Why 'fix' Ashley Pond

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Recently, I have received questions from members of the public regarding an upcoming project to make improvements at Ashley Pond Park.
This is a project that has been in the county’s capital improvement program for more than two years, however, with so many projects going on inside the county, it’s easy to understand that some residents may not have heard about all of the various aspects of the project, or why it is so desperately needed. I’d like to try and explain the project and elaborate a bit on how we got to where we are today.
If you’ve been to Ashley Pond lately, you’ve probably noticed the serious issues with water quality that have emerged. The pond is in the early stages of eutrophication, which stated simply means that the pond is dying due to lack of oxygen.
There were likely many contributing factors, including overabundant fish population, inadequate recirculation of water, and pollutants conveyed by the collection of storm water runoff. Regardless of the cause, the only way to fix the problem at this point is to drain, dredge and rebuild the pond.
The project will address other issues, too, so that everyone can enjoy the pond. Construction activities will include installing a new bulkhead, new sidewalks, making water quality and storm water/drainage improvements, ADA access improvements, new contouring of the Pond with wetlands, boardwalks, and a waterfall feature on the west side. I believe that these are all needed improvements, and the Council concurred in May when they funded the project for $2.2 million.
The discussion regarding these renovations began in March 2010, was refined over time and updated and presented to the public in two meetings in January and February of this year. It was considered by the CIP Evaluation and Oversight Committee in March, by the council during budget hearings in May, and is now in the final design stage.
Recently, comments have focused on the location of the stage in the southeast corner of the park. Others question making any changes to the pond at all--beyond draining and dredging it to address the water quality.
There are many opinions on one project.
Was there room for improvement in how we conducted public participation at every step of this project? Yes, and we are actively seeking new methods and options for the public to weigh in with their opinions, hopefully as early as possible in the process. Prior to the new CIP process adopted by council in 2008, the public did have the option to actively participate in giving staff feedback at the 30 percent, 60 percent and 90 percent design stage.
When the process was re-designed, greater emphasis was placed on the Conceptual Design stage. That’s the point when it is easiest for citizens to be actively involved — before there is any final project scope of work, approved budget or schedule under contract.
Moving public participation efforts to occur earlier in the process also means less likelihood that changes come to the county during the Design stage, resulting in significant re-work (and increased costs), and negating previous participation from other members of the public when the project was created.
Avoiding more analysis and rework seems to align with other comments I’ve heard since arriving in Los Alamos--that residents don’t want us to study, and re-study, the same issues. They want us to “go do” projects. It’s tough to balance this desire against recently stated concerns about Ashley Pond.
For those who are concerned about the new location of the stage, it may be reassuring to note that Russ Gordon could still set up concerts on the concrete apron as in years past. I know that Russ will be listening to the feedback he gets from concert-goers because he, and the county, both want to provide the best experience possible for the Summer Concert Series. It is one of our most popular events and well-loved by all, especially when they are at Ashley Pond Park.
I would like to continue to encourage our citizens to actively participate in the very early designs of these projects. In return, we’ll re-commit ourselves to better explaining projects at every stage (what’s still open for public comment, and what has already been decided), and strive for improving our public outreach using a variety of venues.
Harry Burgess is the Los Alamos County Administrator.