Old Greenwich community rallies around Binney Park restoration

Old Greenwich's Binney Park requires substantial dredging.

A view of Old Greenwich’s Binney Park, which is in need of long term improvements. —Ken Borsuk

Members of the Old Greenwich community convened at First Congregational Church last Thursday, March 27, to hear the latest updates for the ongoing restoration of Binney Park.

Originally slated as a meeting to present the long-awaited results of a sediment study commissioned last year, unfortunately the study had failed to meet its deadline. Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert was not in attendance at the meeting, as per the original plan. Instead, community representatives David Rafferty, president of the Old Greenwich Association, and Nancy Caplan, chairman of the town’s Board of Parks & Recreation, spoke to the people there about what was going on with the area.

Ms. Siebert could not be reached for comment about why the report had not been completed.

Though there were several items on the meeting agenda, including the proposed tree funding and the planting of 300 trees in the area, volunteer cleanups and a formal mobilization of the Friends of Binney Park organization, most of the audience members were admittedly in attendance to hear about one contentious topic: dredging.

“Dredging is why most people are here. … This is a massive project that everyone is talking about, and dredging is going to be the last part, and there’s a very good reason for it,” said Mr. Rafferty.

Mr. Rafferty communicated information given to him from the town’s Department of Public Works, discussing in detail the various steps involved in the dredging process. The aforementioned sediment study was “just about completed but not released” and exclusively focuses on sediment, and not related issues such as water quality or the quality of the ground underneath.

“I was a little surprised to hear that it was purely a sediment study, because I know that an awful lot of people had asked about the actual water quality or the quality of the ground underneath,” said Mr. Rafferty.

Mr. Rafferty and Ms. Caplan said they hoped that, if it were possible, there would be a second, smaller study that would analyze the actual quality of the water. Mr. Rafferty strongly advocated for a full-blown study that would test the water and the ground, if for no other reason than to know how to properly dispose of it.

“If they can eke it out of the budget, they will look at the quality of the water,” said Ms. Caplan.

Both Mr. Rafferty and Ms. Caplan emphasized the need for the community to get involved in the effort by contacting and petitioning elected representatives and staying vocal in the discussion.

“I challenge this group to get your elected representatives in town to hear from you, to say it has to be done, because we’ve all seen those slick, oily inflows going into the park, we’ve all seen junk garbage and all sorts of things going into the park, and I personally think that it is a little naive to think that Mother Nature will take care of it,” said Mr. Rafferty.

According to the proposed timeline, after the release of the sediment study, the focus in mid 2014-15 would be on obtaining permits, with the ultimate goal of stopping sedimentation from entering the park. In other words, while dredging is not a perfect or permanent fix, there would be a strong effort to find realistic measures to slow siltation, such as the creation of strategic ponds that would catch sediment. In late 2015, funding and proposed plans would be submitted to the BET and the RTM, with the actual sediment pond construction occurring in 2016.

Dredging, the final step of the process, would occur the following year, in 2016-17. This timeline rests on the assumption that all previous steps would have been completed in an efficient fashion. All of the individual steps in the process are allotted their own budgets. While it would potentially be clearer and more user-friendly to see all of the individual proposed plans grouped under one comprehensive budget, spread out over multiple years, this is impossible, because of the fact that all funding needs are approved on an annual basis by the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) and the Representative Town Meeting.

At last month’s budget approval, BET member Sean Goldrick unsuccessfully attempted to move forward the planned dredging into this current budget year. However, there was little support.

Questions from the audience largely centered around the seemingly counterintuitive nature of the long-range plan’s timeline. Why would dredging be the last step, when it appears to be the most pressing issue? Why would dredging happen after the proposed tree planting?

Mr. Rafferty and Ms. Caplan were candid that standards have changed since the last dredging, which occurred in 1998, and offered as much information as they had available. According to them, successfully obtaining permits for dredging would be a lengthy process, and realistically two or three years would elapse before it could commence.

“We are where we are today. Timelines can’t be expedited, it just takes longer now. The municipality can’t just go in and do it,” said Ms. Caplan.

The audience asked why the timeline for the park’s restoration couldn’t be accelerated. To them, it remained frustratingly hazy why the sediment study wasn’t ready for presentation at the meeting, why exactly the dredging and sediment study couldn’t be done concurrently and why this “cumulative disaster,” as one audience member put it, hadn’t been previously addressed.

Mr. Rafferty and Ms. Caplan did their best to field questions with the information they possessed, but when it came to the harder questions, they indicated there was only so much they could say and that certain questions would be better answered from someone from the Department of Public Works. The only town department head who attended the meeting was Tree Warden Bruce Spaman.

While more information and clarity may be needed from the town, it appears, based on the comments vocalized, that many of the residents of Old Greenwich and Riverside are fully invested in restoration of Binney Park. The resounding of theme of the meeting was one of community activism, of staying informed and dutifully connecting with town representatives, to ensure that Binney Park remains fully on the radar.

“Not only personally do I agree with all of you guys that you want to see something happen, the park and the pond restored to quality it’s supposed to be. That’s not just personal,” said Mr. Rafferty. “The Old Greenwich Association is firmly behind it.”

 

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