Bob Horton recounts the years-long delay in dredging Binney Park,
Bonney Park Pond, as brought to you by Peter Tesei and his department of public works [sic]
a project that looks more like New York’s Wollman Rink with every passing year (the Wollman skating Rink in Central Park
was supposed to be renovated in 1980 at a cost of $9.1 million. Six years and $13 million later, work had barely started. Donald Trump offered, and publicity forced Ed Koch to accept that offer, to complete the project in 4 months, for $2.5 million. He did it in less time, at a cost of $2.250 million).
First, some history: the last time the Binney Pond was dredged, many years ago (but not that long ago – maybe 1990s?) plans called for the installation of silt catchments, which would trap silt coming into the pond and could be easily cleaned periodically, cheaply, and thus avoid having to re-dredge the pond every few years at enormous cost. On the evening when that year’s budget was voted on, our RTM approved the cost of the dredging itself but eliminated the $450,000 required for catch basins, despite warnings that the group was being penny foolish. The pond has been silted up again for years now. Bob takes the story from there:
Various groups from the eastern end of town, including the Old Greenwich Merchants Association and local neighborhood organizations, have pressured town government for several years to restore the once beautiful man-made pond. It is now an eyesore, dotted with expanding islands of silt that host marsh grasses and invasive weeds, snaring trash and other debris swept downstream during heavy rains.
In February 2015, then Board of Estimate and Taxation member Sean Goldrick, a Riverside resident, pushed Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert to speed up the pond project, which she had said would take four years from start to finish. During questioning, Siebert answered that if the BET wanted the DPW to move faster, it should add $1 million to the 2016 fiscal year budget. The BET unanimously approved the extra dollars.
Those dollars were available as of last July 1, and were specifically allocated to design and install silt traps that would significantly slow the flow of silt and, with proper maintenance, add many years to the intervals between expensive dredging work.
Last September, Ms. Siebert told Goldrick by email that even though the town engineer managing the project had retired due to illness, “the sedimentation trap designs are being completed.” She added that absent any regulatory delays, “our hope is still to bid the project this winter and build in Spring 2016.” And, she concluded, “We expect to be requesting dredging funds in the (fiscal year) 2016/17 budget.”
Now it is Spring 2016, and there is no longer any talk of installing silt traps this year. Nor is there any indication that the designs were submitted to state and federal regulators for approval. And Ms. Siebert did not include money for dredging in the DPW 2016-17 budget.
Siebert says now:
“At this time, we have our sediment study and a preliminary design. We are proceeding with additional sediment testing and final design – this can be a lengthy process. As a result, we are forecasting that we will ask for the actual constructions funds (which would include dredging) in FY 17/18. Our work over the coming months will inform our FY 17/18 request,” the DPW commissioner wrote in a March 28 email.
In a few short months, the DPW went from nearing completion of silt trap design and asking for construction bids, to having just a preliminary design and not even asking for construction money for another year.
Dredging of the two-acre pond has featured prominently in the last two local election cycles, and each time First Selectman Peter Tesei’s administration has said it is a top priority, only to have the sense of urgency ease once election day passes.
During a 2013 campaign walking tour of Old Greenwich, Tesei said that pond dredging was a priority, but that the town also had to address silt at its source, strongly implying it was coming from real estate development in Stamford. He was supported in this position by Conservation Director Denise Savageau, who said talks would start with Stamford about how it could help stop siltation.
Then, after the election, a funny thing happened. After a $100,000 study of silt sources, the town’s chief engineer told the Parks and Recreation Board in late 2014 that “it was determined that the majority of the sediment was coming from the westerly branch of Cider Mill Brook, the section that is completely in Greenwich. Only a small portion of the sediment was determined to come from the eastern branch which includes Stamford.” So Stamford wasn’t mucking up Greenwich after all. No matter, the old trope of blaming Stamford worked to deflect attention for another year or so.
For years, Tesei and his predecessors have bemoaned their inability to do anything at all about governing Greenwich because our town charted deprives them of authority to address pressing issues. Thus, we have out of control union contracts, a grossly underfunded pension plan, public projects that take decades to complete, and cost overruns on every project we do undertake. The Planning & Zoning staff has been handed the authority to dream up building permit restrictions that delay any private project, from adding a sunporch to building a house, for a year or more, adding huge costs to an already expensive building environment, create bizarre, irrational calculations of floor area restrictions that reward some homeowners and make the land of others virtually worthless, and, via the same Denise Savage cited above, embark on a plan to remove all housing from the Old Greenwich shoreline without compensation to its owners.
Tesei and his fellow politicians of both parties insist on delegating authority and abandoning all responsibility for the results. if they really don’t want to govern, why won’t they simply go away? In Tesie’s case, the answer is obvious: he’s a career politician, and such a creature’s biggest fear; only fear, is losing office and being forced to find a real job, something they have either never tried or, having tried, failed at. The part timers in our government are more of a puzzle, but regardless, it’s time for them to lead, follow,or get out of the way.
Amy Siebert is ready to start, or says she is