GUILFORD -- The "Save Sweet Pond" effort has been dealt a significant setback.
Advocates for restoring Sweet Pond State Park's dam and popular water-recreation spot in Guilford have been informed that, due to state budget cuts, the project has been delayed.
But a state representative says the project will still happen, though it may take a few years. And local Sweet Pond backers are undaunted.
"We're not giving up until the pond is back," said Linda Hecker, who has served as co-chairwoman of the Sweet Pond Steering Committee.
Sweet Pond was drained in April 2011 after state officials deemed the dam unsafe.
There is widespread support among local and state officials for a rehabilitation project carrying an estimated price tag of $330,000. And there had been hopes of allocating that cash during this legislative session so that the work could be performed in 2014.
A group of Guilford residents was set to travel to Montpelier on March 12 to lobby for that allocation.
But what had been dubbed "Sweet Pond Day" has been scratched after state Rep. Mike Hebert, a Republican representing Vernon and Guilford, brought news of budget reductions.
The state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation "had its budget cut significantly," Hebert said. "There's no money for projects like Sweet Pond and many others."
Hebert attributed the cuts to a widespread funding shortage in state government. He also said significant money is being diverted to fix the state's Waterbury office complex, which was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene.
"There's a critical situation financially in the state of Vermont," Hebert said. "Something like Sweet Pond, it's not a danger to anyone, so it's not jumping right to the top" of the state's funding priorities.
As a result, the project may not happen until 2015 or 2016, Hebert said. But he's confident that it will happen eventually because, Hebert says, there still is strong support for Sweet Pond among top state officials.
"I'm very optimistic that, with their cooperation, this will move forward," Hebert said.
Hebert said he has spoken with Michael Snyder, commissioner of the Forests, Parks and Recreation Department.
"He understands the significance of the project," Hebert said. "The parks and recreation people agree that the dam has to be restored, not removed."
Hebert also has consulted with Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
"She also agrees that this project is more valuable as a restoration than as a removal," Hebert said, adding that Markowitz has discussed the matter with state dam safety officials.
"They're going to cooperate with us as much as possible," he said.
The Sweet Pond Steering Committee had worked last year to raise local funds to support the project. Those efforts now are on hold, though Hecker said the steering committee will continue its work.
"We're disappointed," she said. "But we're forging ahead, because they're saying it's going to happen (eventually)."
Hebert and Hecker also said a group of Guilford residents will travel to Montpelier at some point to discuss the project with Markowitz.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.