By Kevin Coughlin
To dredge or not to dredge. That is the question at Foote’s Pond.
After studying the pond all summer, the Morristown Environmental Commission on Tuesday told the town council the solution is… another study.
Dredging is estimated to cost about $1 million. If no action is taken, silt eventually will fill the three-acre pond and vegetation will take over, creating a meadow.
The commission recommends a $30,000 hydrology study, to ascertain the pond’s importance for stormwater retention and the impact any town actions (or inaction) will have downstream of the James Street nature area.
“If you’re going to dredge the pond, you need to know what the storage volume is so that you know when you need to do the dredging. Otherwise you’re just shooting in the dark. You can go out and dredge and spend a million dollars and you don’t know when you have to do it again,” said Commissioner Justin M. Protasiewicz.
Chairwoman Maureen Denman presented the commission’s detailed report on the same night that town planners gave an update on a park proposed for the Speedwell Avenue redevelopment, and the Shade Tree Commission described a two-year program to replace and protect downtown trees.
‘SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT,’ NOV. 3
A “passive recreation” linear park is envisioned for a 60-foot-wide, 0.75-acre swath of land adjoining the Modera 55 apartments, under construction at the former town public works site as part of the Speedwell redevelopment.
The public is invited to see preliminary sketches and make suggestions on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, at 6 pm in Morristown High School.
Possibilities include terraces and hedges, with trails winding to three gathering spaces culminating in a lawn area.
“We’d like to provide something a little different,” town Planner Phil Abramson said during a brief slide presentation.
The unnamed park at Modera might have a canopy of trees for shade and seasonal color, paths of bluestone or brick, and benches or café-style seating to create the illusion of rooms within the garden, said Hardy Stecker of Ken Smith Workshop, the New York firm that also is redesigning Pioneer Park at Headquarters Plaza.
Look out: Trees on South Street are coming down soon. They are dead wood, and eventually will be replaced, said Kristin Ace, chairwoman of the Shade Tree Commission.
But first comes a two-year campaign to shore up trees barely surviving the rigors of urban life. Efforts will focus on South, Morris and Elm streets and Speedwell Avenue, with help from the town arborist and the Morristown Partnership, Ace said.
A test starts this month on Washington Street. Four “wells”–the base area that supports trees–will be expanded and the soil will be treated with nutrients and an organic charcoal called biochar.
Then the wells will be covered with a protective rubber/stone compound called Flexi-Pave that lets water through while adhering to the surrounding sidewalk.
“Pedestrians can walk on it,” Ace said. If these trees do well over the winter, the procedure will be repeated along South Street in the spring, she said.
“Hopefully, our street trees will be amazing again in two years,” Ace said.
Foote’s Pond was donated to the town in 1939 for recreational use, and townies ice-skated there for generations.
But development of the region has made it a catch-basin, too, according to the Environmental Commission, which was tasked with the pond report by Mayor Tim Dougherty in April. Some 295 acres drain into the 14-acre preserve, which lies along the Great Brook.
Short of dredging, the report suggests:
- Converting the pond to a dry detention basin, and providing maintenance ($350,000)
- Decommissioning the dam with further stormwater retention features ($235,000)
- Decommissioning the dam with no more stormwater features ($160,000)
Foote’s Pond studies include a 2010 Princeton Hydro sampling of sediments and, for the Environmental Commission report, recommendations by Suburban Consulting Engineers and a wildlife survey by PK Environmental.
While snapping turtles, frogs, herons and ducks frequent Foote’s Pond, no endangered or threatened species were identified, the report states.
Nor for that matter, were many people observed there. Commissioners encountered only 14 visitors during 21 hours at the pond. A nonprofit calling itself the Friends of Foote’s Pond organized its first outing this month, and on Tuesday asked the council to name it as steward of the pond.
Foote’s Pond on average is about 30 inches deep, and gains a quarter-inch of sediment every year, estimated Protasiewicz, who is an engineer.
Starting in 1998, grants funded beautification of the pond and such renovations as pathways, seating areas and a fireplace, foot bridge and a dock, used for nature trips by the adjacent Thomas Jefferson School.
The state issued dredging permits in 2005 and the town prepared bid documents in 2008. But nothing happened and the permits expired, the report said.
Dredging is expensive because it requires disposal of silt contaminated by street runoff, which contains petroleum ingredients common in asphalt, Protasiewicz said.
Councilman Michael Elms questioned Suburban Consulting’s $1 million estimate, asserting that the Spring Brook Country Club only paid about $600,000 to dredge a pond at least twice as large. Yet he would not balk at a million-dollar price tag, he said, if it meant no dredging for another 40 years.
The council praised the volunteers who comprise the Environmental Commission.
“Clearly, they’ve done a good job,” said Council President Stefan Armington.
Councilwoman Alison Deeb lives near Foote’s Pond and has been its biggest champion on the governing body. Given the pond’s rich history–Morristown got its ice there in the 19th century, and its owners were Gilded Age millionaires–Deeb said the place should be designated as a “local historical park.” And that means preventing nature from running its course.
“The pond is the focal point for the park,” the councilwoman said. “If you lose the pond, you lose an important aspect of the park.”
AND IN OTHER BUSINESS…
The council introduced a measure to ban… slaughterhouses.
Town Administrator Jillian Barrick insisted Morristown has none. Health officials want to keep it that way, she said.
Would the ordinance prohibit the Kings supermarket from cooking lobsters? inquired Deeb.
Crustaceans are not covered, town Attorney Vij Pawar assured her.