Damned if you do, damned, if you don’t. That basically summarizes what to do about the future of Warner’s Pond in West Concord.
On the one hand is a consultant’s recommendation to remove the dam at Commonwealth Avenue and on the other hand is a community’s desire to return the pond to its past glory. But everyone who cares about the pond agrees that it is slowly dying as it fills with sediment and dense plant growth.
The pond was formed in 1857 when Ralph Warner built a dam to power his West Concord pail factory. Presumably Warner made a useful product and a tidy profit until the factory ceased production in the 1890s. What he didn’t anticipate was that his dam paid unexpected recreational dividends well into the 20th century in the form of boating, swimming, skating and camping.
But by the 1980s the bill for messing with mother nature began to come due with invasive plants and shallow water. Numerous studies and community clean-up efforts were undertaken, but water quality and recreational opportunities continued to decline. Town Meeting eventually approved $3 million for dredging and material removal for a portion of the pond, but last year the only bid was for over $9 million. The high cost led Natural Resources Director Delia Kaye to shift gears and include evaluation of the option to remove the dam.
At a May 23 public meeting attended by over 135 residents at the Harvey Wheeler Center and online, engineering consultants for the town presented their conclusion that dam removal is the most feasible economical and ecological solution. They observed that as a human-created feature owned and managed by the town, there is a need and responsibility to manage the system to ensure ecological, recreational, and community functions and benefits.
According to the report, after the dam removal today’s shallow open water would be replaced by the natural flow of Nashoba Brook and a small pond of about 4 ½ acres near the Gerow Recreation area. To compare, Macone Pond off Lowell Road is approximately 3 ½ acres. The diversity of plant life and wildlife would be enhanced and new recreation opportunities created.
Kaye expects to put forth a warrant article for dam removal at the 2024 Town Meeting using the previously approved $3 million. She points out that significant state and federal funds are available for dam removal and expects that a substantial amount of the appropriated funds could be returned to the town.
When the time came for questions, a line of speakers snaked along the aisle leading to the microphone with more raised hands on Zoom. Most appreciated the thoroughness of the 124-page report and raised specific questions. Even though the pond has been studied for decades some wondered why the rush and urged going back to the drawing board.
One speaker inquired about how long it would take for the pond to die – the consultant said no one knows – and opined that perhaps a slow death would be preferable to spending so much on dam removal.
Another wondered if the threat of dam failure mentioned in the report was just a scare tactic.
Two young anglers asked whether there would still be opportunities to fish. Yes, said the consultants – along a stream instead of at the dam.
One resident urged that any warrant article for dam removal include funds for restoration and recreation improvements.
A representative from OARS supported the report’s conclusions and other residents said past images of the pond shouldn’t be the roadmap for future.The meeting concluded amicably with polite applause. The full Warner’s Pond Analysis Report can be found at https://concordma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/42357/Alternatives-Analysis-Report