The Haverhill Conservation Commission has given lukewarm approval to a plan to upgrade the city’s Plug Pond recreation area.
Last January, city councilors approved borrowing $586,000 for the city’s contribution to the project on land adjacent to what is formally known as Lake Saltonstall. The expense will be offset by a $400,000 a State Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant. Ronald Headrick of Greenman Pederson Engineering told commissioners the upgrades will include the installation of a new playground, shoreline restoration, reduction in unused paved areas, improved pathways and burying exposed power lines.
One other planned change is the relocation of an existing fence, which was a bone of contention with some of the commissioners including Vice Chairman Ralph T. Basiliere.
“I think, right now, we all agree the current fence looks like Guantanamo Bay and I disagree that we have to put a new fence there for any reason, including safety,” he said.
Basiliere said other shore areas of the city are not blocked to the public and this should be no different. Headrick explained the Recreation Department called for the fence to stay.
“The Recreation Department feels that the fence is necessary. That, when the beach area is closed, they need to be able to control traffic in there and, I think, what they were saying was they didn’t want it to become a dog park,” the consultant said.
The Commission was less than enthusiastic about other proposed changes, including placement of the playground across the road from the waterfront, fearing it could be hazardous to young children.
Commissioner Fred Clark also questioned the availability of parking for fishermen who bring in trucks with trailers. Commission Chairperson Harmony Wilson summed up her issues with the proposed changes.
“I just think this project is a real missed opportunity. Plug Pond is a beautiful resource. It would have been nice to see the money put into something thinking outside of the box, perhaps a pier or really getting into the fishing there,” she said.
Despite their misgivings, commissioners endorsed the project with a few recommendations, including pedestrian gateways in the fencing to allow fishermen and others after-hour access.