Ridgefield wetlands board questions pond dredging

Signs of spring can be seen among remnants of the dredging project at Binney Park in Old Greenwich, Conn. Monday, April 23, 2018. The Binney Pond dredging project is almost complete.

Signs of spring can be seen among remnants of the dredging project at Binney Park in Old Greenwich, Conn. Monday, April 23, 2018. The Binney Pond dredging project is almost complete.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Pond scum, as its commonly known, can also be viewed as a complex ecosystem of varied species — all with Latin names and interlocking functions. Cattails, too, serve an ecological function, though they can get out of hand, take over a pond, become a mono-culture.

And Ridgefield’s new independent Inland Wetlands Board seems quite intent on doing its part to better protect the varied miracles of aquatic life that many would simply consider yucky stuff in the water, or something that blocks the lakeview.

If protecting what lives in streams and swamps and ponds means turning the town’s land development approval process into a little more of a gauntlet, complicating and lengthening the path to be followed by builders and land developers, parking lot planners and homeowners who want clean-looking ponds — well, the new board seems to feel, so be it.

That may well be what Ridgefielders had in mind when they approved separating the Inland Wetlands Board from the Planning and Zoning Commission and then voted to fill the new independent wetlands board with people who have degrees in such things as environmental law and landscape architecture, people coming over from the Conservation Commission, people who work as environmental directors for other towns.

At its second meeting Tuesday, Dec. 10, the wetlands board reviewed two applications, one the dredging of a pond at a home at 257 Peaceable Street, and another from the Town of Ridgefield for the expansion of the Governor Street parking lot (See story on A1).

Both were greeted with questioning, and ended up being scheduled for return visits for the applicants and further review by the wetlands board at its next meeting Thursday, Jan. 9, starting at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall Annex.

The town’s parking lot plan was found in need of a wildlife inventory of the wooded area where trees and underbrush are to be replaced with asphalt and parked cars.

And the pond-dredging applicant will be returning with an environmental consultant on board to present more detailed information on the proposed work.

Cattail conversation

A telling moment came during the application for pond project when Matthew Vogt of New England Aquatic Services, the firm contracted to dredge the pond, began discussing plans to remove some — but not all — of the cattails in the pond.

“We do have a spot where we want to leave some of the cattails,” Vogt said.

Board member Tracey Miller stopped him with a question.

“Are those cattails Typha angustifolia or Typha latifolia?”

“One is native and one is non-native,” Miller explained. “They both support wildlife.”

The pond dredger wasn’t sure of the Latin name — they were cattails, though.

Miller also asked if the water body in question was a “calcareous pond.”

Vogt confessed he wasn’t familiar with that term.

“It basically means there’s a lot of calcium,” Miller said.

There are some areas of Ridgefield where, due to an unusual geologic formation, there tends to be a lot of calcium, Miller said.

The Conservation Commission’s recent Natural Resource Inventory has a map of where in town this marble bedrock geology is found.

“There’s a possibility that there’s several species of plants in your pond that are protected,” Miller said.

“This could be a real opportunity for your client,” she added.

They could grow bog nettles, peats…

Vogt said that while his clients were agreeable to the pond supporting some cattails and other aquatic life that performs desirable functions, they also hoped to have a more clean-looking area — hopefully, the section of pond their home looks directly out on.

Planted buffer

Wetlands board Chairwoman Pat Sesto eventually shared with the dredging contractor what she thought was most likely the source of the pond’s distress — a slope of grass lawn leading down to the water’s edge.

“Pet waste, fertilizer, pesticide — that’s all draining into the pond,” she said.

Sesto recommended a buffer area around the pond, with plantings selected to filter storm runoff as it drains from the lawn to the water’s edge.

Board member Miller added that there are some very attractive species of plants that could be used as part of a buffer around the pond — pretty to look at, and also providing good filtration.

“The planting plan is not meant to be punishment,” Sesto said.

The conversationists eventually settled on the potential benefits of bringing in an additional consultant to study the many potential environmental impacts of the proposed dredging, and perhaps improve the plans, and discuss the ecological effects with the wetlands board when the pond is discussed again on Jan. 9.

“It sounds like you’re going to be working with an environmental consultant, or landscape design firm,” Sesto said.

“I think I know where I need to go now,” said Vogt.