On August 10, 2017

Pond forum yields consensus on the way forward

By Julia Purdy

RUTLAND— The third of five public forums on Moon Brook took place at the Rutland High School Monday, July 24. The purpose of the forum was to present options for achieving acceptable water temperatures in Moon Brook and its ponds, as well as a plan for dealing with the dam/causeway at Combination Pond, which is in poor condition.

The meeting was conducted by Roy Schiff and Jessica Louisos of Milone & MacBroom, water quality consultants. Mayor David Allaire, Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg, and Ethan Swift of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, were present; in all, about 20 others attended who were neighbors and supporters.

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.

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

On Monday Schiff displayed a graph showing the values most voted by stakeholder-landowners in the initial October forum. After brainstorming  a list of values, that forum gave the most importance to property values, economic issues and the public good, followed by aesthetic and wildlife values.

In February, participants discussed and voted on a number of acceptable solutions, which the consultants developed into four workable scenarios for both ponds. Monday’s forum laid them out in graphs and hypothetical illustrations for the group’s consideration. Schiff explained that any of the options would achieve the desired result.

The greatest difference in the models concerned the dams. Combination Pond dam will have to be restructured, and Piedmont Pond dam could be removed. Otherwise, both ponds had the following options in common that are feasible, economical and preserve the stated values of the community: lowering each pond two feet to reduce its footprint, which would allow for planting shade trees and other vegetation on the perimeter, and dredging to remove fine sediment. In addition, a tall alder buffer would provide shade for the entire Moon Brook channel, which would lower its water temperatures below 70 degrees.

The audience discussed each option in detail, asking many thoughtful questions and weighing the pros and cons, and found all the above options acceptable.

“We’re pleased that some of the alternatives the public was interested in are achieving the water quality goals,” said Jessica Louisos. “I know people are nervous about losing the pond, so I’m pleased that we didn’t resort to that. There was a real nervousness about an extreme measure because they didn’t have enough information.”

Since 1986, the state has deemed Moon Brook below the Combination Pond dam to be impaired, and the current push to rehabilitate Moon Brook is being driven by Vermont’s Clean Water Act of 2015 (Act 64). A concomitant concern is the restoration of trout habitat. The optimum temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Water temperatures have measured well above and below that depending on conditions.

The issue has some urgency. A flash point in the debate has been the potential removal of the dam on Combination Pond, thereby draining it and robbing the neighborhood of a cherished amenity. The deadline to remedy the problem was moved to October 2018.

“This is our best shot,” Wennberg said at the October 2016 forum, before the Agency of Natural Resources “holds our feet to the fire” and requires the removal of the dams on Moon Brook.

Back in October, Wennberg had told the group that the step of engaging with the people who have a “vested interest” was usually “skipped,” and he convinced the state to revisit the process from a fresh angle.

Schiff agrees. Even though Vermont’s Clean Water Act requires a public comment period, Schiff described as “rare” the Combination Pond example of ongoing public input in shaping the state’s modeling of the options. Public opposition can halt the process, he told the Mountain Times. In this case, the public response resulted in a “major breakthrough.” Collaboration and reaching consensus is “sticky work” but it’s important, he said. He credited Wennberg with knowing “the engineering and the people.”

The next phase includes developing the preferred alternatives, above, for final review, with visualizations using actual photos of the sites, at a fourth meeting, to be announced.

The fifth and final meeting will present detailed engineering layouts.

By Julia Purdy

Combination Pond, part of the Moon Brook channel, is a cherished amenity for many, but temps must be lowered.

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