Newport dam problem finally visible to engineers

Posted July 16, 2010, at 11:20 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — A prolonged effort to drain water away from the damaged Sebasticook Lake Dam gate finally found success Thursday, affording engineers and town officials a long-awaited glimpse at what’s wrong.

According to Town Manager James Ricker, an initial assessment of the hinges at the bottom of the gate provided some encouraging news: The damage may not be as bad as feared. The full extent of the needed repairs, however, won’t be known until at least Monday, when a crane crew from Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield is sched-uled to lift the large steel gate from its place in the concrete dam.

Ricker and selectmen — and undoubtedly many Newport residents — have been keen to understand the problem because of its potential to exhaust the town’s dam maintenance budgets and require the borrowing of thousands of dollars. As it is, said Ricker, the town has nearly used up its $30,000 reserve fund just to identify the problem.

When the water around the gate finally drained low enough, crews could see at least part of the problem. At the bottom of the gate are two 12-inch steel clamps that fasten a pivot bar to the concrete dam.

On one side of the gate, the bolts holding the clamps together were either lost or broken. On the other side, the bolts were loose and possibly near letting go. Ricker said those problems are relatively minor compared to his worst fears, such as finding large sections of concrete eroded away.

“I’m a little more optimistic,” said Ricker. “However, there may be something there that I can’t see.”

Problems with the gate have been going on for at least three years. Last month, town workers noticed that one of two chains that lift and lower the gate — both of which were replaced last year with super-strong Grade 100 chains that can handle 30,000 pounds apiece — had snapped. The sheer force it must have taken to break that chain told town officials that there are serious problems with the gate, which is essential to regulating the level of Sebasticook Lake and flushing out harmful algae.

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