May 22, 2018
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Receding beaver dam flood waters leave extensive road damage in Orrington

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

ORRINGTON, Maine — Water from a beaver dam that burst Friday night — in the same place a break occurred in 2001 — has temporarily wiped out Swetts Pond Road and a portion of the nearby railroad tracks.

Road and Pan Am rail crews could be seen Saturday scrambling to fix the flood damage.

“The beaver flowage that broke 10 years ago and did all that damage — that same beaver flow breached again,” Assistant Fire Chief Scott Stewart said Saturday. “It’s sticks and mud — it’s a beaver dam — and sticks and mud break.”

There was a breach at the beaver dam in October, he said, adding that when officials checked on that damage, “there were signs there may be weak spots in there,” the fire official said.

The flooding was reported at about 6:30 p.m. on Friday on Swetts Pond Road and by 7 p.m. had reached nearby Route 15. The receding water revealed a lot of damage on Saturday morning, Town Manager Paul White said.

“It looks like we’ve got a lot of repair work to do,” he said. “It looks very similar to what it looked like in 2001,” which caused $225,000 in damage.

The flooding Friday night was in the same area that washed out on May 23, 2001, when a beaver dam failure washed out a half-mile stretch of Swetts Pond Road and created a gully at least 10 feet deep at the entrance of Cemetery Road.

A device called a “beaver deceiver,” which resembles a culvert, was installed after the last major flooding a decade ago, but has since failed, White said.

“It’s a culvert that we placed in the dam to control the level of the dam,” the town manager said.

The device now “is completely visible and it’s completely jammed full of sticks,” which caused it to stop regulating the water levels, Stewart said.

The beavers, who live on private property, have been an ongoing issue in town for more than a decade.

“When the beavers built the dam they created an environment for other wildlife to use” that falls under state and federal protections, Stewart said.

The beavers cannot simply be moved, because there are rules to follow to protect the ecosystem they created.

“It’s not as easy as it might seem,” the assistant fire chief said, adding later that, “The state biologists have been involved … trying to come up with a solution so what happened [on Friday] didn’t happen.”

With the extensive washout damage, Swetts Pond Road will be shut down over the weekend, White said.

High volumes of water went over and under the Swetts Pond Road for more than four hours, creating a hidden danger, Fire Chief Mike Spencer said.

“The tar is still there, but there is nothing underneath” in many places, he said.

The flooding also took out several driveways and entered the home of one woman, who was evacuated and spent the night at a local motel, Stewart said.

Pan Am rail workers filled the washed out rail line with new gravel on Saturday while a train, destined for Bucksport, sat on the train tracks waiting for the work to be completed.

Public works crews from town and a local contractor worked Saturday to get the roadway back into drivable condition, White said.

“Our main goal at this point is to get those people access to their homes,” he said. “We’ve just got to rebuild and that is going to take some time.”

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