Plymouth has put the brakes on a controversial plan to cut down nearly 1,000 trees in a city park in order to improve water quality at a nearby lake. The $1 million project has been postponed for at least a year and could be changed significantly, city water resources manager Derek Asche said.

“The residents need to know it’s not a done deal and their concerns will be addressed,” he said.

Neighbors questioned the need, cost and effectiveness of the project, and objected to cutting down 100-year-old trees in one of the few places in Plymouth where walkers can see owls, deer, foxes and other wildlife.

“I’m delighted,” Erich Schroeder, whose back yard abuts the park, said of the move. “A lot of money, time and resident frustration could have been avoided if this had been brought to our attention over a year ago.”

The project involved restoring a creek channel that runs through the hilly park and building a holding pond near the top of the park to capture runoff from streets and nearby lawns. The creek flows about 50 days each year, mainly during spring snowmelt and heavy rains. Its banks and culverts are eroded and damaged, with exposed tree roots and leaning trees along its banks and nearby walking trail.

Slowdown ahead

Asche said the goal was to reduce phosphorus from the runoff that flushes through the creek and eventually enters Northwood Lake in New Hope about one-half mile away. The lake violates state standards for phosphorus, and Asche said the project would reduce the phosphorus going into it by about 75 pounds per year, or 25 percent of what the lake needs to start improving.

The trees had to be cut for equipment access to restore the creek channel, he said, and to allow sunlight for new landscaping.

Plymouth and the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission partnered on the project and have been working on it for the past couple of years. Citizens heard about the plan only recently and objected last week just as the commission was about to grant final approval.

After two hours of discussion, the commission approved the project design but deferred a “final-final” decision until they heard more from the city about alternatives.

“I don’t know if that was their intent, but it effectively postponed the project because of all the information the commission wanted to see,” Asche said. “That’s fine to slow it down, because once you do a project like this you can’t take it back.”

Commission Chairwoman Ginny Black said she and other commissioners are loath to cut down trees and appreciate the citizen feedback. However, the creek channel will still need significant repair even if the project does not go forward, she said, and some trees will need to be removed for safety purposes.

No easy fix

Black said the commission will look at alternatives. But she noted that no single project will fix a lake with phosphorous problems and that a combination of erosion control, stormwater holding ponds, more frequent street sweeping, rain gardens and other methods need to happen.

Black said that the commission complies with all legal requirements giving public notice about its projects but said that may not be enough anymore. The commission is discussing better ways to inform residents and businesses through social media and other means.

Whatever water improvement project emerges, the commission will fund it from property taxes and will need to give final approval before it goes to the City Council.

Asche said nearly $100,000 has been spent on the effort so far, on engineering work, design and an environmental consultant’s feasibility study.

“The problem isn’t going to go away, so if it gets postponed for a year, that’s OK,” Asche said. “We certainly don’t want to move forward with something the community doesn’t want.”