Storm erodes Wentworth conservation area in Amherst
Officials gather Monday downstream from Owen's Pond, seen in background, in the Amherst Wentworth Farm Conservation Area where some of the ecological restoration done last year by Western Massachusetts Electric Company has apparently been washed out by recent rains. This channel leads from the pond to the Fort River. Wentworth Farm can be accessed from the east by an entrance on Old Farm Rd.
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Officials gather Monday downstream of Owen's Pond in the Amherst Wentworth Farm Conservation Area where some of the ecological restoration done last year by Western Massachusetts Electric Company has apparently been washed out by recent rains. This channel leads from the pond to the Fort River. Wentworth Farm can be accessed from the east by an entrance on Old Farm Rd.
KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — Rain and melting snow in recent days are likely to blame for significant erosion at the Wentworth Farm Conservation Area, which caused damage to improvements made to Owens Pond during the summer.
Workers with SumCo Eco-Contracting of Salem and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. of Watertown were on site Monday morning evaluating the situation and trying to determine how to proceed with repairs, said Frank Poirot, spokesman for Western Massachusetts Electric Co. The utility invested about $80,000 into the work meant to stabilize the pond’s water levels and enhance the habitat. It was done as part of required mitigation for work on transmission lines in wetlands in Leverett and Montague.
Yellow caution tape was placed to keep people away from the 40-foot-long bridge that extends over a new spillway connecting the pond to the nearby Fort River.
“The erosion was caused by short and heavy rainfall associated with a storm Wednesday and Thursday,” Poirot said.
Plants on the embankment had not yet had a chance to take hold, Poirot said.
Heavy erosion was visible on the western embankment of the spillway, and it was unclear if the bridge, which uses steel I-beam supports and wooden planks, remained safe, though construction vehicles used by SumCo workers were traveling across it.
Poirot said one of the piers holding up the bridge likely has been weakened.
He said a timetable for repairs has not been determined.
“We’re working through it as quickly as we can,” Poirot said. “As soon as we have a plan, we’ll have a better sense of the schedule.”
Chad Sumner, a principal and co-founder of SumCo, said his company specializes in sensitive environmental work and was working on figuring out what should be done.
Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, who is the town’s director of conservation and development and participated in the project last summer, declined comment until Tuesday because he was in meetings all day Monday.
The conservation area and pond are a popular place for people to hike and walk their dogs. Owens Pond also draws in people who enjoy fishing, kayaking and watching birds.
Johanna Neumann of nearby Stanley Street said she noticed the damage Saturday when approaching Owens Pond. She said several newly planted pines that had lined an area near the spillway were missing, likely destroyed by the flooding.
Neumann, who was with her 3-year-old son, said she is concerned because it is a beautiful place to visit. “It’s one of the spots people go in town,” Neumann said.
“Long term, I feel like it’s an amazing community resource,” Neumann said.
The improvements replaced a concrete flow device near the dam that limited the ability of fish to get to and from the pond. The 1,800-square-foot wetland spillway serves as a connection to the nearby Fort River and helps to stabilize the water levels in the pond, which had been fluctuating.
Poirot said the spillway was serving to improve the flow of migrating fish.
Large stones permanently placed in the spillway were designed to slow down the water at peak times and prevent erosion of the banks. The banks were planted with native species and designed to absorb any overflow from the pond.
The old flow structure on the western end of the pond, originally built as part of a dairy farm 50 years ago, was removed as part of the work. This had carried water through a 30-foot pipe running beneath the pond’s dam and into the nearby woods, rather than directing it to the Fort River.
A second, smaller bridge installed over a narrow channel at the eastern end of the pond remained intact and didn’t appear to have sustained any damage from the storm.
Other improvements also appeared to remain intact, including bird boxes along the perimeter to attract bluebirds and kestrel.