When buying or selling a home there are many potential pitfalls that could jam up a deal. Structural or mechanical issues, financing issues, cold feet, and, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a failed septic system under Title V can halt a closing. Home sellers and home buyers should also be cognizant of the presence of a dam on a property as well.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a law on the books known as the Dam Safety Statute. It was passed in 2002 and revised in 2005. According to the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservations’ Office of Dam Safety website, dams need to be registered with the State and recorded with the Registry of Deeds. Further, if a property is to change hands, an updated dam certificate must also be obtained.
While simply registering a dam is seemingly a benign hurdle to get a property with a dam sold, the law also requires the inspection of dams. Here are the classifications as specified by the Office of Dam Safety:
High Hazard Potential dam refers to dams located where failure will likely cause loss of life and serious damage to home(s), industrial or commercial facilities, important public utilities, main highway(s) or railroad(s).
Significant Hazard Potential dam refers to dams located where failure may cause loss of life and damage home(s), industrial or commercial facilities, secondary highway(s) or railroad(s) or cause interruption of use or service of relatively important facilities.
Low Hazard Potential dam refers to dams located where failure may cause minimal property damage to others. Loss of life is not expected.
A high hazard dam needs to be inspected every two years, a significant hazard potential dam needs to be inspected every 5 years, and a low hazard potential dam needs to be inspected every 10 years. If an inspection demonstrates that the dam is unsafe, a Certificate of Non-Compliance could be issued.
Estimates to repair an unsafe dam may make removal of the dam a more cost effective solution, however, in some cases the lake-like feature behind the dam (known as an impoundment), may be a popular recreational destination making it a less desirable solution for those living upriver.
An example of such a situation can be found on the Swift River in Western Massachusetts. The Upper Bondsville Dam is located down river from the Quabbin Reservoir. It is a masonry dam that the Commonwealth has deemed unsafe. It is currently owned by the Belchertown Land Trust who acquired the property that included the dam for the land which includes picturesque walking trails along the Swift River.
While the less expensive solution is to remove the dam, the Swift River is a popular recreational destination because of the 5 mile long impoundment that the dam has created. Homes located along the impoundment would also be adversely affected by the removal of the dam as the flow of the river would change dramatically.
Moreover, the land trust doesn’t have the money to remove the dam or to repair it, which is well over $300,000 for either option.
So while a property with a dam on it may create an idyllic setting with the waterfall and beauty, it can also be a liability that a home seller may need to mitigate and that a home buyer may wish to avoid.
For more information regarding the regulations governing dams in Massachusetts, go to: http://www.Mass.gov/dcr. For more information on the Upper Bondsville Dam, check out http://www.BelchertownLandTrust.or