Pawtucket Dam Named a National Treasure


The push to preserve the Pawtucket Dam was ratcheted up this week as the structure built to harness the massive power of the Mighty Merrimack that attracted the industrialists who built the city of Lowell in the 1820’s was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Trust has only bestowed that title, given to endangered sites of national significance, to 33 places in the United States.

The dam is owned by Enel North America.  In April, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, approved Enel’s controversial $6 million plan to replace the current flashboard system with a pneumatic crest-gate or “inflatable bladder” system.  

The crest-gate system would replace the 5-foot plywood flashboards and steel pins with a series of steel-hinged panels mounted atop a dam spillway. The panels can be raised or lowered, dependent upon river flow, through the use of 20-foot, low-pressure airbags. The air bags are similar to those public-safety personnel use to lift vehicles at accident scenes.

The change was opposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, the City of Lowell, and several outspoken residents of the city’s Pawtucketville neighborhood.

Opponents have requested a new hearing on the proposal, but have not heard back from FERC regarding that request.

Those against the project argue the change will destroy the historic integrity  of the dam, as well as increase flooding upstream by holding more water back to increase the output produced by the hydropower plant owned by Boott Hydropower, a subsidiary of Enel. 

“We find that the proposed pneumatic crest-gate system can be installed without unacceptably altering the dam or adversely affecting the park and historic districts,” FERC wrote in their ruling. “The crest-gate system will also provide important benefits to recreation, fish passage, dam and worker safety, and project generation, and will help alleviate upstream backwater and flooding effects to the maximum extent possible.”

In naming the Pawtucket Dam a National Treasure, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has launched a campaign, seeking to raise $87,000 to mount a challenge to FERC’s ruling and employ a strategy to overturn it.

The National Trust believes that the FERC decision violated the law, including the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Historical Park (Lowell Act).  The Lowell Act established the park in 1978 and specifically prohibits federal approval of licenses or permits that adversely affect contributing resources to the Lowell National Historical Park.

For more information visit:


What is Your Lowell Story?

contestWhat is your Lowell story?

The Lowell Heritage Partnership, formed in 2000 to preserve and enhance Lowell’s natural, built and cultural heritage through community partnership, has launched the “Roots, Realities, and Dreams” Community Video Contest.

james“There are over 100,000 people in Lowell which means there are literally millions of amazing Lowell stories just waiting to be told,” said Lowell Heritage Partnership Project Manager James Ostis.  “These stories make up what Lowell’s heritage is all about.”

Lowell National Historical Park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo, although ineligible to enter the contest herself, has been inspired by the idea and is excited about the entries that will soon be coming in.

“Our partners at the Lowell Heritage Partnership came up with the idea of a video contest, and we thought it would be a wonderful and engaging way to involve people in storytelling,” she said.

“The intent of this project is to provide anyone the opportunity to share their own story about Lowell through video; It’s as open ended as that.”

Celeste grew up on New York’s Long Island, but learned an important lesson about her family and about life when she came to Lowell.

This is her story:

celeste_12When I first worked for the Park Service in Lowell in the 1990s, my father came to visit me from New York.

At the time I was a supervisor at the park, and I was very proud to show him around and share with him all that I had learned about the history of Lowell and the textile industry.

As we stood in front of the loom at the Wannalancit, then called Suffolk Mill exhibit, he listened patiently as I described how it operated.

When I was done, he said to me, “I know Celeste, I worked one of these machines.”

I was stunned. He had run a successful landscaping business for over forty years. But he reminded me that when he came to the US at the age of fourteen, he had worked in the textile mills in Central Falls, RI.

Suddenly I became the student, while my father shared his experiences and life lessons.

imageAs a child, my father had occasionally referenced a story of working in a mill, and getting in trouble because of his inability to place the bobbins of thread in the correct bins according to color. No one, not even he, knew he was colorblind.

I had long ago dismissed and forgotten that story, never understanding it until that moment. Suddenly everything I had learned about Lowell’s textile industry took on a new, more personal meaning.

Lowell taught me something about my father, and provided a context for the past and present.

For that moment, I am forever grateful, particularly now that he is gone. I think of him whenever I pass by the Wannalancit Mill, whenever I hear the challenges faced by new immigrants settling in Lowell, whenever I meet with Lowellians who preserve their cultural stories and traditions.

That is my Lowell story.

Unleash your creativity and tell your story in a video. This contest, besides the obvious fame and glory, comes with serious prizes — $1,500 for first place, $750 for second place, $500 for third place and $250 for the fan favorite voted on by the public. The contest deadline is October 31.

Like Celeste, James is ineligible to enter the contest. But, as a lifelong Lowellian he has many Lowell stories that are special to him — none as special as the time he spent as a student at the Bartlett Middle School.  

bartlett“It’s where I first learned the value of community and service and how rewarding it can be to give back and share experiences with like-minded people,” he said. “It built not only a real bond amongst the group of students who became lifelong friends, but also a real bond between us and the City of Lowell.  If I could enter the contest, that’s the story I’d tell.”

The possibilities for stories is only limited by your imagination. The contest is open to any individual, group or organization that has a Lowell Story to tell.

It could be about a place, about your family’s journey to get here,  playing little league baseball, camping out for a Jack Kerouac bobblehead at a Spinners’ game, the first time you really felt like you belonged here, nearly drowning while whitewater rafting in the Concord River, reciting poetry at an open mic at Brew’d Awakening, about the spectacular bubble tea at the Eggroll Cafe, unexpectedly falling in love or meeting your best friend in Lowell.

Or . . . it could revolve around an annual event (hint: this weekend’s Folk Festival may present a few opportunities to get the cameras rolling), the diversity of the city’s people, architecture, or food; anything that to you exemplifies “Lowell” and what the city means to you.

For more information, including how to enter, visit:

And don’t forget to “like” the Lowell Heritage Partnership’s Facebook page:

Pitch Your Idea, Fund Your Dream


The possibilities are endless.

A compost company. A donation-based yoga studio. A food truck. A running accessory. A web app.

The Merrimack Valley Sandbox has two upcoming pitch contests that could make that non-profit or business idea with which you have been toying a reality.

The “Social Impact Pitch Contest” will take place on Tuesday August 13. The deadline to apply is July 30.

Ideas pitched in this contest are those that will create a non-profit or business aimed at changing the community, the region or the world such as a compost company, donation-based yoga studio or a web platform to connect donors and non-profits.

The “All Ideas Pitch Contest,” which as the name suggest is open to all ideas, will take place on October 3. The deadline to submit an application is September 19.

The contests offer thousands of dollars in cash prizes and networking opportunities with investors. Participating in the pitch contests also increases an entrepreneur’s chance of being part of the Sandbox Winter Accelerator, a 12-week course jam-packed with workshops and mentor opportunities.

For more information and to access an application for either contest visit:

The Merrimack Valley Sandbox, born in December 2010, is an initiative funded by the Deshpande Foundation that supports entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation as catalysts for sustainable change. It works in partnership with the Merrimack Valley Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UMass Lowell.

A wide variety of ideas have found funding through Sandbox pitch contests including:

** Videographer Startup Boost: A partnership between Lowell Telecommunications Corp. and the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center spearheaded by LTC Executive Director Jessica Moore-Wilson to train people with a passion for videography to start their own businesses.  

** Operation Canine:  Trisha Blanchet’s project to pair dogs in need of homes up with veterans who need companionship.

** Rebel Women: A web-based project proposed by Pauline Benninga aimed at providing networking, mentoring and training to women interested in starting businesses.

** KEO Homemade Ice Cream: Keo Rattana’s business that makes vegan ice cream that is non-dairy, and is gluten and lactose-free.

** FOB Lifestyle and Apparel: Sopheak Sam and Ricky Orng’s urban clothing company.


Dominican Flag Raising

imageMore than 100 people, including a delegation of 30 visiting from the Dominican Republic, as well as contingents from Spain and Holland, gathered at City Hall Friday morning to raise the Dominican flag.

The event was organized by Pastor Rafael Najem of the Community Christian Fellowship, who has created a relationship with officials in several Dominican cities to bolster his parish’s efforts to aid the poor of that island nation. He also initiated city sister relationships between Lowell and Santo Domingo East, Nagua, and San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.

Ramiro Espino, Minister of Foreign affairs for the Dominican Republic.

Ramiro Espino, Minister of Foreign affairs for the Dominican Republic.


Pastor Rafael Najem (Center) with State Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) and State Rep. Marcos Devers (D-Lawrence).

Pastor Rafael Najem (Center) with State Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) and State Rep. Marcos Devers (D-Lawrence).




Khmer Post USA Welcomed To Lowell

khmer 105Two weeks before Pol Pot, under whose Khmer Rouge regime more than two million Cambodians perished, died in April 1998, Roger Samkhon Pin became the only Cambodian journalist to interview him.

Pin made the feared dictator cry.

khmer 118Thursday afternoon, Roger and his wife and business partner Soben were all smiles as city officials and leaders of Lowell’s Cambodian community gathered to welcome them and their newspaper, Khmer Post USA to their new offices on the second floor of the historic Hildreth Building at 45 Merrimack St.

Roger Pin left Cambodia for France one month before the Khmer Rouge took control of the nation. He lost his entire family in the genocide.

Returning to Cambodia in 1992, he established Free Citizen News and was elected President of the Khmer Journalist Association of Cambodia in 1994, the first since the 1979 fall of the Khmer Rouge.

He used his position to fight for freedom of the press in Cambodia, as well as to establish journalism classes at Phnom Penh University, taking stands against the government and often finding himself in positions where his life was threatened.

Pin was forced to flee to Bangkok following Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s overthrow of Prime Minister Norodom Ranaridh, a movement that crushed the nation’s emerging free press.

In Bangkok, Pin quickly became the voice of Radio Free Asia and in March 1998 was appointed the Director of  Cambodian Services for (RFA) in Washington D.C.

khmer 044Khmer Post USA, a bi-weekly free newspaper was born in Philadelphia in April 2008. Pin said he wanted to create accurate news source for which Cambodian-Americans could rely for local, national and international news.

The paper, which this week published its 133rd issue, began being distributed in Lowell in 2010.

While Roger is the publisher of the newspaper, Soben has been the public face. She is all over Lowell, notebook and camera in hand.

Khmer Post USA serves the Cambodian communities along the east coast  (PA, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA, and NH), with a circulation of 5,000 in Lowell.

khmer 055

khmer 059khmer 057Roger and Soben are working to increase that circulation as they get to know more about the people and issues of Lowell. The newspaper is mostly written in Khmer, but does also include some articles in English to appeal to help bridge the generation gap.

Additionally, Middlesex North Register of Deeds and local historian Richard Howe Jr. has begun writing a column for the paper, which is translated into Khmer.

khmer 090khmer 127For more information visit