Funds to fix `swamp' in plan

Panel proposes spending $240,000 for Pushcart Pond

February 01, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Supporters of restoring Pushcart Pond have won a tentative victory with a $240,000 addition to the Columbia Council proposed budget.

In a straw vote at an all-day budget work session Saturday, eight of 10 council members approved adding the funds, which would be used to reconstruct the drained pond in Oakland Mills that residents say has become a "muddy swamp."

Two council members -- Jean S. Friedberg Jr. of Hickory Ridge and Vince Marando of Wilde Lake -- abstained from the vote.

Over the past week, the council has twice heard testimony from a small but devoted group of Pushcart Pond supporters, who maintain that the Columbia Association has failed to follow through on a 2-year-old promise to restore it.

"Pushcart Pond unreconstructed is a promise unkept," David Hatch, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board, told the council at a public hearing on the budget last week.

The restoration project, which has included draining the 1-acre pond off Pushcart Way in the Stevens Forest neighborhood, began several years ago. The council approved $120,000 for the job in fiscal year 1999 after the main spillway section showed signs of failure in 1997.

But, in part because of state regulations that required the association to perform unforeseen work, that estimate turned out to be one-third of the actual cost. When the funds needed to finish were left out of the coming fiscal year's proposed budget, some village residents launched a campaign to ask the council to reconsider.

"This is very, very important to the village of Oakland Mills," said Earl Jones, the village's council representative.

Over 100 signatures

Connie Renner of Gales Lane, which is near the pond, told council representatives last week that she had collected more than 100 signatures over five days from residents who wanted the pond returned to "its original beauty." She said a snapping turtle lays its eggs in her yard every year and the process is "sort of like watching a National Geographic special."

Jervis Dorton, who also lives on Gales Lane, said the pond had become an unsightly "puddle" that, left as it is, would mean a loss of wildlife and a "major part of our open space."

Dorton questioned the credibility of the Columbia Association, which he said had promised residents that the work would be done. His testimony drew applause from the crowd.

The council's vote to include the funds for Pushcart Pond is nonbinding. The association's final spending package, totaling about $50 million, is expected to be approved Feb 23.

Also at Saturday's work session, the council voted to include $50,000 in the proposed fiscal 2001 budget for a comprehensive study of ponds Columbia-wide, which would be conducted by the association's open space management division.

More than 20 ponds

In addition to its three lakes, Columbia has more than 20 ponds.

Chick Rhodehamel, director of open space, said the study would help determine what future work would need to be done to keep the ponds healthy.

Asked whether other ponds might require funds for restorations similar to the one at Pushcart, he told the council, "Undoubtedly, yes."

Rhodehamel said some ponds may qualify for county or state funds based on criteria that include size, age and the portion serving public areas.

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