City plans to dredge duck ponds

Milford’s duck ponds are iconic features of the downtown area. But in past years, the ponds have grown a bit less attractive as material has built up on the bottom, nearly filling them in at some points.

“The ducks have been walking on the water, like Jesus,” Mayor Ben Blake said at this month’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting.

The city plans to start dredging the ponds at the end of the month, something that hasn’t been done in about 40 years.

There are several reasons why it’s vital to dredge the three city duck ponds — the one on North Street, the City Hall pond and the pond behind Stonebridge Restaurant.

There is a safety component: A wall at one pond is deteriorating because of the build-up, the mayor said.

More important, it’s cheaper to dredge the ponds than to dredge the harbor, which is where the silt and debris flows along the Wepawaug River, Blake said. Dredging the ponds is a “preventive” measure in keeping the harbor from filling in so quickly.

And then there is the aesthetics.

“Those ponds are the gems of the downtown area,” Blake said. “People associate Milford with those ponds.”

Frank Matthews of Founders Way spoke at this month’s aldermen’s meeting. He said the “jewels of the city” now look like “the cesspools of the city” and are breeding grounds for West Nile virus and more. He strongly supported the idea of dredging them.

But he urged caution, saying it makes sense to start with the North Street pond and then move onto the City Hall pond and finally the one behind Stonebridge.

Silt and other material will flow back toward the harbor if the North Street pond is the last one done, he said.

Public Works Director Chris Saley said he planned to start with the Stonebridge and City Hall ponds because they might have small amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that will require a more costly disposal process. Preliminary tests show that they have PCBs measuring less than one part per million, which the city could store and then cap on city property. But if the material comes in at higher levels, it will be more costly to dispose of.

“There is a potential for that,” Saley said.

Since the city has bonded $2 million for the work, Saley wanted to start with those ponds in case costs increased and there wasn’t enough to do the third pond, the North Street pond, which didn’t test positive for PCBs.

Saley also said the process that will be used will prevent material from floating down river during dredging. Millennium Builders has been awarded the contract and has experience managing the displacement of sediment, he said.

However, based on the directive of one of the aldermen, Saley said this week he will start with the North Street pond, but cautioned that the costs may go beyond $2 million.

The ponds, which in some areas look to have a depth of just a couple of inches, will be taken to a six- to eight-foot depth, according to Saley. The depth will be gradual, he said.

The process will involve removing 500 cubic yards at a time and allowing that material to “de-water” at the pond site. That means the water in the material will be allowed to seep back into the pond. Then the material will be taken to property that the city plans to buy on Oronoque Road.

Milford’s Board of Aldermen voted last week to buy 10 acres of land next to the city transfer station to store the material. The 15,000 cubic yards of material that are expected to be dredged from the three ponds will require an area 300 feet by 100 feet for storage, Saley said.

Original plans also called for dredging the pond at Eisenhower Park, which was once a swimming pond and part of a camp at the park. The mayor said the city would still like to dredge that pond but assumes there will not be enough money. He also said there are no current plans to make the pond a swimming hole as it was in the 1970s, but he added that it could be considered sometime in the future.