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NAHANT — The Planning Board and Board of Selectmen held a joint meeting on Wednesday to discuss using the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do an aquatic-ecosystem study on the town’s Bear Pond, which used to be the home of the endangered American eel.
Planning Board Chair Daniel Berman said that the board has been thinking about taking advantage of this opportunity for a while.
“(The Army Corps) have an excellent reputation for the quality and comprehensiveness of their work and it wouldn’t cost us anything, because there is an unusual grant opportunity under their rules for aquatic-ecosystem-restoration projects,” he said.
To qualify for the study, there must be an aquatic ecosystem present that has been altered by “man’s hands” in the community; the ecosystem has to have been the home of an endangered species and if restored, could host that endangered species again.
Nahant falls into these requirements with its “spring-fed ecosystem” at Bear Pond, located on Kelley Greens Golf Course on Willow Road, which used to be the home of the endangered American eel.
“They would study the area, look and see what was done and what the situation is now and they could design a home for the American eel in Bear Pond while mitigating flooding, protecting residents and providing an aesthetically pleasing and healthy recreation area for the town,” Berman added.
According to Berman, the Army Corps engineers would provide $100,000, which is highly likely to be sufficient funding.
“It would be free money,” he said. “It would be quality work and it would let us have an opportunity to see whether it would be feasible to restore Bear Pond to an aesthetically pleasing aquatic ecosystem rather than the kind of cesspool that it is now.”
The town is currently dealing with daily drainage issues as well as flood prevention and recovery in the lowlands.
While Kristin Kent, chair of the Conservation Commission, was excited by the possibility of this grant, she did note that it could take three years for the flooding to be resolved. Planning Board member Shannon Bianchi described the study as a long-term project and said it could take even longer.
Kent also mentioned that the Army Corps may have better programs to better suit Nahant’s needs.
“The selectmen need to decide if we are willing to wait to get down the road and see if it works out for us or if we want to start taking some actions now that won’t necessarily be supportive of habitat restoration,” said Kent.
Berman said the town could even try to get more than one grant if possible.
Board of Selectmen member Mark Cullinan said he is interested in applying for the grants but he doesn’t want to interrupt work that Town Meeting has already approved. Chair Josh Antrim agreed.
“We cannot slow that down,” Antrim said. “The town voted to proceed with that and we cannot interrupt that progress.”
“I like the idea of bringing the Army Corps in, and working in consultation with the engineer that we have been working with, funded through last year’s Town Meeting vote, but I would do it in a way that is not that specific program,” said Town Administrator Antonio Barletta. “I just don’t see how that specific program wouldn’t contradict with the efforts that the town has been making.”
Barletta stated that the fact that Bear Pond is landlocked could be an issue. Kent added that she was concerned that restoring the habitat and fixing flooding issues could be conflicting issues.
The meeting concluded with Barletta saying he would draft letters for two separate programs provided by the Army Corps.