CAMDEN — To all of those who gathered on the slopes of Ragged Mountain overlooking Hosmer Pond Monday afternoon, it was clear that something had gone awry. The mountain face had more skidder paths than intended, according to project officials, and there was bare earth on those paths and others, waiting to mix with the next rains and again slide down the hill.
Worse yet, Hosmer pond was still a murky brown, albeit becoming a little less murky each day.
For Camden Parks and Recreation Department Manager Landon Fake, who also manages the Snow Bowl, the forester and the logger were challenged by the steep terrain, the technique of skidding whole trees down a mountain and their apparent lack of experience doing both. Fake also said town officials eventually had to step in and manage the manager.
"Several times I voiced my concerns when I saw things I didn't like, but usually I did it through the forester, because that's the chain of command," said Fake. "We were more relying on the forester until after the first event, and then it became apparent the forester was not jumping up and doing things, but by then it was too little too late."
Ragged mountain is home to the municipally owned Camden Snow Bowl. The public recreation facility is undergoing a $6.5 million redevelopment project on the 231-acre parcel, and forestry and logging crews moved in March 17 to begin timber harvesting.
Camden hired Bruce C. Dawson of BCD Excavation and Forestry of Jefferson to do the timber harvesting, and Mitch Kihn of Mid-Maine Forestry in Warren to develop a forestry plan for the Snow Bowl and oversee the harvester. Will Gartley of Gartley & Dorsky is the engineer and project is being managed by Fake, according to Camden Town Manager Pat Finnigan.
Following up on requests from some Camden residents, many of whom live around Hosmer Pond, a representative from the Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Land and Water Quality office conducted a site visit at the Camden Snow Bowl June 30 to assess the timber harvesting work done and the runoff and erosion issues.
Of concern to both town officials and residents was not one, but two recent major rain events that caused significant runoff of dirt and silt into the pond.
The first rainstorm to cause an impact on the pond occurred June 13, a Friday. According to Finnigan, 3.5 inches of rain fell that day and it caused project officials to scramble to add erosion controls to newly opened runoff areas and shore up the ones already in place.
In the evening of June 25, overnight into June 26, another heavy rainfall arrived in Camden. This time, logging work done between the two events, and even more work to fell and bring whole trees down the mountain the morning of June 26, overwhelmed and created worse erosion problems than during the previous heavy rain.
"The morning of the last rain, we had a meeting and I was visibly upset," said Fake. "I met with the forester, the logger and the mountain manager [Bill Fitzcharles] and I told them that if we are going to go ahead with the remainder of the logging work, these things need to happen. First, the forester needs to manage every foot the logger is on, second, there needs to be erosion control happening during the work and third, more erosion control and water bars need to be installed at the end of every day, no matter what the weather forecast is."
Fake said he, Finnigan and Gartley had discussed the direction of that meeting beforehand, and talked about what would happen if they weren't able to do the additional trail clearing work if in fact the logger decided to cease work.
The facility's forestry management plan had some selective harvesting in it on the Multi-Use trail to fix it for beginner trail use. It included logging selective trees after the bulk of the work was done to let the next group, Royal Trail Works, begin building the new trails and installing the snowmaking infrastructure.
"After I made the demands on the forester and the logger, the logger said, 'I'm out of here.' That was not unexpected," said Fake.
Fake said he already had the sense that the logger was ready to move on from this project. And as the "political stakes" got higher, he lined up other work and was anxious to go anyway. So ultimately the work the logger walked away from was work the Snow Bowl decided prior to that meeting to put off, according to both Fake and Finnigan, in different conversations.
Monday at 12:30 p.m., DEP Licensing and Compliance Manager Dawn Hallowell and Field Services Enforcement officer Jen Harris arrived at the Snow Bowl. They sat with Fake, Gartley and Finnigan on the Snow Bowl Lodge deck, with a site map between them and reviewed the scope of the logging work. They also discussed, using the map, where problems were created and where problems cropped up.
Then it was time to hit the hill and walk up and down the skidder paths, talk about what happened, where and when, and how each portion of work was conducted. While Hallowell asked questions, Harris took photos and notes.
Town officials also told the DEP representatives that the plan was to do small areas of work at a time to minimize the opportunities for erosion.
"But the logging operation created these big open areas that caused an issue," said Gartley. He also said that the logger was instructed to use an existing access road up the power line, but chose to create new travel areas closer to work areas, to haul down trees.
"They went down the Spinnaker trail, though they were directed not to," said Gartley. "They dragged trees down there, and that was never part of the plan. It happened in the last week, at the end of the week, as they were trying to finish up."
Hallowell asked if there were erosion controls on the mountain after the first event, and she was told yes, as well as permanent controls, some of which were disturbed when the logger was skidding June 26.
"But we didn't realize those had been disturbed then," said Fake.
Gartley added that all spring, while the work was underway and snow was melting and it was raining, there had been no issues with runoff or erosion. It wasn't until the last two rains that trouble really started.
The day after the DEP site walk, Fake said work to cover the ground, haying and adding water bars and erosion berms is ongoing and has been.
"We started putting up silt fencing back in April. It was rainy and we would put fences where we saw erosion cropping up. It wasn't until the loggers really started to wrap up that they started going wild and skidding down new wild terrain and that's what really opened the ground up," said Fake. "Logging is ugly and it always looks messy. It's what they do. It's the ongoing erosion control that they didn't do."
Hallowell asked town officials what was being done to stop the erosion from continuing, and Fitzcharles said that last weekend, 20 people were hired to build berms, and spread hay and wood mulch, among other measures. There are also people working their way up the Spinnaker trail, where erosion there has fed the silt into Hosmer Brook below it. The stream passes between the rental and maintenance buildings and run along the back of the parking lot, through a culvert under the dirt road and into the pond.
Fake added that it's become hard to find both people and materials.
"We have nearly exhausted the known supplies of hay and wood mulch and chips for erosion control, and this isn't the best time of year to get people, so they are coming in at night to do the work," he said.
Hallowell told town officials that the DEP views the situation as serious, and that it's more than likely some sort of enforcement action will come out of it.
"I don't know today what that will be, but that's why we are here, collecting information. We hope to have conversations about whether you're doing enough, can you do more and should you do something different," said Hallowell.
Finnigan said that of course, the town is open to any and all suggestions.
In a separate interview, Finnigan said that the town has been keeping the DEP apprised of the situation from the beginning.
"We had an erosion control in place, but the soil was so fine, it made it through the erosion control measures. We brought out more DEP approved erosion control mix after the first rain and put that all around the parking lot, checked the dams around the drainage ditches on the mountain and showed the DEP photos. They appreciated the update. And then we got more rain and that overwhelmed the erosion controls we had in place," said Finnigan. "Nobody is happy about this, including us, and understandably the residents around the pond had had it and the DEP got enough calls to warrant a visit."
After the first rain June 13, Fake sent a letter June 17 to the Hosmer Pond Association and Snow Bowl neighbors. In the letter, he apologized for the condition of the pond and how it came to be that way. Fake also apologized for the noise of the logging operation and explained the reasoning behind the cutting of trees. The original project called for increasing the skiing terrain by 18 acres, but said in the letter that had been reduced by 3-5 acres, overall.
Finnegan said Monday that a letter to address the June 26-27 runoff event into Hosmer Pond had not yet been drafted.
"We want to wait until the DEP site visit to make sure we have done everything we expected they would want, and we want the second letter to be as updated and current as possible, with all the information from Monday's meeting," said Finnigan.
"After the June 24 Select Board meeting where a number of people spoke out about Hosmer Pond, they raised questions we expected them to raise. And none of us wanted this to happen again, and we thought we had done everything needed, but we obviously did not."
Finnigan added that the town is now hiring a construction manager to work closely with the architect and perform value engineering. She said that means that the construction manager specializes in knowing the best actual systems and procurements of systems, as well as managing the trades while they are working to ensure they are as efficient as possible.
“They do value engineering on a project like this, design build. They assist in making final purchase decisions that can save money in the long run and they oversee the construction of those systems,” said Finnigan. “We were very pleased with the response we received. We had a site visit before bids were due, and we had 12 contractors respond, which we thought was great.”
As Monday's meeting with the DEP wrapped up, Fake said the issue will undoubtedly end up in some sort of consent agreement between the DEP and the town, saying essentially that the town take the issue seriously and has a lot of work to do. The town will also be required to obtain additional permits to do the remediation work at Hosmer Brook, which runs across abutter Saskia Huisin's property.
Hallowell is also requiring the town to prepare a written remediation plan for the DEP's review, to include an outline of erosion control measures taken to date and what the town will be doing in the short- and long-terms. That plan is due in writing next week, said Finnigan.
Jessamine Logan, the DEP’s director of communications, said “Right now the department’s priority is to stabilize the area in preparation of the upcoming rainy weather. We cannot speculate what the clearing’s effects to Hosmer Pond are at this time. We will certainly be evaluating the environmental impacts of the clearing, which will include water quality. We do expect to be taking enforcement action at a later date, but again, our priority is stabilizing the area to ensure the prevention of any future impacts to water quality.”
The town’s remediation plan and Monday's site review, among other things, will be reviewed to determine what action the agency will be taking against the town.
"The trail contractor, Royal Trail Works of Vermont, arrived shortly before the DEP staff was leaving, so they had a chance to talk with him and understand what measures he will be putting in place to stabilize the area and prevent further erosion," said Finnigan in a followup email Monday night. "They seemed very pleased with his plans and experience."
Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or 706-6655.