Believe it or not, bathing suit weather is coming. But for the fourth summer, residents in Norwich will not be cooling off in their popular natural swimming hole. After Tropical Storm Irene washed out the dam over Charles Brown Brook, Norwich began tangling with the state over a plan to re-make the pool.
In a stand of trees off a dirt road, the Norwich pool is kind of hard to find, unless you’re a local.
The stream runs freely over rocks around the ruined impoundment. Nearby, Norwich Selectman Dan Goulet rakes leaves in the yard of a stately white house where he serves as caretaker. In the spring, he's caught brook trout here, and in the summer he's seen generations of families happily splashing around. So he supports legislation sponsored by Rep. Jim Masland requiring the Agency of Natural Resources to authorize reconstruction of the dam.
"The dam really should be put back in because … I don't feel it's an encumbrance," Goulet says. "Because above here a quarter mile is an impassable dam, down below here is an impassable dam, so what can pass if there’s nothing passing those two?"
But ANR isn't looking at those existing dams; they're reviewing the request to replace this one. Once a dam washes away, the agency must either turn thumbs down on a new dam, or thumbs up on environmental mitigation measures. In this case, Norwich Town Manager Neil Fulton says the agency has so far withheld approval.
"The Agency of Natural Resources is concerned with what they call conductivity — the connection of the upstream and downstream so that aquatic mechanisms — fish, for example, can move up and downstream," he explains.
But Fulton says fish migration should not be a major obstacle because the dam is closed only 10 weeks a year, and the town's design includes fish ladders. He's getting lots of calls about the pool's comeback.
"Especially the kids," he says. "You know, when you get a call from a 12-year-old that says, 'Mr. Fulton, when is the dam going to be rebuilt?' it's really hard to say, 'I don’t know, but we're working really hard on it.'"
If no compromise is reached, Fulton, as well as Selectman Christopher Ashley, is gearing up for a legal battle. Ashley explained his position at a candidates' night before Town Meeting in March. He’s hoping for a legislative reprieve for a new dam, but time for that is running out.
"The second thing is ANR will turn us down, and if we have done our homework with our fish studies we will litigate and win. My position is we need the money to litigate," Ashley said.
Norwich is not the only Upper Valley town lamenting the loss of a swimming spot this year. Hartford's municipal pool — the concrete, chlorinated kind — will be as closed well. Recreation Director Tad Nunez says the construction of an adjacent field house would interfere with pool operation.
But Hartford residents will be able to use the public pool in Lebanon, and summer day camps will be re-routed indoors to the Upper Valley Aquatic Center.