We are so fortunate to live on the shores of Messalonskee Lake. Some of you may know that I’ve been serving as the lake association’s president for nearly two years and have served on the board of trustees for six or more years. The Friends of Messalonskee is a grassroots volunteer organization that has been operating on this lake for ten years (or more) and, by the way, doing great work; often leading the way for other lake associations in our region.
FOM’s dedicated volunteers and paid seasonal employees conduct Courtesy Boat Inspections to keep fragments of invasive plants from entering or exiting the lake and stop the spread of invasive plants to or from other waterbodies. FOM also contracts with New England Milfoil to DASH (Diver Assisted Suction Harvest) milfoil beds from our lake in order to retain control over our current infestation. We also hire a crew of hand-pullers each summer to pull invasive milfoil from areas where we can’t DASH. Each year we are supported by the state, local towns and businesses, and our members. Last year we removed over 13 TONS of milfoil from our lake through the combined programs.
This week we had a nightmare situation happen on the lake. We had record rain on Sunday, April 30th and lots of runoff caused a railroad culvert in Belgrade to fail. When the culvert failed tons of packed dirt and debris in the culvert shot into the lake and the railroad tracks were left unsupported by the ground underneath. The storm caused each lake above us in our chain of lakes to open their dams and our lake filled to near capacity. Our dam was open but because we have a stream below us, they had to be cautious not to flood the stream. It was pretty hairy for awhile – docks and dock panels were floating away as were kayaks. Lakeside residents were rightly concerned for their properties.
The back story:
On Monday the end of our road was heaped with piles of rock and dirt and several construction-type vehicles. They appeared to be digging and since they were so close to the lake, I called the Belgrade town office to report the situation because the laws about digging within 250 feet of the lake are strict. The Code Enforcement Officer for Belgrade was to have been informed – and I was hoping for come communication back about steps taken. I also reached out to a partner organization to let them know what was happening and to find out what steps I (or we) might take to mitigate sediment/additional yucky stuff from entering the lake. They suggested that I reach out to our local DEP inspector, too. He called me and I emailed him the pictures below (not the mailboxes, that’s more a neighborhood situation.)
On Tuesday on my way to work the piles of rocks and dirt were even bigger. It was difficult to get by the vehicles that were working on moving the materials. There were huge dump trucks, two earth-movers and several “supervisor vehicles”, men in yellow vests managing resident’s vehicle traffic, and more materials being dumped. There was a lineup of dump trucks up on the main highway, too. When I came home, I asked one of the supervisors what was going on and he told me that there was a big hole about two miles down the tracks between Thistle Hill and Hazlet Woods.
There were at least 3 dump trucks in a choreographed dance going back and forth two or three times an hour. I later learned there was another railroad vehicle that would travel the same part of the tracks lifting the rails back to where they are supposed to be because the weight of the trucks was pressing the rails down.
Despite having twice sent photos to the local DEP inspector and calling and emailing our lake-loving partners, it became evident that there was too little communication about what was being done to mitigate MORE damage to the lake or what the railroad was being asked to do to protect the lake. Any time the earth is “moved” there is potential for harm to the lake. A lakeside resident on Wednesday had called the news and they came to see what was happening. She said that the railroad tracks were hanging like rubber bands. We saw the rails when they were being replaced several years ago and they looked like they were being extruded from a play dough machine but they were quarter-mile-long lengths of metal.
Yesterday I walked down to the “giant hole” with two friends. The entire pile under the railroad tracks has been rebuilt. There are railroad ties (creosote being a bad chemical to have in our lake) piled on either end of the repaired tracks and on the sides of the new “levee”. We took a lot of photos but these show the area now.
You can see the new culvert in the middle of the span. You can also see the path of the surge of dirt, silt, etc. in front of the culvert. This is what we need to be concerned about. This and whatever detritus was expelled into the lake when the culvert failed. Years of “junk” built up in the old culvert that was “shot” into the lake with the force of the water runoff down the hill. I can only imagine what it looked like when the culvert blew. The force had to have been remarkable.
The week ahead looks like it will be busy following up with the town and the state/DEP to make sure that our lake’s water will be tested, that the roads that the railroad expanded will be put back to their original state – one of the challenges of dealing with run-off is on roads that are big and wide because they’re an easy path for water. We want the old railroad ties to be removed along the lake.
My concern, too, is that there are other culverts along the RR tracks that may not have been maintained over the decades and that a similar failure can happen again. I’ll likely spend the last few months of my term trying to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.