Wellesley’s Natural Resources Commission is looking to replace a 15-year-old weed harvester it uses to clean up Morses Pond and other bodies of water around town, and it looks like funds for the $315K purchase could be within reach despite the town’s overall financial crunch.
Natural Resources Commission Director Brandon Schmitt made his pitch at the Dec. 9 Community Preservation Committee meeting (start at about the 4o-minute mark of the Wellesley Media recording), explaining that while the current harvester made it through this year, it wasn’t without the corroding machine going out of service a couple of times. “It is at the end of its useful life,” he said, noting that a smaller harvester, plus spare parts, have enabled the town to muddle along in recent recent years.
“The fear is that without a functioning, reliable harvester the pond will still exist, but we are not able to offer the enhanced recreational passive and environmental space quality that people want, enjoy, and expect,” Schmitt explained, citing fishing, swimming, and boating among those uses.
If you’ve ever gone swimming at Morses Pond and seen the giant mechanical contraption floating by, it can give you a fright. But the weeds lurking beneath or above the surface are even scarier.
The NRC has had a request for a new harvester in its capital budget for five years, and has been asked by the town’s finance department to explore other options. So that’s why Schmitt made his pitch to the Community Preservation Committee, which gets funding through a 1% surcharge on local property taxes and state matching. Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds typically support open space, historic resources, and community housing needs.
Without funding for the harvester, Schmitt warns that we are “then looking at a vulnerable situation…” As NRC Board Chair Raina McManus added, climate change and warmer winters have only exacerbated the growth of invasive species within Morses Pond.
Such sentiments are being aired by Morses Pond neighbors and patrons, too. They are simultaneously circulating an online petition to encourage the town to invest in a harvester to preserve what they call “a jewel at the heart of Wellesley’s natural resources.”
The last time the town invested in a big harvester was via CPA funds at the 2006 annual Town Meeting. If the CPC okays funding this time around, the process would again involve Town Meeting approval in the spring. Because the harvester was part of a preliminary discussion on the Dec. 9 CPC meeting agenda, the committee was unable to take a vote. They likely will do so in January.
Harvesters like the one Wellesley is eyeing are not off-the-shelf products, so if the purchase does get approval, it could be several months before the machine is delivered. The NRC and CPC may coordinate a plan to try to get the machine’s custom plans in the works so that if approved by Town Meeting, the town can get the harvester in time to help with pond cleanup next summer.
Schmitt emphasized that even if approval for the harvester goes through, getting the machine “is certainly not a cure-all, and we continue to stress the importance of reducing, or better yet, eliminating the use of fertilizers on lawns and other watershed protection measures to avoid pond Eutrophication.” The town offers more information about ways to preserve Morses Pond.