16 November 2011

Planning Changes at Spring Lake Park

"Between Omaha and South Omaha where the trees are the thickest and the hills most picturesque lies Syndicate Park. Here again is water in abundance and it is the veritable 'wine of the rocks," as clear as ever came from the distilleries of the heavens and flowing in ample and refreshing streams from hidden channels underneath the rock-ribbed river." — February, 28, 1892; Omaha Sunday Bee

A community meeting was held to discuss the stormwater project proposed for the south Omaha area around Spring Lake Park, on the evening of November 17th. This project will dramatically alter the park, which was originally established as privately owned Syndicate Park in the latter 1880s.

Officials for this "Clean Solutions for Omaha!" project presented their "10% conceptual design" and took public comments. Parks and Recreation Department staff also attended the meeting which lasted less than two hours.

The basin for this project covers about 416 acres, which about half is the park and associated golf course.

The primary feature is to add new conduits for sanitary discharge and to revise stormwater runoff facilities so the two do not mix. Peak stormwater runoff would be reduced using retention basins, a created wetland and a wet pond, which would be primarily placed within lowland of the park. Dry detention basins may also be constructed at the golf course.

This work is being required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pertinent public comments include:

  1. Concern over the runoff of oil from neighborhood streets, and how this would be addressed?
  2. The "underwhelming" lake feature being proposed. The commenter was "disappointed" in the plan as presented, and thought there could be "something a little more spectacular" He asked that design considerations include options for a larger lake, that would be a "community enhancement." The lake the person suggested would inundate the entire lowland of the park north of F Street.

Pond proposal for Spring Lake Park, north of F Street. The proposed pond would have a maximum depth of 10-12 feet, which would require excavating extensive amounts of soil from the ravine, according to project officials. A fishery would be provided, probably through the Urban Fisheries Program sponsored by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

This pond would inundate at least three or four flowing springs. The water quality basin would also inundate one of the larger and most prevalent springs. Numerous trees would be removed, as well as complete hillsides would need to be obliterated.

Graphic courtesy of the City of Omaha.

One particular concern is why the lake area could not be placed south of F Street. Project officials were concerned with the presence of a former landfill in an area which is now unused brome grass. The material would have to be removed and hauled away.

It was noted that if excavation is required for the lagoon proposed north of F Street, why couldn't the excavation be done south of F Street, and avoid inundation of the unique springs in the lowland north of F Street.

In March 1931, city officials completed construction of a new fish pond in the park, and it was located south of F Street. A picture of the first of the three planned ponds was included with the newspaper article. The three lakes would extend about three blocks.

The following personal comments were made during the meeting, with most of them derived from details in a grant application submitted to the Nebraska Environmental Trust:

  • Why wasn't this meeting mentioned in the community news -- nothing seen in the newspaper or on a regularly watched television station?? Yet, the project conveys that community awareness is one of its more important features.
  • How does project preserve the meadow and wetlands as specifically recognized in a document prepared years ago in association with recognition of parkland features??
  • "Wetland, pond, and dry detention facilities will enhance wildlife habitat within the park" – conjecture as there are no particular details given on how this will be achieved
  • "Wetland, pond, and dry detention facilities will keep the uniqueness of a natural area within an urban park" - more conjecture
  • If the park cannot be kept clean of trash and free of tires now, how would the project result in making the place more attractive or discourage illegal dumping?? Current park cleanups have never accomplished the goal of completely removing unwanted trash or debris.
  • It is not possible to improve water quality in the park, as the only water now in the park is spring water, and it does not need any improvement!
  • What are the infiltration basins, proposed for just south of F Street??
  • Project does not supplement groundwater, as if this means anything in this area anyway!
  • How is this project help sustainability of resources?? This is another conjecture as it does just the opposite.
  • How much rock would be used with the features of this project?? Most engineers in projects devise plans using massive tonnage's of rock.
  • First notes on birds in June 1890; more than 100 species recorded, primarily since 2000; with nearly fifty personal surveys -- there are no subtropical birds at Omaha; there has been no evaluation of how the changes would impact the local avifauna within the park
  • Proposed pond just north of F Street will inundate several distinct springs; there are none similar in any other Omaha park -- existing wetlands and brooks not enhanced by inundation -- Project does not enhance existing wetlands, it inundates them!!
  • Make site more attractive by clearing underbrush; in direct opposition with other comments on habitat enhancement
  • Pond will inundate springs and then on top of that, additional trees would be lost due to walkway
  • Many proposed features do not represent Best Management Practices; educational signage would be nothing but propaganda

Audubon people familiar with the project are opposed to inundation of the north springs area. This area is well-used by birds during the winter as the spring flow remains unfrozen and is an important source of water. One planning official called this area an "unused part of the park," though he did retract his comment when provided a different explanation, based upon a bird/wildlife perspective.

An item of immediate concern was a erosional crevice within the park, created due to street runoff which enters the park at 18th and G Street. This hazard has been present for years and never been repaired. The situation would be fixed as part of the stormwater project.

A "30%" preliminary design meeting will be held in the March-April period in 2012.