Editorֱs note: This is part of an ongoing series focused on the impact and future of dams, canals and fish passages in our communities.

ANDOVER ֱ If the ongoing battle over responsibility, maintenance and possible removal of the Ballardvale Dam spills over into court, it wonֱt be the first time.

The roughly 60-foot span across the Shawsheen River ֱ built in 1753 to power early mills ֱ was the focus of a 1838 lawsuit that found the dam owner responsible for damages caused by flooding. Removal was advocated as early as 1888, with complainants ֱbemoaningֱ the loss of fish in the river.

The owners of the Ballardvale Dam are once again at loggerheads when it comes to removal.

At a March meeting of the Ballardvale Historic Commission, it appeared that both sides ֱ Shawsheen Coating and Converting and Shawsheen River Condos ֱ were discussing options after Joel Rosen, president and speaking as a representative of the condo board, said Shawsheen River Condos could no longer afford to maintain the dam.

However, Rosen said, the condo board is not in favor of removal.

ֱThis is a very unwelcome development,ֱ said Steve Olsen, former president of Shawsheen Coating and Converting.

Olsen said the new owner, Jonathan McEuen, is ֱvery muchֱ on the same page as him.

Removal of the dam would most likely lower water levels at both Mill Pond and the Ballardvale Flats, transforming them to be more river-like, while restoring certain fish species.

Olsen said he is reviewing options, including possible legal remedies against the condo board. A few years ago, the dam suffered a failure on Olsenֱs side, which cost Shawsheen Coating and Converting $100,000 to repair, according to Olsen.

Ownership of the dam is split directly between the properties meaning liability to fix the dam depends on where the break occurs.

ֱIt doesnֱt appear that there is a lot of precedence for this particular scenario,ֱ Olsen said.

Olsen said while the Shawsheen River Condos board was historically against removal, he had been optimistic and was ֱtaken backֱ by the decision.

ֱThe board has always been against removal,ֱ said Rosen in a recent interview.

He called the dam a ֱhistoric feature,ֱ the town deserves to preserve. Rosen added owners are facing pressure from the state.

A report on the dam ordered by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreationֱs Office of Dam Safety and conducted by GZA GeoEnvironmental in November 2022 found the dam to be in fair condition.

The report, however, also noted that the ֱrecommended repair measuresֱ to the dam could cost between $280,000 and $460,000. The report was paid for by Shawsheen Coating and Converting.

Atlantic salmon, river herring, bass, sea lamprey and the American eel all began to disappear from the Shawsheen when dams blocked their access, according to Gail Ralston, a local historian. This meant people had to adapt.

ֱEverything depends on the environment and access to the environment,ֱ Ralston said. ֱFish life was very different before the dams.ֱ

Ownership of the dam ping-ponged, often due to foreclosure, according to information from the Andover Preservation Commission, until 1944 when the mill property was divided up with dam and water rights being shared by both owners and sold off.

It wasnֱt until 2008 that the town began discussing removal. Two other dams in Andover, the Balmoral Dam and Stevens Street dams, have been removed.

Joanna Reck, chair of the Ballardvale Historic District Commission, has said it would be ֱa tragedyֱ if the Mill Pond were to disappear, a potential side effect of removal. She said it is probably the most iconic landscape in Andover.

Bob Douglas, director of Conservation, said while the effects of removing the dam are hard to predict, Ballardvale Flats would likely become more like the wetlands along a river and Mill Pond would transform into a fast moving river.

Olsen said removal is the right thing to do both for the ecological benefits and to eliminate the liability posed to his business.

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