News from the Park
Rest In Peace Jim Dawson:
Aweigh Anchor ! After compounding health issues finally caught up with him, long time commissioner, past Chairman of the Board, and a man who has touched many in both Braintree and Weymouth passed away early in January 2019, aged 86. You may recall diminutive Jim with the mustache, walking his dog near the picnic area over the decades, where his stone dedication now stands. Or, perhaps you remember him cooking hot dogs at Pumpkinfest. Memorably, ‘Spread your buns’, quote he. The search is on for his ‘little black box’.
Hopefully the effects of his work, his light hearted touch in the District and the fond memories of those he has touched will far outlast the dedication stone. Smooth sailing, Jim !!
The Cooperative Trail Project between the Weymouth-Braintree Regional Recreation-Conservation District and MassTrails
Before the fall of 2013, the District’s Board had become
concerned about the condition of portions of the mixed use trail in the Park.
This is the paved trail known as the ‘Bike Path’. In the language of
transportation, ‘mixed use’ means the path is designed for more than one ‘mode’
(‘kind’) of transportation – walking and bicycling, for example.
In October of 2013 we met Amanda Lewis who manages the Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Recreational Trails Program, and more recently MassTrails as she described grants her office administers. At that time, the Recreational Trails Program was funded from the Federal transportation budget.
We found we were eligible to compete for a grant to restore parts of the paved trail not only because it was needed, but also because of connections the trail makes and the potential for future connections.
The District coordinated with Braintree and Weymouth Planning Department and won the support of Mayors Joe Sullivan and Bob Hedlund.
By the end of 2013, the Weymouth-Braintree Regional Recreation-Conservation District had received $25,000 in Community Preservation Committee funds from both towns for a total of $50,000 as the ‘match’. This allowed us to compete for the RTP grant. Using the RTP Guidelines, we set a goal of $100,000 from the grant for a total of $150,000 to repair a targeted 1500 feet of the trail in the worst condition.
We submitted our application February 1, 2014. The competition was fierce, but after a few rounds of elimination, the paperwork on the grant we were finally awarded was signed in May of 2017.
Overseen by town of Braintree Engineering Division, careful construction by Capone Brothers repaired over 1500 feet of trail. This work was completed in the fall of 2017.
Many thanks to Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Recreational Trails Program for helping us keep the trail intact for walkers and riders of all kinds !
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
‘ 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 ( http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Public-Services/Continuing-Authorities-Program/Section-1135/ ).
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.
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
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 – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fkNYYIYYKizo42xhn5cg_MxJqvXcxhGRysOm_kKHjC4/edit?usp=sharing )
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.