Sharps Pond saved? Fulton halts dam demo

The Sharps Pond dam, seen above, was slated for demolition but Fulton Mayor Deana Michaels in a late Friday news dump announced she had reversed the city’s course and will now undertake “further investigation and review.”

FULTON — The more than 100-year-old Sharps Pond Dam, which was slated for demolition, could see its life extended after city officials called for a stop to the impending removal of the dam.

Sharps Pond, a longtime recreational area on the eastern outskirts of the city, had been inching closer to demolition. City councilors in June approved an environmental review of the project required to move forward with the dam removal. Fulton Mayor Deana Michaels, however, issued a late-night statement Friday halting all work at the dam “until further investigation and review” following a small group of concerned residents’ objections to the dam’s removal.

“I too am frustrated that so much has been taken away from us,” Michaels said. “We have started and will continue to bring opportunities back. As we move forward, I will continue to listen to and learn from the community to make this a place people are proud to call home.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) flagged the Sharps Pond Dam as in need of repair as far back as 2007, but the cash-strapped city never made the necessary repairs. DEC regulators said the city had two options — reconstruct the dam and perform annual maintenance, or decommission it to restore the natural creek.

The Fulton Common Council on June 2 narrowly approved a state environmental quality review for the dam removal project that declared the decommissioning of the structure, which would eliminate an existing pond and revert it back to Waterhouse Creek, would result in no major environmental impact or damage. The vote came three years after a state inspection noted Sharps Pond Dam demonstrated “a serious and concerning lack of maintenance and deterioration.”

The six-member Fulton council split the June vote to move the decommissioning project forward, forcing Michaels to cast the tie-breaking vote. Her affirmative vote at the time moved the project forward.

The future of the dam was debated throughout several city meetings and a public hearing last year, with many residents passionately pleading with councilors to save the pond and others objecting to the cost of repairing the dam. City officials in recent years repeatedly said replacing the dam would be too costly, and despite objections from some residents voted to move forward with the removal.

The city’s reversal comes after a handful of residents and a trio of councilors objected to the removal of the dam and the loss of a historic Fulton landmark that served as a recreation area for generations of city residents. Michaels earlier this month agreed to meet with several residents who at the July council meeting voiced their concerns about the demolition plans.

Dave Halstead, a longtime Fulton resident who lives near the pond, has been a vocal opponent of demolishing the dam, calling on the city to preserve the pond. Halstead maintains the area could be restored with little to no cost to the city by convening a citizen-led committee and utilizing grant opportunities and donations.

“I see this as a beautiful park for everyone in the city,” Halstead said. “The kids have nothing to do in this town. They have to pay for everything they do and a lot of kids can’t pay.”

Michaels last week said she planned to meet with the DEC, which oversees the maintenance and efficacy of such dams, and noted the city has included Sharps Pond in a federal Environmental Protection Agency grant application.

Michaels said the city is also exploring the possibility of a Sharps Pond Planning and Development Committee, which several residents have called for over the last month.

City officials say the dam was originally constructed to create a reservoir from Waterhouse Creek, which flowed through the area. Sharps Pond was first used to provide ice prior to household refrigeration becoming common, and the area was later used as a recreation area for swimming and fishing that locals called Rowlee Beach.

Supporters of the pond say even if the area can’t be used for swimming, there are fishing opportunities. Halstead said the addition of a pavilion and some picnic tables could create a quality recreation area.

“I foresee something gorgeous here,” Halstead said during a recent visit to the pond, “an attraction.”

Halstead told councilors in early July there is a group of citizens interested in forming a reclamation committee, much like the one formed to address Lake Neatahwanta, to undertake a Sharps Pond revitalization project.

Michaels’ announcement to put the project on hold came after meeting with Halstead and others.

Councilor Tom Kenyon, C-1st Ward — who joined councilors John Kenyon, C-4th Ward, and Audrey Avery, R-5th Ward, in opposing the dam’s removal in June — previously argued moving forward with the project was not urgent and the matter required further consideration. In addition to wanting to save the recreation area, Kenyon noted there were nearby residents concerned that draining the pond could lead to groundwater issues and dried up wells.

The First Ward councilor in recent months repeatedly expressed a desire to see the dam and pond preserved, and lent support to the residents fighting to see the project halted.

Councilor John Kenyon also supported calls to save the pond, which he described as “a big part” of his life growing up.

“We don’t have to tear down everything,” John Kenyon said. “We can keep a little bit of history, and I think it would be a good thing if we could bring that back to life.”

City officials last year said the dam would need to be fully reconstructed to remain in place and, if the dam were rebuilt, a management plan would require approval from state and federal agencies.

Former Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. said the city intended to fix the dam years ago, but the project stalled as the city struggled to come up with funding. He said the city had “a lot more important” issues to address and the dam wasn’t a top priority.

Councilors in a May 2019 meeting tentatively agreed to conduct an engineering study to determine the cost of bringing the Sharps Pond Dam into compliance, but there’s no record of such a study.

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