Recent Stories

Dam safety program behind schedule, while inspector has second job as rugby coach

Around 3:50 on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct 12, a state-owned silver GMC Sierra pickup pulled into the parking lot at the Colby College rugby field. A man in a blue windbreaker got out of the truck, took a cardboard box of equipment from the cab and headed down to the field, where members of the college’s men’s and women’s teams

had gathered for their regular late afternoon practice. The man was their coach. But he is also the state dam inspector who has fallen years behind the legal schedule for safety inspections of the nearly 100 dams across the state categorized as potentially dangerous. His name is Tony Fletcher, and he has held the paid rugby coach job at the private Waterville college since 2001, except for one semester, according to the college. Continue Reading →

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Meeting legal dam inspections nearly “impossible,” says state official

AUGUSTA — The head of the state agency responsible for the safety of about 100 potentially hazardous dams admitted to a legislative committee Monday that the dams are not being inspected when the law says they should be. But he also said he was confident in the assurance he got from the chief dam inspector that none of the dams pose a danger. Robert McAleer, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, told the committee that completing safety inspections of the dams “at the rate specified in the law is virtually impossible.”

He was responding to a news story by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting in August that revealed the state had records of on-time inspections of only 10 percent of the 93 dams in the state classified as high or significant hazard. High hazard dams could take lives if they fail; significant hazard dams would destroy property. State law requires them to be inspected by a MEMA civil engineer every two or four years, respectively. Continue Reading →

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The story behind the dam story

This spring, as part of the Center’s goal of training future journalists, John Christie and Naomi Schalit taught an investigative reporting class at Bates College in Lewiston. The ten students in that class conducted important research for the Center’s recently published story about weaknesses in Maine’s dam safety program. You can read all about the course in this dispatch from Bates Magazine. Continue Reading →

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LePage, lawmakers confident uninspected dams are safe

AUGUSTA, Maine — No one in state government — all the way up to the governor — denies the state is failing to regularly inspect Maine’s potentially hazardous dams.

Most, though, don’t expect to do much about it, even though state law requires regular inspections. Some say there’s no risk in the current situation. Others say they are placing their faith in assurances from the Maine Emergency Management Agency that it is trying to solve the problem and that in the meantime, if a dam breaks, evacuation plans are up-to-date. Gov. Paul LePage’s press office issued a statement noting the lax inspection problem, documented last month by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, “has been an issue for decades,” but said that the news story “failed to recognize the efforts dam inspectors are currently engaged in.”

That includes “working towards meeting the standards of reporting,” the statement said. “For the dams that have been placed in the high risk category, emergency plans are in place and MEMA inspectors are actively involved educating dam owners.”

The center’s investigative report revealed that the state had records of on-time inspections of only 10 percent of the 93 dams in the state classified as high or significant hazard. Continue Reading →

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Half of dams that threaten lives lack state inspection

This is the first story in a three-part series, “Maine’s Dams: Hazard Alert”

Maine is not living up to the state law that requires regular inspections of the nearly 100 dams in the state classified as hazardous for their potential to take lives or sweep away buildings, roads and bridges. The state has 93 such dams from Limestone to Sanford. Of those, the state classifies 24 as “high hazard potential,” meaning that mis-operation or failure could “probably cause loss of life.”  The other dams are “significant hazard dams,” meaning a failure could cause property or environmental damage. Half of the high hazard dams are two to seven years overdue for their mandated inspection by a professional engineer,

according to records provided to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting by the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). And the state has no record of any state inspection for another 25 percent of the high hazard dams, either because they have not been inspected or because of poor record keeping. Continue Reading →

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