Goodman said. ‘‘This bill is a great step forward.’’
The legislation now heads to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk. An aide said the governor hasn’t taken a position on the bill and will review it before deciding whether to sign it.
Dam removal isn’t a new concern for the state.
In 2011, Massachusetts led the Northeast in an annual listing of states removing dams to benefit rivers and promote healthy ecosystems.
The conservation group American Rivers said Massachusetts oversaw the safe removal of five dams, nearly a third of the total of 16 dams removed in the six New England states and New York State during that year.
The largest was the Briggsville Dam on the North Hoosic River in Clarksburg, adjacent to the city of North Adams.
Removing the 15-foot-high, 200-foot-long dam restored continuity to more than 30 miles of headwater streams and trout habitat.