CANTON — Downtown Canton is getting a serious makeover costing more than $1 million and none of it was raised through taxation, Malcolm Ray, said on Friday morning.

Ray is the town’s engineer and member of its Dam Advisory Committee.

When the multi-pronged project is completed later this year, the town will have a new public access boat launch, contaminated soils at the old tannery will have been taken care of and, atop that area, a new parking lot and park.

A new concrete gravity dam was completed in December 2011. Ray said the only thing left is a financial close-out, which will be completed within the next few weeks.

“In one of those project documents, I read the phrase ‘Urban Blighted Site,’” Ray said.

“Well, we’re not urban, but we’re certainly blighted with the piles of rocks and brush and old machinery and junk here. So we’re able to take it from that urban blighted area and turn it into a nice looking thing.”

A fourth project yet to be realized is a multi-use bridge across the old tannery bridge abutments between the new dam and the incoming boat launch site that will give snowmobile riders using ITS 89 a safer route to Canton Variety than dodging heavy truck traffic on Route 108, Ray said.

“So it’s one of those things where the dam ended up being the focal point that sort of spun off into a downtown redevelopment project,” he said.

It all started with the eminent domain taking of the deteriorating tannery dam on Whitney Brook in July 2008 from its owner who wouldn’t sell it, Ray said.

Historically, Whitney Brook between Lake Anasagunticook and Cross Street figured prominently in the development of Canton village. Ray said that at one time in 1814, seven dams were built in the stretch to power various mills, such as saw and grist mills, and a two-man tannery operation.

Canton took the property, because a state inspection on Dec. 4, 2006, deemed the dam a threat to public safety and ordered its sluice gates to be left open, Ray said.

Town officials then deemed it less expensive to build a new dam. That cost between $670,000 and $676,000 and was engineered by Kleinschmidt Engineering and built by Bowman Constructors of Jefferson.

It impounds about 4 feet of water.

In the early 1880s, Lyman Smith bought the seven dams and the little mills, took them all out and built a tannery and the old dam.

The tannery was shut down in the mid-1970s, and the dam deteriorated, Ray said.

When the sluice gates were ordered open in 2006, it dropped the level of Lake Anasagunticook considerably and riled its property owners, most of whom live in Hartford.

Ray said Hartford joined Canton in creating a joint Dam Advisory Committee.

He said the bulk of the dam funding — $500,000 — came from a Community Development Block Grant program; $5,000 from a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund; Canton and Hartford chipped in roughly $20,000; and the rest was raised privately from the Lake Anasagunticook Association.

“So it was a big project for a little town, and we were fortunate because we were able to find basically enough funding so that it had no effect on the tax rate,” Ray said.

Canton Water District operates the dam now. Ray said the committee put in an interlocal agreement between Canton, Hartford and the Canton Water District and the Lake Anasagunticook Dam Commission, which was formed when the dam construction was completed.

The dam commission has scheduled a public meeting for Saturday, Sept. 29, in Hartford to determine a plan of operation, Ray said.

“By mid-October, we should have a new functioning dam, a working boat launch and parking area, some developable lots the town would like to sell and a nice park-like area around the boat ramp and new dam,” he said.

“Quite a change from the old situation.”

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: