After an outcry from defenders of Warner’s Pond, Concord’s Natural Resources Commission is rolling back a plan to bring removal of its dam to the next Town Meeting.
“The NRC had intended to bring an up or down vote on the question of dam removal to voters at 2024 Town Meeting, but will not do so until at least 2025,” town Natural Resources Director Delia Kaye said this week. “We expect that a task force to be developed by the NRC will recommend a course of action forward.”
The West Concord pond has grown shallower and choked by invasive plants over the years, spurring the town to look at dredging it. But as the cost of that operation soared, the focus pivoted to removing the dam and letting the water take its course.
Abutters and admirers of Warner’s Pond have clamored against the idea, objecting that draining the pond would destroy a landmark treasured for its kayaking, skating, fishing, scenery and wildlife. Locals have also questioned what would happen to their property values if the pond were to go.
In October, the group Friends of Warner’s Pond presented the Select Board with a petition carrying more than 800 signatures, urging the town to look at alternatives to removing the Commonwealth Avenue dam.
“We’re really encouraged that the town has recognized the need to slow down and give our entire community the time it needs to understand our options. The pond’s future is a complicated issue,” said Friends member Matthew Kaiser.
“Now that the clock isn’t ticking quite so fast,” he said, “we hope everyone has the chance to get out on the pond over the next few months, get to know what an amazing place it is [and] take some time to learn about the options for what’s next.”
Discussions of how to deal with Warner’s Pond have included a variety of options, including dredging and removing or relocating the sediment; removing the dam — much of which could be covered by grants and would leave a smaller pond; or just doing nothing.
Kaye said taking out the dam, last replaced in 2008, “seems like the best option to accomplish identified community goals of restoring ecological health and improved recreational capacity.”
But “we are also cognizant that there are some who don’t agree with that approach, and we want to be able to have more time for everything to be evaluated in a robust and public manner … We don’t want people to feel like it’s being rushed,” she said.
“At the end of the day, [this] should be an issue decided by Town Meeting — not Natural Resources, not Select Board, but by the [voters] of the Town of Concord.”
Who will be on the task force organized by the NRC, which has “care and custody” of the pond, is still in the works, Kaye said.
She also said it’s possible that 2024 Town Meeting may be asked to consider taking money previously earmarked for dredging and boat launch improvements and redirecting it toward “dam removal, dredging, recreational improvements (including the recently acquired Gerow parcel), and additional studies.”
Friends of Warner’s Pond member Kaiser acknowledged that removing the dam is still in the idea pool — and might end up the town’s ultimate choice, even after more study and debate.
“Obviously, we love our pond, so we’d prefer the dam stay right where it is. But I think we all feel better knowing that the final decision — whatever it is — comes at the end of an open, objective and thorough process. That’s really the most important thing,” he said.
“When we look ahead to the new Gerow Park at the north end of the Pond, with the new Bruce Freeman Rail Trail running alongside it, we think Warner’s Pond has an important part to play in Concord’s future.”
Natural Resources will hold a public meeting on the pond’s future on November 8 at 7 p.m. at the Town House and virtually via Zoom.