Sweet Pond backers to lobby lawmakers

Wednesday December 26, 2012

GUILFORD -- Montpelier is the next stop for those who are fighting to save Sweet Pond.

Having staged local fundraisers, a volunteer steering committee soon will lobby state legislators -- in person and through phone calls and letters -- to fund rehabilitation of Sweet Pond Dam and restoration of the popular recreation spot.

"There's a lot of support in the community," said Richard Wizansky, co-chairman of the Sweet Pond Steering Committee.

The 18-acre Sweet Pond was drained in April 2011 after state officials declared that the dam was unsafe. That left little reason for anyone to visit a site that became a state park in 1976.

"Without the pond, there's no point in having the park," said state Rep. Mike Hebert, a Vernon Republican who also represents Guilford.

A study has detailed five options for the site. And officials have said one of those alternatives -- taking no action -- is not viable due to safety concerns.

"Dam Safety has condemned it, so they have to do something," Hebert said.

Local support has coalesced around a rehabilitation project that carries a projected $330,000 price tag. Some state officials also have endorsed that idea.

"We're very encouraged," Hebert said. "We've gotten strong support from (Agency of Natural Resources Secretary) Deb Markowitz."

In order to demonstrate local backing for the rehab plan, the steering committee has raised several thousand dollars through activities including a benefit concert and a booth at the Guilford Fair.

A local family offered a "challenge grant" of $1,000, and the committee landed that money by matching it with community donations, Wizansky said.

Also, online and paper petitions have gained hundreds of signatures, and the group has established a "Save Sweet Pond" Facebook page. And the Guilford Selectboard has voted to allow the town to act as a fiscal agent for fundraising.

But if the project is going to happen, it must receive substantial funding through the state legislature, which returns to work Jan. 9. So Hebert said he is working to organize a gathering of Guilford residents in Montpelier early in the legislative session.

Wizansky calls it a "Guilford Day," and he's hoping to take the Sweet Pond message directly to lawmakers.

In addition to visiting the state capital, the committee will be sending letters and making calls to lawmakers.

"We're going to be calling, sending a message that we hope they fund Sweet Pond," Wizansky said.

Though state funding is tight, advocates for rehabilitation point out that the project is not significantly more expensive than the cost of removing the dam, projected at $204,000.

"It's not that much difference," Wizansky said.


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