BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — City officials and volunteer commission members both are interested in improving the water quality of the Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall, and it would be nice to say success is coming in leaps and bounds.
But it might be more accurate to describe the march of progress as a slow bureaucratic crawl.
Mayor Donna Holaday recently met with members of the Parks Commission and the Bartlet Mall Commission in an attempt to identify a course of action to improve the venerable body of water.
Scientists have recently reported test results that found the water contains harmful algae and other unappealing compounds.
Members of the Bartlet Mall Commission, who have been seeking cleaner conditions for more than a year, have developed an initiative they say will cut down on foul products entering the water: stop feeding the birds.
Researchers found that part of the problem is that ducks, geese, gulls and more are being fed by youngsters and well-meaning adults. But the fowl leave foul droppings that diminish the quality of water.
“The pond doesn’t have an inlet that permits new water to come in, and it doesn’t have an outlet so that water can leave,” said Lise Reid, the city’s parks coordinator. “It’s complicated and we’re studying the situation.
“Whatever we decide to do will cost money, so we want to make sure we choose the best solution.”
One piece of a solution that commission members want to see happen is creating signs that tell visitors not to feed the birds.
The wording has been finalized and a work order (about $3,000) has reportedly been sent to a sign-making shop. But municipal funds have not yet been found to pay for the signs.
Reid said that a request for money to pay the bill has been sent to city finance officials, and the request could be approved when a supplementary budget is released in coming weeks.
Some members of the Bartlet Mall Commission, including chairman Walt Thompson, have expressed frustration that it is taking so long to start improvements, such as the implementation of signs.
Thompson recently outlined part of the commission’s plan. He said, “Reduce waterfowl fecal matter in the water by asking for funds from the community (with approval by the city) to post small signs similar to the one here that is at the boardwalk by the Merrimack River.”
Thompson also asked the city to refrain from cutting the lawn near the pond. Panel members say that higher grass will hide small organisms that serve as food for wildlife, and the grass also serves to block foul water that seeps down from streets and walkways.
That matter, too, is being studied by city officials, who say they have to be aware of the interests of neighbors who like a tidy park, as well as commissioners who feel cutting the lawns would benefit the pond.
Thompson said, “The Bartlet Mall Commission was pleased with the mayor’s professional handling of our request for signs. The signs are part of an ongoing public education about the unsafe water quality in the Frog Pond.”