By Julia Purdy
RUTLAND—As promised at the initial public forum on the fate of Combination Pond in Oct. 24, 2016, public meeting No. 2 of the Moon Brook Pond Modification Project was held Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, at the Rutland High School. Roy Schiff and Jessica Louisos of the consulting firm Milone & MacBroom led the discussion, and Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg and Ethan Swift of the Vermont Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s water quality division were present in the audience. About two dozen members of the public in all attended.
In October, Schiff had said that five forums were planned, and the objective was to gather all information and concerns, look at allowable alternative solutions, decide on the one that best meets community needs, and develop a design accordingly.
The meeting last week continued that process, offering the public a mini-course in how planning can be carried out with public input. For one thing, the name of the project has been changed from the “Moon Brook Impoundment Modification Project” to the “Moon Brook Pond Modification Project,” perhaps in response to the October audience’s complaints about the over-reliance on engineering jargon.
Last week’s meeting was efficiently split into two sessions, addressing Piedmont Pond and Combination Pond, respectively. The two ponds are located along Moon Brook, a stream that descends from the uplands below East Mountain in Rutland Town, crosses Stratton Road and Route 7, and flows into Otter Creek near the fairgrounds.
The environmental issue is evidence of excessive warming of Moon Brook, beginning at the ponds and impairing brook trout habitat downstream; finding a solution that is acceptable to the suburban neighborhoods that surround each pond, while meeting the state and federal Clean Water mandates is the challenge. The most extreme solution would be to drain the ponds, which has met with fierce resistance.
Wennberg’s department has posted a summary of the issue, the data, PowerPoints and meeting summaries in an explicit, user-friendly format at rutlandcity.org/ponds.
The October forum brainstormed the values held by the neighbors concerning their ponds. Those values were revisited last week. The most strongly-held value was economic, followed by natural beauty, recreation and wildlife.
After reviewing the goals and values from the October meeting, Schiff and Louisos reminded the audience of the relative water temperatures at various points along Moon Brook, illustrated with a slide (“2016 Water Quality Data,” under Public Meeting No. 2 at rutlandcity.org/ponds).
Each meeting then turned to a review and discussion of all the possible remedies, followed by a show of hands for “favorite” or “acceptable.” The purpose of the exercise was to select a range of options for the Agency of Natural Resources to model for effectiveness. It was explained that under the law “no action” was not an option, and remediation would likely involve a combination of solutions.
Some voices continued to question the need and whether nature would “solve these problems on its own,” but both Schiff and Swift explained that a host of biomonitoring studies since 1970 continues to show an impaired environment for aquatic species due to excessive water temperatures around the ponds.
Many strong points were raised but the tone was positive and respectful, even humorous at times.
The proposed remedies for both ponds included dredging, shading the water, reducing the ponds’ footprints, restoring the brook by removing the dams, introducing colder groundwater from a well, and stormwater treatment. Most votes went to dredging and shading for both ponds. The mixing of surface water with colder bottom or groundwater seemed novel and was well received. Dam repair and stormwater treatment at both ponds were also favored. One remedy mentioned in passing for Piedmont Pond was aeration.
Combination Pond itself is a larger problem, and is under a time constraint: work must begin by October 1, 2018, according to Wennberg. He pointed out that a “third-party contributor” is the urban landscape: the roads and homes along the brook. The city must put the dam in insurable condition, improve water quality and treat stormwater runoff, and he thanked the public for being “into this.”
There was much discussion about the siting of mature shade trees so as to throw the most shade. Another proposal from the engineers was a couple of small islands to shade the center of the pond, an idea that garnered a lot of support.
Other proposals included segregating the warmer shallow water along the shore by means of a berm or a bypass pipe, allowing the main channel to flow faster and cooler, or introducing cold water from a new well into the main pond, another measure that was well received.
Regarding the dam, to prevent overtopping in a flood event, the spillway and drop structure could be enlarged or the opening lowered. This was again a popular choice. Fish passage could be incorporated as well.
Wennberg took the opportunity to point out that fish passage “opens up substantial federal funding sources” available for fish restoration in the Champlain basin, which includes the Otter Creek watershed.
Public meeting #3 will present analyses of the alternatives for further feedback, and a preferred option will be selected for further visualization and design. That meeting has yet to be scheduled. In the meantime, Schiff and Louisos repeated their open invitation for one-on-one discussion. Meetings can be scheduled by emailing Roy Schiff at [email protected] or Jessica Louisos at [email protected]