PEABODY — All that glitters is not gold. Sometimes, it’s crystal, and Mayor Ted Bettencourt expects to accomplish a long-sought goal by making Crystal Lake glitter again.
The City Council voted last week to approve $7.6 million in new projects, including money to help restore both the West Peabody lake and the adjacent Elginwood Pond. They long ago fell on hard times, clogging with weeds and lilies, filling with soil believed to have run off from nearby housing developments. But efforts to dredge both — efforts going back decades — failed because of the potential cost of disposing of the waterlogged muck at the bottom of the pond.
The City Council OK’d a $5.1 million bond that will pay for part of the cost of restoring both bodies of water and upgrading the areas, as well as for a new fire engine and an artificial turf field at the high school.
The mayor’s proposal to the council painted a picture of an area transformed not only by dredging both the lake and the pond, but by removing brush and trees and adding landscaping, skating areas, picnic tables, a hiking trail, fountains, and docks for fishing and boats.
Paddle boats could be launched in the lake, the mayor said, “even something along the lines of swan boats.”
As to how he’s managed to finance this when other mayors could not, Bettencourt said, “Things came together very nicely.”
Things like the Community Preservation Committee and its available funding gave him options that some previous administrations did not have. For that matter, much of the money earmarked for the project is already in city hands.
These funds include what’s left of $800,000 appropriated for Crystal Lake by the state Legislature, at the behest of the late state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis. Some of that money went to a demonstration project in which genetically engineered bacteria was supposed to eat up all the weeds and muck. In the end, the bugs ate up only money, but $646,000 remains.
In addition, said Bettencourt, the city discovered it had $800,000 left over from a project on Scouting Way, which included a retention pond and a disc golf course, that came in significantly under budget. Finally, the Community Preservation Committee has pledged $800,000 to be distributed over a five-year period.
“Each mayor has had an intense desire to try to preserve Crystal Lake,” said Bettencourt, noting that he drives past it every day. “I want to make that area as spectacular as I always thought it could be.”
“We’ve waited a long time for this,” said Barry Sinewitz, the ward councilor. “Everybody wants to do it. But it’s still going to take time.” He cautioned that it’s a project in two parts, including the cleanup and the creation of a recreation area. That means, “it could be a little bit more money. If it’s a little over, we may have to come back (to the council).”
The big expense is dewatering and disposing of what’s dredged up from both ponds. Such material is not easily dealt with. It has no apparent value to anyone. If it’s deposited somewhere and left to sit, eventually the decomposing organic material will create a stench, he said.
“We haven’t gotten into the details of how it’s going to be cleaned,” he said. Permits must be obtained. Maintenance after the cleanup will also have to be addressed.
As for improvements on the shore, initial plans suggest a path around the back of the pond, away from Lowell Street, which passes a few feet from the water.
“We want to keep people away from Lowell Street,” Sinewitz said.
He also suggested two fountains, one for Crystal Lake and one for Elginwood Pond. These would not only add to the beauty of the spot but would keep the water moving and help prevent the build-up of algae.
“It’s going to be great once it’s done,” Sinewitz said.