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December 14, 2017

Public input saves Moon Brook

Public input saves Moon Brook

By Julia Purdy

The fourth of five public forums on water quality in Moon Brook took place at the Rutland High School Thursday, Nov. 30. The meeting was conducted by Roy Schiff and Jessica Louisos of Milone & MacBroom, water quality consultants. Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg and Ethan Swift of the state Department of Environmental Conservation were present; in all, about 15 neighbors and supporters attended.

The series of forums presents options for achieving acceptable water temperatures in Moon Brook and its ponds, as well as a plan for dealing with the dam at Combination Pond, which is in poor condition.

The key goals for Moon Brook and its ponds are water quality; the safety of the Combination Pond dam and liability of the city, which owns the dam; treatment of storm runoff into Combination Pond; overall savings to taxpayers; and the ability to start construction in October 2018. Water quality is achieved by establishing the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for pollutants, in this case too-warm water temperatures that impair fish populations and other aquatic life.

The forum series has been designed to gather all information and concerns from stakeholders and others, brainstorm alternative solutions, decide on the one that achieves water quality standards while meeting community needs, and develop a remediation design accordingly.

Director of Public Works Jeff Wennberg said that for the first time ever to his knowledge, “The modeling the state had to do to demonstrate that the temperature targets could be reached was directed to a large degree by what’s coming out of the public process.”

In the past, the state would put together a TMDL based on studies, independently of community preference. This exercise has made community involvement an integral part of the process.

Wennberg said it was “coincidental” that in the case of Moon Brook, public outcry over draining the ponds – the state’s initial proposal – resulted in discussions with the neighborhood at the same time the state was beginning to develop the TMDL.

The first two forums, which were well attended, met with skepticism and some outright opposition on the part of property owners around Combination and Piedmont ponds. Interactive exercises and intense discussion produced a list of values held by the group, with property values, economic issues and the public good topping the list, followed by aesthetic and wildlife values.

Subsequent forums presented possible options, from minimal to drastic, for preserving those values while meeting the TMDL standard, and narrowed them down using visualizations and accompanying data.

The cooling of Moon Brook no longer requires the removal of the ponds. Reducing the surface area of the ponds, providing shade over the water, lining the banks with “no-mow” buffers to filter runoff and provide wildlife habitat, and dredging decades of silt from the ponds were all considered. There was also some discussion about fish passage at the dams, which might bring grant money and found favor with the neighbors.

At the most recent forum, the consultants projected photographs of each pond, digitally modified to illustrate the future appearance with more shade trees, buffers of low-growing native vegetation, and a smaller surface area. Tree placements will preserve views of East Mountain; city-owned Combination Pond has a public access area as well.

The overall result was surprisingly attractive.

Both dams were judged inadequate from the standpoint of a 100-year flood, although the Combination Dam survived the storms of summer 2011. Both need repair, strengthening and work on the spillways.
At the Nov. 30 forum, all took an active part in putting themselves into the picture, discussing the options, and asking questions.

While the TMDL standard provides the goal, there is flexibility in how the goal is reached, said Ethan Swift, subject to the federal Clean Water Act.

A remaining issue is the cost of substantial work on Combination dam. The dam does represent some risk to life and property downstream in a flood event. The dam crest must be raised and the embankments armored with riprap to withstand overtopping, leaks must be plugged and a new spillway installed. Complicating matters is the fact that a residential street crosses the top of the dam to reach houses on the east side of the pond, with no other outlet.

When asked if the funding is there, Wennberg said, “Not yet.” He said some state and federal resources are available but a detailed application needs to be developed.

“We asked the community what can you live with; the public responded,” Wennberg said. When the state used that public input, to everyone’s surprise they discovered it could work. “So what comes out in terms of targets and recommendations is consistent with what the public can live with, instead of getting into a big argument over whether the left hand knows what the right hand is doing,” he said.

All the forums, including materials, background and timeline, public comments and PowerPoint slides can be seen at rutlandcity.org/ponds.

Photo by Julia Purdy
A small flock of Canada geese makes its way across Combination Pond in Rutland.

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