WINTER 2023 UPDATE:
With the New Year now already a month old, many of us are already starting to look forward to spring. Since our last newsletter, your Board has been working on three principal issues that impact us as abutters: 1) weed treatment, 2) public access and 3) spillway and related work. First, we apologize for giving late notice about the weed treatment late in the summer. We were ourselves informed only a few days beforehand; moreover, the treatment vendor failed to post enough swimming advisory notices, but we don’t anticipate these issues will arise again. However, on the positive side going forward into this spring, Landholding is planning a fluridone treatment in March or April 2023, likely followed by later summer as-needed spot treatments with the chemical diquat.
As for public access, Katie Cissell and Jim McGrath met with the Walpole Conservation Committee and the Chairman of Adams Farm to discuss their plan to build a trail to the second public access point on the northwest side of the pond. This trail would run from Fisher Street down to the pond and parking would be at Adams Farm. We do know they also intend to build a small pull-out on the pond side of Fisher Street for kayak drop-off, where there is presently a safety issue for those intrepid souls dragging a kayak across that often-busy Fisher Street. If the project remains on schedule, this pull-out would be built sometime in mid-2023. We have additionally spoken to both Ian Cooke, Executive Director of Neponset River (the public easement grantor in the first place) and Walpole ConCom about a few additional public use changes that would be beneficial to us such as a later start time, dogs staying on leash, and swimming (which is now prohibited for liability reasons). We are also considering installing a video surveillance “trail-cam” to document violations but have not yet made a final decision here. We also reminded the Town of the liability, policing, and cleanup/maintenance issues inherent in expanding this public access—we want them and not us to assume those efforts and all responsibilities arising from their own usage as we feel fair.
Overall, we are grateful that the Town of Walpole has included us in their meetings and have given us a chance to share our several important concerns. We welcome your comments and ideas for further mitigation of impact as this project moves forward. Again, let us all remember that any possibility of public funding for any spillway repair is practically predicated on limited public access—and a continued strong relationship with the towns is very important.
While any actual tangible spillway work by Landholding has been stalled due several reasons, a separate dam-related project is likely to commence this year. There are two old (circa 1913) discharge pipes passing thru the dam itself that need repair. Rather than replace them—very costly—your Director John Mustonen has suggested re-lining those pipes instead, and that idea has taken full traction as it should. Landholding is finalizing the submission of a grant funding request to the State (who has co-funded important engineering expenditures for us before) for this pipe repair and we are formally supporting this well-overdue repair. Assuming the funding from the Dam and Seawall Fund is granted, that would result in a 2023 installation (best case for all). More globally as to the larger and continually vexing spillway issue, we don’t yet have a formal agreement with Landholding yet about John’s proposed hinge gate solution for the dam, but remain optimistic about eventual progress that doesn’t involve work on the dike—but they have gotten, clearly, our strong though drawn-out “no” message on that point.
Another piece of news involves local politics. Due to redistricting, our State Senator will no longer be Paul Feeney. Instead he will be replaced by Mike Rush as the new terms have just begun in January. We will continue to further develop this existing relationship, as a State Senator can greatly aid us as an advocate in securing public funds for some eventual dam repair and in other areas. Paul Feeney has told us he would set up a meeting with Mike Rush to make the “hand off” go smoothly and Paul will remain open to help going forward if needed.
Lastly, we will be re-instituting our prior ‘open board meetings” policy that went into abeyance with zoom meetings and the pandemic, as well as a lot of Landholding-related strategy discussions we needed to keep under wraps. We’ll report more on open meetings later, but we intend as of now to meet in the evenings of the second Tuesday of each month, typically at 7 pm unless otherwise stated. We are all looking forward to finally resuming in-person meetings for the first time since the pandemic changed so much. (NOTE—the February meeting won’t be on the 14th—as its Valentine’s Day—more on new date soon!)
Looking forward to providing more regular newsletter updates as we move forward. Don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com with questions, concerns, and ideas!
— Jim McGrath
JUNE 2022 UPDATE:
Spring has finally arrived, summer dreams will soon begin, and it’s time to think about of Pond! The pandemic seems (we all hope!) largely behind us as we now enter the third year of the 99-year lease arrangements, and after two good seasons we come into this summer with optimism- -but also with a sense of caution as well which we will explain here.
Over the last several months, we have been focused on getting kinks that we’ve seen arise out of our system as well as attack other issues, like public access in a more structured manner. However, your Board is a bit frustrated as we seek to “backfill” on issues involving our landlord Landholding, principally but not entirely in relation to our dam/dike/spillway challenges. There are other lesser issues as well where we are not yet fully “on the same page” and we are doing our best to mend those fences without sacrificing our objectives.
It is little secret to anyone that for over a year we have been at odds with Landholding over the best structural plan to address the vexing dike/dam/spillway issue, where both sides have legitimate but opposed positions. However, we believe that there has been a recent breakthrough that may well end this effective stalemate.
Their concern is liability, which we full well know much about since we chose to not own the various real estate pieces. They want a “passive” system where a mechanical/ electronic device- -that can fail- – isn’t used. In short, they principally want to raise the dike by 18-24 inches, though this solution would still entail some amount of spillway work. They have been pushing this since August 2020.
Now, we have 15 homes (out of 85 total) on the dike along east shore. In addition to huge disruption at those 15 homes, the aesthetics there and water access issues are large negatives. And, as importantly, the plan has many other drawbacks, such as timing/ duration, aesthetics elsewhere, environmental impact (large, complex)- -and it still means spillway work. To get the real facts to compare the alternatives took time and cost money. When we discovered that the true cost of the dike solution exceeded our preferred alternative, we informed Landholding that we were outright rejecting the dike solution.
As most of you know, there has been an alternative solution that John Mustonen has been advocating for several years- -the “hinge gate solution”, which we will not detail here. Suffice it to say, it’s better on virtually every dimension-environmentally, financially, aesthetically, project duration, etc.. Nevertheless, months passed with no return calls or emails concerning our final position.
Finally, in January, John and Murray Beach got Landholding to agree to visit a simplified hinged-gate spillway on Lowell, MA. And what Landholding saw was a system that is multiply-redundant, able open easily with little training of personnel to operate. They were seemingly impressed. We asked the manufacturer whether they could build a similar design for our needs. In late March, they confirmed that it was feasible. We are optimistic we can now proceed with this plan, though as Yogi Berra says “it ain’t over till it’s over”!.
Our abutters are also concerned, as are we, about making certain weeds are treated this season. There again we are not fully aligned with Landholding, who as the owner is we believe technically empowered to make the final call regarding treatment—all of us need to recognize that fact. That said, we are hopeful we can reach a middle ground on this issue, one that involves more spot treatment than global preemptive treatment, and discussions there are ongoing. We have adopted a plan for WPCPA to monitor the pond with the help of an outside consultant so that we can communicate with Landholding effectively if a situation arises that needs prompt attention.
As for public access, our two new Board members, Fred Schwartz and Katie Cissell, have agreed to step up and lead us to better and more proactively address these issues than we have been able to devote the manpower to do so in the past. Beach issues include dealing with use violations (time of day, firepits, and trash for example though there are other types as well). We also intend to explore whether the Town will limit parking near our abutters’ home near the beach.
Secondly on this topic, and as we reported on at our recent Annual Meeting, the Town of Walpole presently intends to make marginal improvements to the second public access point on the northwest side of the Pond. Specifically, they intend to build a kayak drop off point off Fisher Street on the Pond side. As a practical matter, we see this more as a safety issue than anything else as it’s still a long trek to use that access point with parking even further away at Adams Farm, and at present we are largely unconcerned with it in creating much if any extra use that detracts from our own enjoyment of the Pond. That said, we are working with the Town to make certain they are aware of their liability and policing issues, among other matters.
While there are a host of other matters we are involved with, the “Big Three” remain Landholding/the spillway solution, weeds, and public access. Prior newsletters as shown below offer some insight into those continuing efforts.
Let’s hope for a great summer here on the Pond!
— Jim McGrath
OCTOBER 2021 UPDATE:
We are just concluding another quite successful year on Willet Pond. With the pandemic continuing, it’s been a busy year of Pond use, and we all have been lucky to be in this relatively protected and safe setting during these strange unsettling times.
Your Board continues to work on a multitude of outstanding issues, some of which are small while others are larger; some affect current use while others are more long term in nature. In each case, we are doing our best and spending the many necessary hours to best address these issues and maintain and improve our collective property values. Below and in no order of importance is a recap of the principal issues we are currently addressing.
First, we did treat a small weed outbreak in the late spring. In July, the usual 2021 summer weather conditions created serious algae outbreaks in a number of Massachusetts ponds, in some cases forcing their temporary closure. We tested our water here on the Pond and issued several use advisories; though there were indeed certain areas of concern, the tested concentrations fell below levels which would have led to further actions or outright restrictions. And while we did see the regrowth of a relatively small number of weeds later in the season, we felt the situation didn’t rise to the level of necessitating further treatment, though there was much debate on this issue and a protracted discussion with our landlord Neponset River Landholding (“Landholding”) over our differences of opinion.
Second, we had over a dozen requests for landscaping changes on the Landholding “landstrips” and we worked diligently with both Landholding and the Walpole and Westwood Conservation Commissions to get as many of the requested changes approved as we could and which we felt warranted under our rules. In a way, this was the “year of the homeowner” with people staying at home and highly focused on improving their both homes and their landscaping, and there are some attractive upgrades now visible around our shores.
On this subject, we did have a couple of violations where unpermitted work was done, and we took action to rectify this unpermitted work. Fortunately the vast majority of our abutters know well that it’s a mistake to believe “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness later than permission in advance” and we are hopeful we won’t run into similar situations in the near future. We are here to help you get approval in advance to reasonable requests- use us! We are here.
Third, over the last several years we have encountered issues with home sales where sellers have failed to disclose both landscaping regulations and the lease fee payments due following the sale. We have taken action to remedy this going forward by reminding our selling abutters of their lease disclosure requirements. In fact, our website now has a new section “New Owner Information” that hopefully will serve as better communication from all of us to new buyers and rectify these issues once and for all so there are no for our new homeowner neighbors. Stay tuned for more on this subject in the near future. Of interest to all of us, there were about half a dozen homes sold last year, seemingly at strong property values—and that matters to all of us!
Fourth, we continue to work with Landholding and other parties, including regulators and politicians, to address the issue of our deficient spillway. At present we are still engaged in negotiations with Landholding on these long-term critically important issues though we have different opinions as to the best structural design to remedy the spillway deficiency. This is not been easy or simple and thus much remains unresolved at present. We will of course keep you posted as developments occur.
Fifth, the limited public access that is allowed at two access points continues to be of concern, though we do not believe it’s a large issue because the use is passive (ie, only canoes and the like) and the volume of use is fairly small with limited parking. The beach by Fish & Game seemed somewhat busy this year but no more so than in 2020. We continue to work on the as-yet largely unaddressed issue of policing these activities to minimize its impact on our abutters, and we feel that others should be shouldering this responsibility and are taking that position.
As always, we welcome any ideas or insights you have on all these issues.
— Jim McGrath
JANUARY 2021 UPDATE:
We hope that all is well with you and your family in these most uncertain times of a global pandemic, now raging for nearly a year. And a world in political turmoil, with a most difficult economic situation to boot. Against this gloomy backdrop, perhaps the one silver lining to all this which we share is that in so many ways we are very fortunate to live on Willett Pond, a truly special place. We are all spending so much more time at home than before, and our area is a special one to be in, replete with a natural setting and a great deal of open space. Americans are reportedly doing more work than ever before on their home projects, and we’ve certainly found that to be the case here on the Pond. In fact, we have had well over a dozen requests for various kinds of landscape projects, at least double our annual averages. As a consequence and despite the pandemic affecting all of us, your Board of Directors has had a quite busy last several months, though it’s been over 6 months since our last Annual Meeting that we held via Zoom with over 30 homes attending.
We can all look forward to spring and, with it, hope of the vaccine. For now, lets keep those positive thoughts going, and lets look forward to thinking about our gardens of spring, being out on the water, or just enjoying our families in this special place we collectively call our home.
As you know, most of 2019 and 2020 was consumed with restructuring the ownership of the Pond and putting together a long-term lease to give us far greater control of our own future for the next 200 years! With that critically important step behind us, we have been diligently working to put in place the processes and systems needed to fulfill our own expanded role in the Pond’s oversight and management.
After WPCPA signed its so-called “master lease” with Landholding, we directly entered into subleases with each individual abutter. Under this new arrangement, instead of abutters paying fees to Landholding for short-term revocable licenses, abutters now have long-term lease rights and make their payments directly to WPCPA, and WPCPA is responsible for revenue collection, along with other management tasks, including dock and landscaping alteration requests.
Although this may seem minor on the surface, it’s not at all—it’s required us to develop “back office systems”, policies, and procedures which have been extremely time intensive; as but one example, Steve O’Neill and Rick Sonnenberg (both Directors) have substantially rebuilt our database, adding invoice capability and improved email communication capability. They are virtually finished with this now, and we owe them our collective gratitude on this 200 hour volunteer task.
In the past, applications to modify landscaping or install or modify docks were solely determined by Landholding/NEPRWA. Today, that process is quite different as herein outlined.
In order to initiate the application and approval process, the first step is to email or write to either (a) firstname.lastname@example.org or, better yet, (b) directly to Jim McGrath at email@example.com and/or John Mustonen at firstname.lastname@example.org who handles the approval requests for WPCPA. Jim or John will respond to your requests, discuss them with you directly and, to the extent needed, will engage our consultant Tom Palmer, who now works for WPCPA instead of NEPRWA, to review the requests and/or conduct site visits. Although WPCPA is not responsible for your application, Jim or John will make themselves available to guide you through the approval process, and they will provide you with information as to what is or isn’t likely to be approved under the guidelines contained in the lease, so that your application can be expeditiously processed. Please note that as part of the approval process, each homeowner will ALSO need approval from Landholding (the property’s owner), and in many instances additional approval from the ConCom in your respective town. Again, Jim and John are available to meet with you and help guide you through the various approval processes.
Finally, because we all benefit from avoiding problems arising from unpermitted dock and landscaping projects, WPCPA’s assistance to abutters will include paying for initial work performed by Tom Palmer to assist in this process (up to a couple hours of Tom’s time). After that initial work, abutters will bear their own costs, either for Tom, or for other consultants, if necessary for this process.
New Homeowner Materials
We have recently prepared packages of “new homeowner” written introductions to Willett Pond, including all rules and regulations and materials regarding landscaping ideas. All these new documents are now being uploaded to our website in the “Important Documents” section, or Jim McGrath at email@example.com can directly provide them to you if you’d prefer. If you are selling your home, this supporting document package should prove helpful to you in helping sell the Pond’s benefits and maximizing home values in a sale. Please let us know how we can help here!
Dam and Dike Update
Landholding, with its engineer Fuss & O’Neill, is working with the state Office of Dam Safety (“ODS”) to investigate various options to bring the dam/spillway into compliance with current statutory requirements under a cost co-sharing grant from the Commonwealth. We consider this engineering and entire project critical to all of us and will keep you updated as we get more information. We have been informed that at the request of ODS, their recent work included consideration of possible “passive” solutions which would protect the dam without requiring human intervention and which could potentially reduce costs. One such potential solution would require increasing the Pond’s flood water storage capacity by a modest increase in the height of the dike, thereby avoiding the need to increase the size of the spillway and avoiding impact on the existing Bullard Street bridge. We will continue to closely monitor the status of this issue and will report back to all abutters as more information becomes available.
We have just re-engaged a weed control firm to continue controlling the significant weed problem that developed in 2018. We believe this has and will continue to enhance our collective property values and enjoyment of the Pond. We still have a few “hotspots”, notably Pettee’s Pond, although our new vendor recently performed additional weed treatments throughout both Willett and Pettee’s Ponds. If you see a “hotspot”, please let us know.
Watershed District Update
Last year, we discussed the idea of forming a “Watershed District” which would essentially turn our organization into a “mini-governmental” entity which would collect fees in the form of taxes, rather than by current procedures, and which would guarantee 100% financial participation by abutters. There are a number of important tradeoffs in this choice, and if your Board does elect to advance this idea, it will be up to the abutters – not the Board – to vote on this. Our work over the last two years with our legislators, especially State Senator Paul Feeney, has been important as we have paved the legislative way forward on this front if we elect to go that way. However, this decision must not be taken lightly, and we believe it requires careful thought by all of us as you, our abutters, will make this important long-term decision. Accordingly, we believe that due to the Covid-19 pandemic preventing in-person meetings and full discussion, we should postpone this issue until at least late 2021.
As you can see, much has been happening at Willett Pond – mostly “behind the scenes” – as a result of the significant and highly positive structural changes of 2019 and 2020. These new responsibilities, systems and procedures, database creation, and new updated material will help us structure and improve our work going forward. As a side note, your Board continues to meet at least monthly, and sometimes every week, but obviously now by telephone or video conference. We intend to resume our “Open Board meeting” policy when this pandemic allows in-person meetings.
We would like to leave you with one important observation apparent to all. This pandemic, as awful as it is, has led us all to recognize how fortunate and lucky we are to live on this truly special Pond. With so many of us spending so much time in our homes, we have the true privilege of being in a very special place. Be well, stay safe, and in these trying times please know that we are here to answer any questions you may have.
— JIM MCGRATH
SEPTEMBER 2019 UPDATE:
2019 will likely go down as the most important year of accomplishment in the history of the Pond. We have successfully negotiated, paid for, and closed a 99-year renewable lease that ensures our continued usage rights and a lot more. This lease was a true community effort, supported by an astounding nearly 80 homes (of the roughly 90 total). Years in the making, we finally have a long -term solution to maintain and enhance our property values while eliminating the existing value and use right uncertainties which were adversely affecting our Pond real estate values over the last year or so. At the same time, this long-term lease solution gives us greater control over our own long- term destiny, especially in the face of possible impending legislation to repair our spillway. Critically, this solution insulates the abutters from the huge potential risks of owning an unfixed dam and spillway ourselves. We truly stand at the dawn of a new day, and we especially want to thank Jeremy Ritzenberg, one of our Directors, who led this difficult and arduous process!
THE ROAD AHEAD – NEXT STEPS
While the critical lease work is now behind us with the support of an overwhelming majority of our abutters, much other work still lies ahead. As well, the future still holds some legislative uncertainty. We will be contacting and communicating with our abutters more on all these points in much more detail directly via email as we progress on these fronts.
First, we must “wrap up” the loose ends in implementing the Subleases to our Member abutters. We are collecting signed signature pages, as well as any late payments, and are upgrading our internal database, communications system, and record-collection system to better fulfill our expanded role. Second, we will require removal of any docks or structures on the Pond from that small number of abutters who chose to NOT sign the lease as they no longer have any Pond use rights or use of the “landstrips” in front of their homes. Third, we will soon be formally meeting with the new Directors of Landholding to begin sorting out the details of our new working relationship. Fourth, we will be looking more closely at our own actual form of organization as it may be advantageous to move from our current 501-3-C tax exempt status to one more closely resembling a Homeowners Association; and if we do adopt organizational changes we will need to conform the individual Subleases to reflect such changes, if any. Fifth and relatedly, we will begin to more closely examine whether a Watershed District might offer a better form of long-term Pond governance. Sixth, on September 16 we will be re-treating weeds as part of our weed eradication contract and we will be notifying our abutters directly on this in more detail.
At the same time, we continue to work with our legislators as they seek to obtain State funding to repair our spillway. We just don’t know how—or when—the legislation to fix the spillway will unfold. But what we do know is that we have developed, with great help from all our abutters, a good working relationship with the legislators and government officials who will largely determine this outcome. We will continue to meet with them throughout the fall and communicate updates as news unfolds on this important legislative front.
2019 will definitely go down as a year of major accomplishment, and we believe we now have locked in place solid and sustainable long term usage rights that will ensure strong and stable property values well into the future. Over the next year, we will work through the details discussed above, and we hope that as we do so that we will further enhance these property values. We are indeed fortunate to enjoy the strong and active support of nearly all of our abutter homeowners. This solid community effort is, after all, the foundation that makes Willett Pond the truly unique and special place that it is.
— JIM MCGRATH