NEWPORT, Maine — Emergency repairs will be made early next week to the gate at the North Street Dam, selectmen determined Wednesday night.
Last Thursday, a heavy duty chain that allows the gate to be lowered and raised snapped, nearly injuring Public Works Director Larry Merrithew.
Merrithew, a former Penobscot County deputy, said: “Twenty-three years in law enforcement and I was never shot. Then I almost get taken out by a dam gate.”
The chain, which had been weakened by vibrations during the winter, flew by Merrithew’s head and wrapped itself around a nearby pole.
Town Manager James Ricker said he contacted Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield for a temporary fix and new chains — 300 feet for $2,000 — have been ordered. The chain should be delivered by Friday and Cianbro should be on site either Monday or Tuesday to repair the gate.
“We are very fortunate to have those people in our back yard,” Ricker said. “They are a first-rate company.”
The dam is at the outlet of Sebasticook Lake and Ricker said about six inches of water in the lake was lost because of the gate accident.
Ricker said he has also asked Kleindschmidt Associates of Pittsfield, the firm that originally engineered the dam, to come up with a new lift system for the gate that will include a cage to protect the dam operator. Ricker said he met with a group of Kleindschmidt engineers at the dam last Friday and they were adamantly opposed to replacing the hinged style gate with an up-and-down style gate.
“An up-and-down would create an undertow and they were quite concerned because the public beach is so close,” Ricker said.
Ricker said the chain system may end up being replaced with stainless steel cables.
“We may have to have the gate open or shut all winter, not half way. We have to stop messing with this,” he said.
Merrithew said the chains snapped on his second visit that day to adjust the gate level.
Sebasticook Lake is a shallow lake and just a few inches of water level at the dam can completely empty some of the coves along the lake, so Merrithew and members of the Sebasticook Lake Association constantly monitor the water level at the dam.
“In past years, we put the gate up once and down once [in the winter],” Ricker said. But after many lakeside homeowners began complaining about fluctuations in the water level, adjustments were made more frequently.
“When we started playing with the gate to humor irate lake property owners, we began having trouble,” Ricker said.
He also noted that the last two times the chains broke, there were obstructions in the gate. “This time, we were just lowering it. There were no obstructions,” he said.
Selectman Roger Carr said, “We need to look at a permanent option, what is the safest thing to do.”
Ricker said a project that was started last year by local resident Tom Hart that included installing movable flashboards on the top of the dam was “on the right track.”
That project, however, has been sidelined because Hart is seriously ill.
The board decided to proceed with the emergency repair and safety cage, take Kleindschmidt’s proposal under advisement and possibly put a permanent solution in next year’s budget.