PORTLAND — Capisic Pond Park, no stranger to controversy, goes under the spotlight again when city officials and park neighbors gather Wednesday night to discuss the park’s future.
The meeting, to be held in the Deering High School cafeteria at 7 p.m. and led by City Councilor Ed Suslovic and officials from the Department of Public Services, will focus on the pond itself.
Officials and neighbors alike are hoping to come to a conclusion about whether to restore the pond to the way it was half a century ago, or to continue to allow the pond, slowly filling with silt, to march on toward marshland.
The largest freshwater pond in the city, Capisic Pond is an important habitat for wading birds and some other water fowl, but was once also home to a much wider array of mammals and amphibians, said Andy Graham, who has lived at the edge of the park on Macy Street since 1979.
“The amount of open water has diminished by at least half, if not more,” Graham said. Cattails have come to dominate the plant life in the area.
“First the turtles died, then the frogs died, then the pond got too shallow for ducks to dive, the muskrats died, otters stopped coming,” Graham said. “We’ve seen a lot of changes in the way the park was used and the way the park has declined in quality.”
Human uses of the park have been limited, too, as polluted water ruled out the pond as a swimming hole and the shrinking surface became unsuitable for winter ice skating.
Some neighbors hope that the pond will be opened up again, cleared of the reeds and restored to mostly open water.
“The Friends of Capisic Pond Park have been advocating that it be dredged since the ’90s,” said Graham, who heads the neighborhood group.
The discussion is not an entirely fresh one. At one point, the city had even put aside money to dredge the pond, but the work was never done, Graham said.
But others argue that the pond’s current status as a wetland habitat is equally valuable, and fragile.
“Whenever the city does major capital improvements” to the park, as it did while replacing a sewer line that runs through it in 2010, “we must work carefully to avoid adverse effects on the wildlife,” DPS Director Michael Bobinsky said.
City and federal officials will present the results of a sediment analysis carried out in 2011 to see whether dredging is a viable option, plus options to treat and improve water quality as it runs into the pond from the Rockland Outfall – “all of which are subject to engineering, permits, and funding,” Bobinsky said.
For Graham and other invested neighbors, making any progress on the pond’s restoration is key.
“We have a lot of reports,” he said. “We don’t want to buy into a process that simply creates another report.”
Even the simplest measures would be steps in the right direction. “Perhaps what we need isn’t a solution, it’s a maintenance schedule,” with draining and dredging of the pond planned for every few decades, he said.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who will moderate Wednesday’s meeting, said he thinks a compromise can be reached to balance the community’s desire for more open water in the pond and improving and diversifying the wildlife habitat of the park. The discussion, he said he hopes, will produce a clear consensus and and time line to move forward.
The city has not yet set aside funding for any work on the pond, Bobinsky said. The outcome of the meeting will inform DPS’ budgetary considerations for 2012-2013, he said.
Capisic Park in May 1969.
Capisic Pond in March 2011.