GUILFORD -- Another legislative session has come and gone and there is still no funding available to rebuild the Sweet Pond dam.
Since the state drained the pond in 2011 after determining that the dam was unsafe, there has been a local drive to get it rebuilt. That local effort helped convince state officials that the recreational area was important and the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation is committed to rebuilding the dam.
Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder traveled to Guilford on April 14 to explain that the funding was not included in this year's Capital Plan, but he said he was going to try to get some money next year to begin the planning work.
"Another session has gone by and I want people to realize that this is not a forgotten item by myself, or the folks in the Parks and Rec. Department," Snyder told a small crowd of Guilford residents Wednesday during a public information session. "Time has passed. We have pursued it, but it has not happened. We haven't secured the funding, but we wanted to have it known that we haven't forgotten. We haven't changed our thinking. I appreciate the importance of this place to you, and that it matters enough that you want to come out and hear what's going on."
Snyder said his department would begin working on its FY 2016-17 capital funding plan this summer in anticipation of presenting it to lawmakers when they return to Montpelier next year. And while he was clear that there were no guarantees, Snyder said he was going to look for funding in that budget to begin planning for the project. He said if the department does get its funding next year then the dam could be rebuilt by the end of 2017, with the pond restored in time for the spring of 2018.
Snyder said the funding request for the approximately $350,000 project would probably come in two installments, with engineering and planning funds coming the first year and construction costs the following year.
"We want to make it clear to you that we value it. We see the value and our plan is to rebuild. That has not changed," said Snyder. "Secretary Markowitz supports this, and she has been clear that when we can figure out the funding for this, this is great asset for this part of the state, and that we support it and want to rebuild it. It is a sizable project, in terms of cost, and we don't have that money."
Wednesday's meeting was called by Rep. Michael Hebert, R-Vernon, who represents both Vernon and Guilford. Hebert said he advocated for the project throughout the 2014 session, making sure Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation and Agency of Natural Resources staff understood the importance of rebuilding the Sweet pond dam. And while there was no money this year for the project Hebert wanted supporters to understand that he was going to continue fighting to make the project happen.
"The department, and Commissioner Snyder, have continued to work this year on this. It's in the budget to do the dam, but unfortunately the budget this year was tighter than it was the year before, but it's still in the queue and it still has the support of the secretary of ANR," Hebert said. "No one is saying take the dam out. They realize that taking the dam out and the cost of renovating the dam are not so significant that the project is going to be eliminated. They are still anticipating doing it."
Ethan Phelps, a regional manager with Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, explained that by department standards, the Sweet Pond dam restoration was a relatively complex and expensive project.
He said a $350,000-to-$400,000 project would be one of the larger projects the department would do in any given year, and he also said it was very rare for the state to rebuild a dam when dams are mostly being removed to restore habitat and water flow.
Phelps also said the department is talking about dredging the area to create a deeper pond for swimming but that decision has not been made yet.
He recognized the local commitment to the project and the money that has been raised to support the efforts. He said he hoped the locally raised funds could be used for a specific project on site, such as for improving the boat launch.
Snyder said he spent part of the day Wednesday walking near Sweet Pond. He pointed out that while the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation has oversight over Sweet Pond, the entire regional office of the Agency of Natural Resources has a stake in the restoration of Sweet Pond.
Both the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Environmental Conservation will play a role in re-establishing the pond and wetlands, and Snyder reassured the Guilford residents that there was support for the project.
"There is a lot of interest in the functions and values of this place," Snyder said. "We need to work them. We work on this together and I want to make it known that this is an agency function."
Snyder stressed that there were similar projects all over the state that have the backing of the local communities, and he told the Guilford residents to make sure they continued to lobby for the project with local and state lawmakers once they are back in Montpelier next year.
"There are ongoing, lingering difficulties with money and in every community in the state there are needs and capital requests," Snyder said. "We need to make this request in that context and one of the keys is local support. It's very important to demonstrate the values and that this is wanted by the local community."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.