Should Morristown foot $1M dredging bill? Ponds, parks, trees dominate council meeting

Eutrophication of Foote's Pond. Photo: Morristown Environmental Commission
Eutrophication of Foote's Pond. Photo: Morristown Environmental Commission

By Kevin Coughlin

To dredge or not to dredge. That is the question at Foote’s Pond.

Eutrophication of Foote's Pond. Photo: Morristown Environmental Commission
Eutrophication of Foote’s Pond. Photo: Morristown Environmental Commission

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.


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.

Hardy Stecker and Phil Abramson address council about new park. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Hardy Stecker and Phil Abramson address council about new park. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Council President Stefan Armington sniffs biochar, from the Shade Tree Commission, while Councilwoman Alison Deeb awaits her turn. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Council President Stefan Armington sniffs biochar, from the Shade Tree Commission, while Councilwoman Alison Deeb awaits her turn. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Environmental Commissioners Maureen Denman and Justin M. Protasiewicz discuss Foote's Pond report. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Environmental Commissioners Maureen Denman and Justin M. Protasiewicz discuss Foote’s Pond report. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.”


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.

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  1. Well it seems to come down to dollars$$
    and sense$$, and where you live.
    Foote’s Pond does not seem to be a priority. Many do not seem to know where it is, or it’s history.
    It does not have enough of a park atmosphere yet. It could be, but donations and publicity would be needed.
    Open space should be valued, but Morristown seems to be all about, new building and re development.
    With all of the new building going on, one would think there would more money for public projects.
    There seems to be a strong desire to turn Morristown into a smaller version of NYC. If that is the way its going so be it. Must be what people want?
    Seems to be what gets voted on, and money gets put toward.
    Someday people may look back and ask “why did we let all of this building take place at the cost of a nice little town, and a good quality of life?’

  2. Rick, are you being sarcastic? I can’t tell- I heartily agree with you that it would be better to kill all the turtles, displace the herons and get rid of the kingfishers with an ill-thought out dredging to the tune of a million dollars than actually spend money we don’t have anyway on saving pedestrians’ lives…because MEMORIES. Never mind that what we all so fondly remember, the skating, the bonfires, are all illegal now down there anyway. And an even bigger NEVER MIND that dredging will open a can of expensive worms when the deep silt is tested (as it must be) for contamination (‘member the rusted out chemical drums that used to line the shore at the far side of the pond? ‘Member? Walk a bit into the frass and woods, the ghosts of dumping past are still there.)
    The town has so far dodged a bullet down there- and as amusing as it would be to have the folks at Windmill end up next to a superfund site for all their self-serving b*tching about winnowing, we have a pretty nice nature spot next to a school we could ruin on the one hand and on the other hand a dangerous street that NJDOT grant money will help address. Take your grandchildren on a nice trip to build memories with the money you’ll save on taxes by not dredging.

  3. Thank you for the informative write-up about potential plans for our environment and children. I would MUCH rather have the Town spend the money on dredging Foote’s Pond so future generations can enjoy it as much as many of our children and families did in the past, instead of spending it on “calming” the traffic (rather than enforcing the law) on Washington Avenue.