Vote No on the Stevens Brook dam/culvert project

| Letter to the editor from Carl Wilcox |

I try to stay out of town politics, but the Steven’s Brook culvert has become a Frankenstein grossly overpriced project and you should vote no. This project should cost about $300,000 to $350,000.  Instead it is about $800,000 when the Town’s help is added to the contractor’s bid. I support replacing the culvert and providing a water hole for fire protection.  But as currently proposed, this project is robbing us taxpayers.

For comparison, only few years ago Trout Unlimited spearheaded the replacement of the Brandy Brook culvert on Morse Road below Maschino Lumber.  Brandy Brook is a much larger stream than Stevens Brook and it actually has native brook trout.  Trout Unlimited paid $123,000 to replace that culvert with a fish-passage-friendly culvert.  The Town provided some aggregate and trucking: total project cost about $145,000.

The existing Steven’s Brook culvert, which absolutely needs to be replaced, is 6-feet tall and 5-feet wide, or 30-square feet.  The designed replacement box culvert is 18 x 6 feet or 108 square feet, more than 3 and a half times larger.  Hurricane Bob in the 1990s was a 100-year storm. The storm of record was in March 1977 that exceeded the 100-year event.  At no time has Gloucester Hill Road washed out or been overtopped at Steven’s Brook. The existing culvert could be replaced with two five-foot diameter culverts or one elliptical culvert like what was done at Brandy Brook. 

So why is the new culvert so big?  Because IF&W and DOT have a new policy of fish-friendly culverts that have a nature-like bottom to allow fish to pass.  I’m all for it except when there is a 5-foot tall dam at the upstream end of the culvert!  This giant 18 x 6- foot concrete box culvert that is 45-feet long will come in about 10 separate U-shaped sections that will need to be put together in the trench.  Before the five top sections are lowered into place, about a quarter of the culvert will be filled with boulders and cobbles to provide a nature-like bottom for fish to pass.  The only problem is at the inlet end of this giant culvert there will be a 5-foot tall dam that forms Steven’s Pond. We are paying around $200,000 more for this giant fish-friendly culvert so the fish can swim 45 more feet upstream in the culvert to run into an impassable dam!  

I also think people are going to be shocked when the project is done and they see how it looks.  The plans call for 30 feet of 6-foot tall chain-link fence to keep people from falling into the 18-foot wide x 7-feet deep culvert opening at the dam. How about a narrower culvert with grating across the opening?

Let’s move on to the dredging of the pond.  Steven’s Pond is about three-quarters of an acre and is currently 5 feet deep at the deep end and 3 feet at the upper end. The pond dredging will remove about two feet of sediment over three-quarters of the pond.  Per the design plans, it appears the sediment in the front left quarter is contaminated because the drawings tell the contractor to leave it in place.  The cost to dredge this 2,200-CY is about $247,000, or more than $112 a cubic yard.  This is to deepen the pond by two feet in the theory that the water will remain cooler so the stocked trout will live longer.  The only problem is the fish are stocked for kids and the disabled to catch and are there only a couple weeks before they are fished out. 

Decades ago Steven’s Pond was the only place for local kids to go fish.  In the last twenty years the following fishing locations have become available: the pond at Pineland which previously was just for Pineland residents, the Royal River behind the fairgrounds which is now a public place, and Chandler Mill Pond, which formerly was privately owned with access blocked and now has a paved ramp to the water for people with ambulatory issues to access.  Steven’s Pond is no longer needed as a fishing hole and it is too small for skating.  When was the last time you saw people skate on it?  Chandler Mill Pond is a great place to skate, as is behind the fairgrounds, the pond at Pineland, or Bear Brook pond which is much larger than Steven’s Pond.

Replacing the existing box culvert and the dam that forms Steven’s Pond, and limiting pond dredging to that near the fire hydrant to provide sufficient water for house fires is a $350,000 project. As a Town we are wasting more than $400,000 on this oversized fish-friendly culvert to nowhere and dredging two feet of muck across a portion of the pond for really no good reason.

Vote NO on Article 1.  There are much better uses of our money.

Carl Wilcox

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