HARWICH — Progress has been made on the conceptual design for the Cold Brook Ecological Project being worked out between the town and the Harwich Conservation Trust. But there remain a number of questions over financing and the actual amount of nitrogen that will be removed through the town's proposed attenuation project.
“We're now in transition from conceptual design to trying to put meat on the bones,” Dr. Brian Howes, director of the Coastal System Group at the School of Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth, told a gathering of more than 20 scientists, local, state and federal officials in town hall Friday.
“We're making great progress and we must continue the conversation on the design for ecological purposes,” agreed Michael Lach, executive director of the Harwich Conservation Trust.
The focus is on the trust-owned 66-acre Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve off Bank Street. The town has appropriated $2 million to create a nitrogen attenuation project there that would reduce the sewering infrastructure required in the watershed.
At the same time, HCT is designing an ecological restoration project in the former cranberry bogs. The trust's goal is to enhance conservation and passive public recreation with an emphasis on the intrinsic value associated with the wetlands that formerly existed at the site.
The town and the trust have been in discussions for the better part of the year over how to accomplish these goals. In Friday's session areas of agreement were highlighted, with the trust agreeing to provide 4.9 acres of the bog site for pond area and an eventual restoration of 8.5 acres of saltmarsh to the lower section of the property. There will also be channel restoration of 2.22 acres along the main stem and 0.59 acres of tributaries.
The design contains four smaller, shallow peat-based ponds and a deep pond with shallow margins covering 3.2 acres. The deeper section of that pond is expected to draw remove, or attenuate, nitrogen flowing from groundwater.
There was much discussion about design factors to assist in achieving the goals. Lach made it clear a guiding principle of the project is for each of the partners to know what the other is considering as they transition toward a more formal agreement. The partnership will be formalized through a memorandum of agreement.
There are a lot of issues to work through, especially who will play what roll in funding of the project. Town Administrator Christopher Clark emphasized the town's funds will be directed towards nitrogen attenuation, but he concurred with Eric Derleth, a supervisory fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that some of those funds could be applied to the design phase. Clark said 75 percent of the proposed work is nitrogen reduction related. Derleth indicated that will help in seeking grants as the project moves toward the construction phase.
The project, especially the nitrogen attenuation side, was referred to as “cutting edge stuff.” Brian Dudley, wastewater section chief of the state department of environmental protection, said because the project “is essentially a treatment and we'll want to have a continued monitoring program.” Clark agreed, stating the town will want to track the success of various nitrogen removal components.
Eric Ford, a restoration specialist with the state Department of Ecological Restoration, pointed out there is some funding available, but it has an expiration date at the end of June. He also said U.S. Fish and Wildlife has a little funding that expires in August. There was consensus those funds could be used in the design phase and would help with other grant applications.
“It is important to figure out where the town will contribute financially,” said Alex Hackman, a restoration specialist with DER.
Clark said it is likely the town will have the money to also do the monitoring program.
A third component of the project has to do with fish migrating to and from Grassy Pond. Brad Chase, a senior marine fisheries biologist with the state division of marine fisheries and a member of the town's conservation commission, reported large quantities of American eels moving through a flume installed a couple of years ago providing access from Cold Brook to Grassy Pond. He also said there were 50 herring counted at the base of the flume. The herring have not been able to climb into the pond and a fish ladder will have to be installed.
Stephen Spear, a soil conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said his agency may be able to help with funding. He said they are nearing the end of phase two of the Cape Watershed Project and they will have money left over to assist with design engineering work. The funds are applicable to saltmarsh restoration, fish passage and runoff on shellfish beds.
HCT was anticipating receiving funds from the Cape Watershed Project in phase two, but they did not materialize because of the compressed time line for using the funds. Mark Forest, chairman of the Cape Cod Conservation District, which shapes and defines projects receiving money, said he is anticipating phase three funding.
“This is a home run and this is going to happen,” Forest said of funding for the Cold Brook project. “We may not have a pathway yet, but it's going to happen.”
The permitting period for the project is expected to start this summer. Nick Nelson, a fluvial geomorphologist and regional director with Inter-Fluve, Inc., retained by HCT, said a permit application will be filed under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act and he estimated it will take most of the winter to get approved. Work in Cold Brook could start next spring.
In the meantime the town and HCT will work towa