Historic mill, dam deteriorates as owner delays action

DEP permit required before work commences
By Fran Gonzalez | Oct 12, 2018
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez The Brooks mill and dam sit in a beautiful spot by the falls of the Marsh River, shown here Oct. 3. The dam, located directly beneath the mill, is in need of structural repairs and a gate.

Brooks — The former grist mill and dam in the center of town sustained damage this spring from an extended freezing and thawing cycle, causing a gate that allows water to pass through to give way, according to owner Carl Jackson.

Jackson and wife Jo, who are originally from Georgia, have lived in the house adjacent to the dam on the Marsh River for the past 15 years.

The gate in the dam, which slides up and lets water pass, known as a "sluice gate," had been deteriorating for years, Jackson said. The gate was made of wood and had been leaking. Jackson said he thinks it might have been a temporary measure when work was last done to the dam.

Jackson first noticed the deteriorating wooden sluice gate about seven years ago and brought it up to the town.

"I thought I had to get permission to do something," he said.

He remembered presenting a plan involving a large metal plate to cover the opening and self-leveling cement to keep it in place. But no work was done at the time, or has been in the years since.

The red and cedar shingled mill sits atop the dam on a bucolic twist in the river, with water cascading over natural rock outcroppings to the right of the structure.

"The mill is one of the oldest in the village," according to a 2004 Brooks Historical Society calendar provided by Paula Miron, president of the society.

"Within village limits, three falls furnished water power for seven months of the year," the caption reads. "Here, farmers could get oats, wheat, corn and apples ground."

The property's previous owner, Peter Baldwin, recalled the mill had been used as a garage and there was a lift in the upper building (the mill) and in the building that is currently the Jackson home.

"I used both buildings for making wooden windmill blades... and in '84 I began making wooden orchard ladders," Baldwin said.

In January of this year, Jackson said he said noticed structural problems that he felt needed to be remedied immediately — cracks in the dam's cement in one corner of the structure had become larger and penetrable as a result of expanding ice, allowing more water to pass through.

The wooden gate finally gave way in the spring, allowing the flow of rushing water to penetrate the dam at such force that it moved large rocks underneath the mill, "larger than a dozen men can move," Jackson said.

To make matters worse, one of the  mill's supporting posts was also pushed aside in the rush of water and is currently teetering on the edge of a cinder block footing.

Brooks Town Clerk Jane McLaughlin and Code Enforcement Officer Randy Hall met with Jackson to look over the dam and determined it was not a town issue but, because of the nature of the work involved, said the Department of Environmental Protection should be notified.

According to the DEP website, "A permit is required when an activity will be located in, on or over any protected natural resource; and will include dredging, bulldozing, removing or displacing soil, sand, vegetation or other materials; draining or dewatering; filling, including adding sand or other material to a sand dune or construction, repair or alteration of any permanent structure."

Erik Sroka, an agent with DEP, eventually came and made an initial inspection of the dam and said that to do the work, Jackson would need to apply for a Natural Resources Protection Act permit.

Sroka said he spoke with McLaughlin and the Jacksons and set up a meeting to walk through the process, but he never heard back from anyone.

"This is on private property and my involvement has nothing to do as far as the town of Brooks and my role as code enforcement officer," Hall wrote in an email to The Republican Journal. "Just was trying to get the process on the proper track."

For his part, Jackson said he fears what DEP might require him to do, as well as the unknown cost.

"The DEP wanted to take out a dam upriver," Jackson said. "They were concerned about the fish. I was afraid to do anything because of DEP."

The lack of action spurred discussion among the town's Planning Board members. Miron, of the historical society, also is a Planning Board member. She said the board "felt that the river was such a great asset to the town, that we could help defray costs of repairing the dam by sponsoring a benefit 'dam dinner' supper."

It is unclear how much money was collected toward repair of the dam at the supper, but it is estimated at easily over $312 — the amount DEP charges for the Natural Resources Protection Act application fee.

Brooks Fire Department also uses the Marsh River to fill up the town's tanker truck at a hydrant located across the street from the dam, according to Jackson. Since the gate has given way, the water level at the hydrant has been significantly lower, and the Fire Department has had to use a different filling site.

As it stands now, Brooks Selectman Mike Switzer said, "The dam is on Carl's property and we are waiting on him and the DEP.

"It is a private property and we can't use town funds to fix it. It's not our jurisdiction."

Ironically, Jackson said, since the breach of the dam, beavers have attempted to build a dam of their own in front of the gate opening. But the current is so strong, he said, that it has prevented anything from taking hold and remnants of the beaver dam have washed away.

Water rushes underneath the mill where a post has been pushed aside from its footing, shown here Oct. 3. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The view from the mill looking west to Route 7 in Brooks on Oct. 3. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The grist mill and dam, circa 1900. (Courtesy of: Paula Miron)
Carl Jackson stands next to the mill Oct. 3. Below it is the dam on his property that needs attention. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The mill building, shown here Oct. 3, appears in relatively good shape for its age. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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