Friends of Smiley’s Pond unhappy with MassDOT fix to turtle bridge

EGREMONT — Ari Zorn wants to see an endangered species of turtle strive under the recent preservation efforts being made at Mill Pond, locally known as Smiley’s Pond.

But instead, Zorn and members of Egremont’s Conservation Commission are calling for Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to remediate their layout of riprap that was recently placed alongside the pond’s dam.

Located at the intersection of state-owned roads Route 41 and Route 23, Smiley’s Pond has been the focus of a conservation effort spearheaded by Zorn, a resident of Egremont.

Zorn was initially eager to hear of MassDOT’s plan to put in a new layer of riprap that would help prevent turtles from falling through the cracks of a designed “turtle bridge,” which allowed wildlife to cross underneath a bridge on Route 23.

But upon his first inspection of the dam and the new riprap — loose stones placed to protect against erosion — Zorn was less than pleased with what he saw.

“They only did a quarter of the job,” Zorn told this newspaper. “The whole point of it was to fill it in for the smaller endangered species to walk over without getting trapped.”

Last summer, Zorn helped rescue a group of turtles that had fallen to the base of the dam while trying to cross the ramp that was specifically made for the navigation of the turtles.

Since then, Zorn has picked up the nickname, “Turtle Man,” for his hundreds of hours invested into making the habitat safe for the turtles and other wildlife. He says he doesn’t mind the nickname, as long as it brings attention to his ultimate goal: the complete preservation of Smiley’s Pond.

The riprap issue was brought up at a Thursday, Dec. 19 Conservation Commission meeting, where it was recommended that Zorn file a formal complaint with the commission, who would then take the complaint to the state level.

David Seligman, member of the Egremont Conservation Commission, said that the project was submitted originally by MassDOT, who maintains the roads that surround the pond. During the meeting, Seligman and the other commission members reviewed photographs that Zorn took at surrounding areas of the dam.

“I’m not sure what they think they accomplished,” Seligman said at the Thursday, Dec. 19 meeting.

Bill Tynan, chairman of the Egremont Conservation Commission, read from the original plans for the project, which called for a 3-foot by 9-foot area of existing riprap to be filled with stream river stones, which were not to exceed one inch in diameter. From the photographs that Zorn submitted to the commission, Tynan stated that the project was “not up to stone.”

Zorn also agrees that the stones placed on the existing riprap are larger than what the plans called for. The commission said they would also be trying to schedule a site visit with the state after a formal complaint has been made.

Zorn told this newspaper that he intends to file a formal complaint and will begin looking into fundraising opportunities through the Friends of Smiley’s Pond group, to be used towards the conservation efforts of the pond.

“It’s about accountability. When you say something, you should do it,” Zorn said of MassDOT’s riprap placement. “I thought we were doing this is as a team.”

In addition to the riprap placement, Zorn also says that MassDOT has been unresponsive about a video camera that was placed underneath the dam for the purpose of studying the wildlife that use the dam and the turtle bridge.

“They said they would send us footage,” Zorn said. “They have not shown us anything. I’m highly disappointed. I feel like they did a real quick job to make me shut up.”

Zorn regularly posts photos, videos and updates about the pond to the Friends of Smiley’s Pond Facebook page, which has garnered 842 likes to date. Earlier this summer, the pond and its four-bedroom property were listed for sale, by Lance Vermeulen Real Estate, Inc, out of Great Barrington.

Zorn said that it is also his goal to see local and state conservation agencies step in and help to preserve and protect the pond. He added that he would also put in a Request for Determination of Applicability from the Friends of Smiley’s Pond to properly fill the riprap, if needed.

“They can work with me, or I can start organizing more people,” Zorn said. “I’m not going to go away until I see this goal achieved.”

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