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Letter to the Editor: Restoring Collinsville’s Riverfront

October 26, 2016 Government, Opinion, Referendum No Comments

To the Editor:

Last week I sent a letter that documented the fact that only one member of the public was cited in the Upper Collinsville Mill Pond Master Plan as asking for the DPW Garage to be moved. It was part of comment #53 by an anonymous Survey Monkey participant who listed an abundance of creative ideas to improve recreation in the area.

This week—in the spirit of #53– I follow up with an innovative concept to restore some of Collinsville’s riverfront and make life more wonderful for active people in Collinsville.

NotOnOurRiver (N) is fighting the Town’s plan to continue to use 50 Old River Road with its 200 feet of frontage on the Farmington River for the DPW Garage. They argue that leaving the garage on its current site means we don’t have the full site to use for “recreation” which they feel is important for our future both for the healthy fun of it and because they say it brings in tourists who spend money and support local businesses.

CantonGOES (Y) says the garage site doesn’t offer much additional recreational value because they say it’s too far from the village center and is by the stinky sewage plant. They point out that the new garage is set back 190 feet from the river and allows for continued use of the trail and the ball field while providing needed parking for visitors, public bathrooms and–when funds are raised–enhanced river access. They correctly point out that no DPW site that works and can win approval has been found over the last decade.

N freely admits they don’t really have a step-by-step plan. N hasn’t identified an alternate site that will work and pass and says it’s not their job to do so. Y counters that shirking our fiduciary duties and delaying urgently needed facilities does not constitute sustainable good government. Y fears no alternate site ever will be approved and that a No vote is a vote for continuing political impotence while our taxpayers and DPW workers suffer.

N and Y seem to agree that we need a new garage and that it will more than pay for its bonding costs by lowering operating costs and increasing the service life of our trucks. Many agree that the plan to raise the facilities above the 100-year flood elevation and insure them against flood damage makes it a secure investment. Many agree a new facility would protect the environment and the river better than the old.

Many Ns are casting No votes in furtherance of a strategy they view as offering at least a hope of fulfilling their vision of a vibrant riverfront. I share their heartfelt yearning for additional riverfront recreation possibilities in Collinsville that people can love; but, their strategy isn’t well thought out. An abandoned garage area would likely be just another empty park on the upstream side of the Sewer Plant that will match the empty park downstream. They are both too small and too remote from the café life of Collinsville.

Like most scientific studies, the Upper Collinsville Mill Pond Master Plan was done by a scientist—not an artist or a dreamer. It deals with the technical work required to remove sediment from the River or to raise the pond level to increase water depth.

Tens of Thousands of cubic yards of sediment must be removed just to reach a 5-foot depth. The question is where to put it. That’s where the artists and dreamers like #53 could have offered some wonderful ideas if they had been involved in a design charrette for the area. Why can’t we reuse it where it is–like Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne?

Take a look at aerial photos or maps of Collinsville. It’s apparent that the river has substantially widened its path Southeastward at the bend by the intersection of Maple Avenue and River Road. But for Man’s intervention, it would have devoured Center Street.

Draw a line from the CCK boat ramp to the Island and thence to the Gazebo. The sediment-choked shoal area between that line and Dent-Fix is shallow and weed-filled. Boats don’t go there.

Why not dredge and return the Farmington River channel to its historic location west of that line? Why not fill that weed-filled corner shoal area –in whole or in part–with some of that dredged sediment to restore the riverbank to its earlier condition for us all to enjoy?

We’d probably only need a portion of the dredged sediment for fill and could armor the filled area with sheet piling or granite boulders to stop further erosion. It’s about 4 acres measuring about 900 feet long and is about 275 feet across at its widest. Combine that with the minimally-utilized “Gazebo Park” and you’ve got an awesome recreation area.

The material deposited would be substantially less than that removed elsewhere in the pond so pond storage volume would actually increase. The adjacent–narrower and deeper– dredged channel would remain equal to or greater in width than the river upstream and would have greater hydraulic flow capacity than the current shallower wider channel.

It’s the sort of channel change that occurs when a dam is breached and removed which is a stream restoration goal of many ecologists. Such deeper water stays cooler, is better oxygenated and offers more productive habitat than the current stagnant pond. Sub- surface structures with shady nooks would bring habitat diversity and offer shelter.

1.) The restored riverbank when graded even with the contiguous “Gazebo Park” site would be over 1200 feet long and have 4 times the area of the Garage Site. Multiple athletic fields could be nestled thereon with an area of protected sandy beachfront and a proper bandstand close to the village we all love.

Restoring Collinsville’s Riverfront Lans Perry 10-25-16 Page 3 of 3

  1. 2.)  The near end of the restored riverbank would be a 1⁄4 mile walk from Lasalle versusthe 3⁄4 mile hike it takes to get to the Town Garage site. It might actually be used!
  2. 3.)  As part of this project I suggest we reroute the Sewage Plant outfall pipe that dumps into the impoundment. Why not extend it to a downstream location below the dam? It makes no sense to constantly fertilize the growth of unwanted weeds nor to soak ourselves in sanitized human waste every time we dip in the Mill Pond.

Some may find such wetland-altering ideas heretical; but, we’d be simply returning the river to an earlier, healthier, historic condition–closer to what it was before the dam was built. This is a noble and defensible ecological restoration effort that works for us all.

Ecologists often manipulate habitats to favor certain species in a local area. New England Cottontail Rabbits and seasonal neotropical birds need shrublands and young forests which are scarce nowadays. Local bunnies and birds will soon enjoy enhanced shrubland habitat on Breezy Hill when a federally-subsidized 10-Acre clearcut is completed on Canton Land Conservation Trust Inc.’s sprawling forest land. Properly managed clearcutting of dense forest stands is sound habitat management not sacrilege.

If restoring the whole Dent-Fix corner is too ambitious then restore a shoreline band to provide a marvelous riverfront promenade park close to Collinsville. Call this idea to nudge the River closer to its original channel a “Habitat Improvement Project for Indigenous and Migratory Individuals” and it might be welcomed and cheerfully subsidized.

Lans Perry 
Canton

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