New study could highlight potential for park development if Burlington’s Echo Lake is eliminated | Local News

BURLINGTON — A consultant on Echo Lake says Burlington city officials have a “unique opportunity” to remove the troubled lake and replace it with new public recreational attractions.

Officials from engineering firm Ayres Associates Inc. are offering to develop detailed ideas for park improvements that would be possible if the city chose to dismantle a deteriorated dam at Echo Lake and drain the man-made waterway.

Ayres is offering a “dam removal park master plan,” in part to help Burlington voters make informed decisions in a possible citywide referendum in November on whether to remove or maintaining Echo Lake.

The report due in June would also discuss ideas involving the lake’s preservation, though some Burlington aldermen balk at the idea of ​​investing in park amenities on top of the roughly $5 million needed to save the former mill pond.

With projected costs as low as around $1 million to drain the lake, such a venture would give the city more flexibility to build new attractions such as boardwalks around a restored White River.

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An engineer’s rendering depicts a restored White River flowing through Burlington, with a possible pedestrian bridge crossing over the river, if the city removes the Echo Lake Dam and allows the man-made lake to spill into the river.


‘Unique opportunity’

Adam Schneider, an engineer at Ayres Associates, told aldermen on Tuesday that most cities that drain aging lakes are simply letting a river or stream run its natural course, rather than attempting to create a new public recreation site.

“It’s a pretty unique opportunity to do something with the space after the dam is removed,” Schneider said.

In an earlier report on Echo Lake options, the consulting firm discussed amenities such as a pedestrian bridge, boardwalks and fishing piers.

Burlington Park board members, who approved the drainage of Echo Lake, also discussed soccer fields, hiking trails and a disc golf course among improvements that could be considered instead. of the old lake.

Members of the Burlington City Council are set to decide on March 15 whether to commission the new park master plan from Ayres Associates. The study would cost $64,000.

Some aldermen made it clear on Tuesday that they wanted to consider options not only to drain Echo Lake, but also to save and restore the historic old mill basin.

Of the potential new study, Alderman Jon Schultz said: “The end result should be two very strong options.”

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Aldermen expect to decide by August whether to put the Echo Lake issue to an advisory referendum in November, allowing Burlington voters to come up with their own recommendations on whether to keep the lake or remove it.

State regulators have determined that the city-owned dam at Echo Lake no longer meets state safety standards. As a result, the dam must either be expanded and modernized or it must be demolished.

The old mill pond was created in the 1800s. It remains popular with weddings and other groups at the adjacent Veterans Terrace events center. But the 70-acre reservoir has also become neglected and polluted in recent years, with water depths reduced to an average of two feet.

Costs of each option

Ayres Associates calculated that saving Echo Lake would cost over $5 million to modify the dam and dredge the bottom of the lake. City officials say borrowing $5 million to maintain the lake would raise the average homeowner’s property taxes by $68 a year over 20 years, or a total of $1,368.

Removing the dam and drying up the lake would cost less, with estimates ranging from $1.1 million to $2 million. Borrowing $1.5 million to remove the lake would cost the average homeowner $20 a year, or a total of $409.

Any recreational facilities added to the site would require an additional expense to be decided separately by the city.

Some aldermen said Tuesday they would be hard pressed to justify spending more on improving the park if the city ends up investing more than $5 million to save the lake through dam upgrades and dredging.

Referring to the $5 million estimate, Alderman Tom Preusker said: “We want to be careful if we start going over that.”

Alderman Shad Branen said the city could afford more recreational facilities if the dam was removed for an estimated $1.1 million to $2 million, leaving more dollars available for secondary improvements.

If the city spends $5 million to rebuild the dam and dredge and then wants to provide new features for the park, Branen said, “The price just goes up.”

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