Portland lacks full funding for Capisic Pond restoration

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PORTLAND — The main focus of a public meeting Monday night at Deering High School, ostensibly to update residents on plans to improve Capisic Pond Park and gather more input for the next phase of planning, became how, if and when the improvements will be funded.

The city and its consultants are trying to come up with a solution that balances the need to protect the pond as a wildlife habitat with public desire for more open water.

The pond is choked with cattails and is slowly being filled with silt. While it encompassed more than six acres of open water in the 1950s, the pond now includes only about two acres.

Current plans, discussed last October, call for dredging the pond to an average depth of three feet, creating four acres of open water. In addition, filters and a retention pond would be installed at a storm-water outfall near Rockland Avenue, to prevent pollutants from entering the pond.

But residents at Monday’s meeting were disappointed to find that while $315,000 has been proposed in the city’s fiscal-year 2014 budget to fund the storm-water improvements, the rest of the work may have to wait.

While the storm-water improvements would be funded by the sewer fees city residents pay, the other parts of the project require capital funding – and face stiff competition.

The Department of Public Services had submitted rough, “placeholder” requests totaling $2 million in the city’s capital budget for the dredging and park landscaping. But the requests didn’t score high enough on the city’s ranking of capital budget requests to make them a priority, Ian Houseal, assistant to City Manager Mark Rees, told residents.

The city considers capital improvement projects on a rolling basis, with about $200 million in requests covering projects over five years, Houseal said. Projects scored as “priorities” total about $150 million, and of those, about $15 million will be funded in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

“It’s disappointing,” Macy Street resident Andy Graham said. “As a group, we felt that restoration of the pond had a higher priority than (the storm-water improvements). The priority is solving the problem of this pond becoming  a meadow.”

The pond restoration could be funded when the city considers fiscal-year 2015 capital requests next winter. To improve chances of that funding, residents suggested that plans for the park restoration should first be completed.

The DPS has budgeted to finish about 80 percent of the planning before the end of the end of the current fiscal year. It usually doesn’t make sense to complete all the planning before financing is secured, because permits and approvals may expire before funds are obtained, consultant Zach Henderson said.

But City Councilor Ed Suslovic asked how much more funding would be required to create a plan for the park that would increase its chances of capital funding.

“When we have a completed plan, with construction documents and hard numbers, that’s going to give us more points in the competition (for next year’s capital funds),” he said.

There’s also a chance that the pond dredging and landscaping work may be eligible for future storm-water funding, he noted, because “at least part of the pond restoration is a storm-water project.”

“I feel we can make a good case for that,” he said.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

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Capisic Pond in 2011, showing the growth of cattails.