July 25, 2008

Bridge, Dam Needed for Wepawaug at Eisenhower Park

By James Tinley, New Haven Register, Conn.

Jul. 25--MILFORD -- City officials have identified building a bridge and dam to span the Wepawaug River as the top priorities when it comes to putting the $348,000 of federal funds allocated for Eisenhower Park improvements to use.

The dam will help control the flow and course of the river, which no longer conforms to its banks, creating flooding and erosion. A makeshift dam made of large cement blocks is the only thing currently controlling the river.

Plans call for the dam to also act as a bridge to replace the existing footbridge that has been plagued by erosion.

"There is no good, functional, safe way to cross the waterway now," said Mark Lofthouse, chairman of the Eisenhower Park Study Commission.

The waterway was first breached in the mid-1980s and never really conformed to its banks since, Lofthouse said.

"Now there's nothing to impede the river, it goes down there like (a) shotgun and rips everything in its path," he said.

The overflowing river has caused trees to fall and threatens to turn a large area of land into a swamp, said Recreation Director William McCarthy.

McCarthy said fixing the dam to control the river is the "first most important step to fix Eisenhower Park's most important flaw."

Addressing environmental issues -- including controlling the course of the river -- is the first part of a three-phase plan for Eisenhower Park. The second phase includes improving existing park aspects and the third includes future land management plans.

Eisenhower Park consists of more than 200 acres, straddling a mile-long stretch of the Wepawaug River. The federal funds will help with the dredging and restoration of a pond, restoring trails and fixing a bridge. The entire project is estimated to cost $1.5 million.

Daniel Worroll Jr., chairman of the Park, Beach and Recreation Commission, said the project to replace the footbridge and dam still needs approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the city Inland Wetlands Agency.

"The money is in, and we have to make sure we abide by the rules and regulations for that money," Worroll said.

Lofthouse urged city officials to take action quickly to move the project along so that the $348,000 of federal funds is not lost.

McCarthy said there is a Dec. 31 deadline to meet benchmarks that include submission of final plans and permits to keep the funds from going back to the federal government.

"This is where the rubber meets the road and hopefully we'll start to hear those tires squealing soon," Lofthouse said.


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