Community Assets

The machinery of justice grinds on in the dispute between the National Park Service and Enel Green Power North America over the future condition of the scenic and significant Pawtucket Dam at the falls on the Merrimack River in northern Lowell. The custodians of our country’s heritage treasures are trying to prevent proposed actions by the hydro-power company that many people are convinced would jeopardize the structure’s integrity and cultural value. On top of the historic-preservation concerns are the concerns of property owners in the Pawtucketville neighborhood who are worried about the implications for increased flooding if a new water-control system is introduced at the dam. This is a big argument being sorted out in a civilized way. The US Dept. of Justice this week, on behalf of the Dept of the Interior, initiated action in federal court to request a review of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s earlier approval of a bladder-dam system that would replace the long-standing flashboard system at the dam. This dispute has been going on for years now. The Pawtucket Dam is the key structure in Lowell’s development as a model factory city in the 1800s. This is the energy source for what was revolutionary industrial activity. It can be understood as a hinge of history, a place representing a monumental economic and social change in America, the change from a largely agrarian to a predominantly industrial way of life. In public programs, the National Park Service in Lowell refers to this as “Farm to Factory” when the rangers talk about what happened in this city and why Lowell rates being on the same list as the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, and Gettysburg battlefield. Lowell’s history is a huge indigenous resource, like the architecture, rivers, and the state forest, assets that cannot be moved South or off-shore, closed-down, or otherwise extracted from the community.