News from the Park

Update on the “Environmental Restoration of Smelt Brook”

Our work to reconnect the pond and ‘uplands’ to the Fore River and Massachusetts Bays continues.

You may not be aware of the idea of ‘habitat connectivity’. This is an important idea to consider when you think about ‘ecology’, or try to wrap your arms around all of the things (both animate and in-animate) in an area and how they get along. Human activity, such as building roads, dams and gas lines tends to break up, or ‘fragment’ the natural landscape. Because of fragmentation, not only are animals that move from place to place as part of their life cycle, mating routines or search for food affected. All of the different kinds of life – from bacteria to plants, birds, fish, other animals – and eventually ourselves – are affected.

The Board of Commissioners for the District has put in a lot of effort to re-connect the Smelt Brook Watershed to the Fore River. Smelt Brook Watershed is one piece of the jig-saw puzzle that makes up the Fore River Watershed. This document is an update about progress in Pond Meadow Park’s attempt to find fish passage around the perched culvert next to Brookside Avenue in Braintree.

Jim Dawson was the first Commissioner to approach the Army Corps of Engineers, seeking to have them “just fix it”. After recovery from the first impact of the storm Katrina, it seemed as if federal funding and processes at the Corps that were designed to mitigate unintended consequences of over-engineered solutions to flooding rivers became more accessible, yet the competition for grants is always a tough fight. Around 2009 we began a 2 year effort, applying to Massachusetts Riverways grant to remove the perched culvert on Brookside Ave but we were denied. For a few years after July 24, 2011 there was very little progress. Somewhere around 2016 we were able to get a grant commitment from the Army Corps of Engineers that is completed in phases and does not necessarily end in actually doing construction to fix problems. The various steps to get this far were slow and at every point, either town or some other agency could back out or just delay. But over the last few months it appears things are moving in the right direction.

There are really very few ways to fund fixes to unnecessary environmental damage. The District applied to both towns’ Community Preservation Committees (CPC) for funds. The following summarizes what I wrote in July of 2018 when I asked for letters supporting the CPC application:

‘ For over 20 years the Weymouth-Braintree Regional Recreation-Conservation District (WBRRCD aka Pond Meadow Park) has been trying to address the unintended consequences – the negative ecological impact of the Army Corps of Engineers’ (ACOE) flood control project that is the basis for the District’s existence.  In the last 10 years we have done a lot. Most recently and most importantly, we have been working for about 2.5 years with ACOE on a section 1135 ecological restoration grant – the feasibility and planning portion   ( ).

This grant process looks at more than just removal of the perched culvert. It studies everything from the fish gate (a metal plate that can be raised and lowered closer to the Landing), the ‘slope’ or ‘pitch’ of the stream bed up to the perched culvert, the perched culvert itself and everything up to the dam in the park. The thought is that no change will be necessary above the perched culvert. We are trying to limit costs.

We’ve basically been waiting since September 2017 for Braintree and Weymouth commit. The second week of June (2018) we were approved at the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) level in Weymouth… The CPC expenditure was approved by Weymouth Town Council, but only if Braintree agreed to come up with their half. The process was the same in Braintree…’
I am relieved to say that as of Friday Jan. 11, 2019 we have Braintree’s half and a commitment from Weymouth to pay their half as soon as the Cost Sharing Agreement (CSA) document that ACOE wrote is reviewed and signed. The Cost Sharing Agreement was delivered late in the week of Jan 14, 2019. It needs to undergo legal review and sign off in Weymouth before Weymouth will write the check. Currently, the District is unsure whether both towns’ legal staff are needed for that review. It seems this is not the best of positions for the District to be in, and suggestions of other legal sourcing would be appreciated.

‘With portions of the first $100,000 the sect. 1135 process provides from federal funds, the Corps has determined the project is in the Federal Interest – passed the Federal Interest Determination test. ACOE has also produced a Project Management Plan (PMP – )

The project will go no further without a signed Cost Sharing Agreement and $131,000 for the match from the District who is the sponsor. So for the Planning and analysis phase (which includes some permitting, preparation for the rest of the permitting, public notice and other costs), the Federal Government puts up the first $100,000 plus half of expected costs for Planning and Analysis which is another $131,000. This makes the total 131 from the towns, plus 131 from the ACOE pus the first 100 equals $362,000. All District expenses are shared 50-50 between Braintree and Weymouth. We asked for $131,000 – $65,500 from each town. Any money left over from planning and analysis is rolled up to construction phase, where in-kind can be considered in the match. My pick and shovel are ready!!

In the construction phase, costs are shared 75% federal, 25% local, which means if ACOE at all levels, Mass Dept. of Marine Fisheries, the District, both towns (town councils, mayors, Conservation Commissions and after a period for public comment) select an option presented at the end of the planning and analysis phase, work would be done at 12.5% of the cost – minus anything we can contribute ‘in kind’ – to both towns.’

We are now primarily focused on three places. One is the fish gate down closer to the Landing, where Smelt Brook goes underground. Another is the perched culvert (the waterfall next to Brookside) that prevents spawning fish from using over a mile of good habitat for egg laying and nursery for young-of-the-year that was accessed by them for tens of thousands of years. The last area is the stream bed in between the fish gate and perched culvert that was modified by the Corps as ‘improved channel’, which is not appropriate for spawning fish.  
One option being considered is making Smelt Brook more natural along Brookside Ave. ACOE experience seems to indicate that for a stream like Smelt Brook, an open stream can carry more water more safely than the current design.

We shall see what choices ACOE presents after this second thorough analysis.