Note to readers: Select Board met on Tuesday instead of Monday due to the Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday. This story will not appear in print edition of The Concord Bridge until October 20, 2023 due to print deadline.
Fans of Warner’s Pond flocked to Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, lending their voices — and a petition — to get the idea of draining the pond off the town’s table.
As Warner’s Pond has become choked with invasive plants, the town has looked at various options. Among those: Dredging the pond; removing the dam; or doing nothing.
Many who live near the pond or enjoy it for its kayaking, fishing or history have raised an alarm about even the idea of knocking down the dam, last replaced in 2008. And many of those people showed up at the Town House to say so: To accommodate the unusually large crowd, the Select Board held the public comment session in the main chamber upstairs at the Town House versus the smaller meeting room it typically uses.
Speaking first on behalf of the group, Vickie Alani of Commonwealth Avenue read from a letter from Friends of Warner’s Pond. The group strongly opposes taking out the dam, which has been raised as a possibility given the high cost of dredging and particularly the removal of the dredged material.
The group argued dam removal is an extreme step that would result in “the permanent loss of an historically and culturally significant 50+ acre pond in the heart of West Concord, the loss of a well established biodiverse pond habitat,” and new concerns about “what would become of the drained pond area.”
The organization also asked for town recognition of “a new committee or task force,” also named Friends of Warner’s Pond, to work with the Select Board on the future of the area.
The petition language itself simply reads, “We, the undersigned, do not approve of draining Warner’s Pond by removing the dam at Commonwealth Avenue. We urge the Town of Concord to revisit other options for restoring the Pond and securing its future in our community, including dredging.”
While the petition included people of various ages who reside as far away as Colorado and the Virgin Islands, the group made a point of specifying that the 814 signatories to date included “at minimum, 580 Concord residents of voting age.”
EA Engineering, Science and Technology, which studied the Warner’s situation under a town contract, said in a May report that they recommended taking out the dam.
Doing so, they concluded, would restore the area’s ecology, improve recreational opportunities for activities like paddling, and eliminate the need for the town to spend money on battling invasive species while availing itself of grant funding that can be tapped for removal projects.
But those who rose to address the Select Board Tuesday argued that the negative impact of losing the pond could echo down through the years.
“I simply want to emphasize the importance and the power of the caring for a little pond that is existing in this room — that there is tremendous emotion behind it, but also there is the science behind it,” Denise Gilbert, a retired teacher from Concord Greene, told the board.
“We really implore you to look into this carefully and to please go and spend some time looking at this pond. Put your phones down and look, because this is for our children and this is for generations to come.”
Commonwealth Avenue resident Jimi Two Feathers spoke of the Eastern Painted turtles he sees in his backyard each spring, whose eggs he surrounds with wire mesh to defend them from hungry skunks.
“I want to represent the animals that are there, and what would happen to them if we turned Warner’s Pond into a mud puddle. What would happen to my backyard? And also, what would happen to our property values if we were all of a sudden [abutters] to a mud puddle? Who’s going to help cover [those] expenses?” Two Feathers asked. “I would like to find ways to clean up the pond and protect it.”
Nina Huber, also of West Concord, spoke of the catastrophic flooding that has caused heavy property damage in Vermont and elsewhere: “I’m concerned about that. I thought that’s why we built the new dam,” she told the Select Board.
“We spent all this money to build this beautiful new dam not long ago, and now we’re [saying] ‘we’re going to pull it down’ for a reason that’s not clear to me.”
As in the past, the board emphasized that dismantling of the dam is not imminent.
After a question about surveyors examining at the pond and dam, Select Board Clerk Mary Hartman told the crowd, “There might be people out there taking measurements, but nothing is going to happen to the dam without a vote of Town Meeting.” Concord’s next Town Meeting is scheduled for April 2024.
Officials also noted there are more public conversations scheduled to take up the pond’s future, including one on November 8, to evaluate all options and gather more alternative ideas.
Select Board Chair Henry Dane thanked the crowd for turning out.
“This is something that is of great concern to us as [having] potential environmental and social impact on the town, its history, and its culture, and one of the things we have to think about is what the urgency is to do anything at all, because nature does take its course — if we let it.”