TOWN OF ARLINGTON VISION 2020 ENVIRONMENT TASK GROUP
RESERVOIR COMMITTEE
December 18, 2001  Meeting Notes

In attendance:   Chick Abbott, Gene Benson, Russ Cohen (Mass. Riverways Program), Cathy Garnett, Brian Hasbrouck, Jane Howard,  Elizabeth Karpati, Jay Kaufman (new state representative for precincts near Res), Ann LeRoyer, Jim Marzillli, Leslie Mayer, Walter Phillips, Oakes Plimpton, Mike Tabaczynski, David White.      The meeting was facilitated by Gene Benson.  The minutes are by Elizabeth Karpati.

NEXT MEETINGS:  

Special meeting Thursday, January 10, 2002, 7- 8 PM to discuss proposed warrant articles for the Res.

Regular meetings:  Wednesday, January 23; Tuesday, February 19; Wednesday, March 13;  Monday, April 8;  Tuesday, May 14;  Tuesday, June 11;  all at 7:30 PM.

Discussion:  

         At Rich Bento’s request a subcommittee of Brian Hasbrouck, Chick Abbott, and Cathy Garnett met with him, Town Manager Phil Farrington, Tony Lionetta of the Capital Planning Commission, and Mark Mitsch and Pat Connelly of Weston and Sampson, consultants.  Brian’s extensive notes, circulated by e-mail, raised some concern that decisions were being made without an opportunity for the whole committee to be involved.  Brian assured everyone that the subcommittee meeting had been informal and aimed mainly at getting the Town Manager and the Capital Planning Committee “on  board” –  they reached some conclusions but made no decisions.

         The price of what the consultants are talking about has escalated from several hundred thousand to several million dollars, so they were asked to see if DEM’s concerns could be met with less costly measures, and also to specify exactly which trees would need to be removed

         According to Rich Bento’s statements at the November meeting of the full committee, some 30-40% of the cost of the present draft would be for tree removal and riprap. 

         Oakes Plimpton distributed the statement he sent to Jim Gomes of ELM (Environmental League of Mass.), questioning the need for tree removal by citing several treed earthen dams that have lasted for a century or more while a treeless one has collapsed.  Russ Cohen suggested talking to Jim McBroom, author of “The River Book” (on restoring rivers) about the effect of trees on dams.

         Funding considerations:  If all the work can be paid for from the Water and Sewer Fund, it doesn’t have to go through the Capital Planning Committee or Town Meeting.  (Town Meeting puts $1 million into this fund annually for whatever work is necessary; the money is then controlled by the Selectmen.)  Timetable for any work is now pushed back to 2004 (two Town Meetings away) in any case.

         Alternate approach, discussed earlier and now raised again by Gene Benson:  Leave the outflow gate open permanently, enlarge emergency spillway as needed for safety at modest cost, leave trees in place, and have more money left for improvements to Mill Brook to mitigate flooding.  

         But this would still leave some water impounded, though at a low level, so technically there would still be a dam subject to DEM’s oversight.  (At that low level the dam is probably too wide, and the roots too far above water, to pose any realistic danger – but we cannot be sure DEM would agree.)

         To escape DEM oversight would require “decommissioning,” i.e. “breaching” the dam:  removing enough of it to eliminate any impoundment.  The cut edges of the remaining dam structure would have to be stabilized.  The work and required permitting would be costly, and permits could be denied even after much was spent on preliminaries. Repairing a dam causes fewer environmental changes than breaching it, so permitting for repairs is a lot easier.

         Breaching the dam would also leave the problem of how to maintain the summer water level in the swimming area; waterproofing the berm would apparently be costly.

         We would need a cost estimate for breaching the dam to compare with the approximately $2 million estimate for the present proposal (tree removal and repairs).

         We don’t really know how much water now comes in from Reed’s Brook and how that will change.     A 30” drain from Reed’s Brook now appears blocked, causing the flooding in that area; but W&S’s calculations may be assuming that the present flow is full flow.  The March 2001 storm, even with the drain blocked, brought in enough water to raise the Res level some 6 feet and send additional water through the emergency spillway.

         The subcommittee got the impression from Mark Mitsch of W&S that settling on exactly how to repair the dam would require negotiating with DEM and a site visit from a DEM representative.  The concern is that once the representative looks at the site he will say “Do this” and we’ll be stuck with that decision, so we need to have all possibilities well thought out before any site visit is scheduled.

         According to Russ Cohen the head of DEM (Dave Clark) is in favor of breaching dams so that DEM won’t have to worry about their safety; the state Riverways program is interested in breaching dams to improve habitat. But breaching the Res dam won’t improve habitat, and Arlington (Rich Bento) wants to maintain the water storage capacity of the Res to keep present flooding problems from getting even worse.  (Real flood control downstream, however, would require improvements in Mill Brook, and that would require some work on Peirce Field before that field is renovated.)

         It appeared to the subcommittee that Rich Bento and Phil Farrington have a maximum cost in mind and that the present draft ($2 million) already exceeds it.   Gene will e-mail them expressing the committee’s concern that they didn’t give much consideration to the alternative approach, and that whatever approach is chosen, the Town should look at the whole project and not start a partial job that destroys or damages a valuable resource without restoring it.

Busa Farm:            Dan Busa, a cousin of Fran Busa the farmer,  wants to build a big house between the farm and Munroe Brook and is asking for variances from Lexington ConCom and ZBA.   Lexington is discussing the Community Preservation Act – maybe that can be used to preserve this land and Busa Farm from development. 

[P.S.  By the end of December Dan Busa withdrew his zoning board application at least for the time being.]

Possible warrant articles:   Leslie presented two drafts, a one-page version of our Goals statement and a proposal to establish a Reservoir advisory board.  These will be discussed further at a special meeting of the committee on January 10 (warrant articles are due January 14).  Comments made at this meeting:

         A Goals statement for Town Meeting approval would have to be much more concise, just a few sentences without much detail – somewhat like the Spy Pond goals.

         Would it be better to put the detailed goals into the Vision 2020 report to Town Meeting, and/or publicize them in the Advocate, this year and develop a concise statement for presentation as a warrant article next year?

         There is nothing like the proposed advisory board for anything else in Arlington, but there is no other issue that is so complex, involving two towns and pressure from the DEM.

 NEXT MEETINGS:  

Special meeting Thursday, January 10, 2002, 7- 8 PM to discuss a proposed warrant article for the Res.

Regular meetings:  Wednesday, January 23;   Tuesday, February 19;  Wednesday, March 13;  Monday, April 8;  Tuesday, May 14;  Tuesday, June 11;  all at 7:30 PM.

All meetings in first floor room of Town Hall Annex except June meeting, which is on second floor.  

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