Gorham's Pond: Town OKs next round of sediment removal

The Friends of Gorham’s Pond have received approval to continue the removal of sediment from the upper portion of the pond, clearing the way for a healthier Goodwives River. About 800 cubic yards of sediment were removed from the pond last year as a part of a town project to install a new dam and fish ladder in the upper pond.

Last year’s project was the culmination of years of advocacy on the part of the Friends of Gorham’s Pond, a nonprofit group dedicated the remediation and preservation of the pond. Local donors contributed towards $50,000 the cost of sediment removal, while a state grant of $550,000 from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection covered the construction and labor costs of the project. Ed Gentile, Darien’s Director of Public Works, said the project ultimately came in under budget.

Friends of Gorham’s Pond President Lucia Zachowski said the remediation of the upper pond has had an immediate impact on the environment, with more fish and bird life being spotted in the area.

"We've already seen a tremendous return of wildlife to the upper pond, so we're really encouraged by that,” Zachowski said. “It’s all interconnected, the world is this very finely interconnected web and we need to not get in the way of that”

However, the remediated area represents just a small portion of the roughly 6,000 cubic yards of sediment lodged along the banks of Gorham’s Pond and Goodwives River. Sediment build up along the pond has been attributed to the construction of I-95, with tons of sand and debris making its way down from the highway over the decades. As a result, the sediment contains trace amount of asphalt and cannot be repurposed under DEEP standards.

The Friends of Gorham’s Pond have connected some of Darien’s flooding problems to the buildup of sediment. According to the group about two-thirds of freshwater drainage in the town flows into the pond via Goodwives River and Stony Brook River. Water in the affected areas struggles to make its way out into the Long Island Sound, causing backups and flooding along the shores. In order to properly clear the blockage the dredging must be follow the stream of water, working from the upper pond down.

As a result, the Friends needed a local resident to agree for the work to be staged on their property. With no approved method to clean the sediment, the town’s contractor hauled dozens of trucks worth of sediment from the pond to be disposed of. Completion of the dam and fish ladder project along with the sediment dredging took about one full year, with few breaks over last year’s relatively warm fall and winter season.

The town’s Environmental Protection Committee and Planning & Zoning Commission have given their approvals to the next round of sediment dredging, citing the success of the first project. Having gained another easement along the river, the Friends of Gorham’s Pond hope that another 2,000 to 4,000 cubic yards of sediment will be removed during the next round of dredging.

Next, Zachowski and the Friends of Gorham’s Pond will need to earn approval at the state level, which be more difficult given the Connecticut’s financial hardships. She has enlisted the help of engineering firm Buck and O’Neill to help develop project proposals and has begun seeking new grants to help the town in its future remediation efforts. With their current approvals the Friends of Gorham’s Pond have a five year window to complete the dredging project.

While total costs will depend on the final project plans and the overall amount of sediment removed, Zachowski is looking to secure approximately $300,000 to 400,000 for the projects. Local donors have also regularly supported the efforts to clean Gorham’s Pond but some type of state or local funding will likely be necessary to help the plan come to fruition.

While pressing issues like the state budget and local redevelopment have been the dominant topics in Darien during the first half of 2017, the continued remediation of Gorham’s Pond should bring both immediate and long term benefits to the town’s environment. If you’re interested in learning more about the Friends of Gorham’s Pond visit friendsofgorhamspond.org. The organization plans to hold its annual meeting in October.