During the Oregon Village Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Jan. 10, three people spoke to the trustees about their green and environmental concerns regarding the construction of the new library in the Keller Alpine Meadows Park area.
Theresa Nelson of the Oregon Nature Alliance and Steve Apfelbaum and Susan Lehnhardt of Applied Ecological Services – an environmental consulting firm in Brodhead – offered their assessment of the Keller Alpine Region.
Nelson, an Oregon resident, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has worked for more than 25 years as an engineer in the public sectors. and private, she said.
Apfelbaum led the Applied Ecological Institute for 40 years, which had 18 offices and 300 employees nationwide. Lehnhardt worked under Apfelbaum and has experience studying watersheds in southern Wisconsin.
The three came up with a list of recommendations to minimize the library’s impact on the environment if it is eventually located in the park area.
The trio’s recent assessment assessed the current site and how the changes would impact potential flooding in the area and the site’s wetlands.
Given the current pressure to locate Oregon’s new public library in the park area, they recommend that the library formally engage ecological restoration professionals to assess the park site to develop formal recommendations for a restoration plan. The goals of the plan should be to restore the ecosystem health of the park area, they said.
“We see it as a very important ecological asset with benefits for recreation and stormwater management,” Nelson said. “Our vision includes restoration.”
The Oregon Nature Alliance formed in early 2021 in response to the proposed development of the Keller Alpine Zone for the new Village Hall, Nelson said. Members are interested and advocating for this area to remain more natural, she said.
The alliance aims to provide education to the Oregon community on environmental and ecological issues, Nelson said.
Overall, the group’s recommendations centered on restoring the park area to conditions similar to those that existed before European settlement.
Before being settled, the area was prairie oak savannah and sedge grassland, Apfelbaum said. This allowed water to slowly seep into the ground before the area developed.
During settlement in the 1800s, the land was drained for agriculture. After breeding, the area was then left to fend for itself. As a result, there is a thick cover of invasive species, he said.
Since then, the area has had flooding problems and a lot of water passes through it, much of it coming from agricultural sites in the north.
A considerable amount of soil on the property is waterborne, Apfelbaum said. This means that it is permanently or seasonally saturated with water, indicating wetlands.
“These hydric soils are indications of places that have been wet – that is, most of the site,” he said. “It has kept viable seeds, spores, rhizomes and tubers of wetland plants alive which, as soon as agriculture is stopped or laid fallow, those plants will come back.”
The Village already uses part of the area for rainwater management with a few retention basins or ponds.
Nelson said it was important not to view Keller Alpine Meadows Park as an isolated site, but rather to understand its role in the wider watershed – in which the northern region is largely agricultural and the southern part is mainly made up of housing. As the surrounding area is already almost fully developed, Nelson believes leaving Keller Alpine Natural is important for the watershed.
“We’re not going to solve all of our problems by just focusing on this site,” she said. “It’s an important ecological corridor between the park and the Lake Barney area – which was traditionally a wetland. It would be a good opportunity to connect them. This would be an opportunity to develop partnerships with agricultural producers and the City of Fitchburg to improve soil health and ensure that more water seeps into the soil rather than running off.
As the land was left to recover on its own after agriculture without any management, the vegetation growing on the site is now “very different” from what it would have been prior to agricultural use, Apfelbaum said.
Much of the vegetation that has recovered, and is now dominant, consists of invasive non-native species that do not provide the ecological benefits of the native species that existed at this site prior to agricultural conversion, he said. he declares.
Low-growing hardy plants such as reed canarygrass, gray willow and cattails have accumulated on the site, preventing rapid absorption of water into the soil, increasing the risk of flooding.
“We have the ability to mimic what happened at the site historically,” Apfelbaum said. “It was virtually unaffected by tillage and herbicides. Seed banks of many native species are still there. It is viable to restore grasslands and we can recolonize wetlands from 1930s-50s agriculture there.
Each acre of soil can hold 12,000 to 60,000 gallons of water, Apfelbaum said, so even a 1% loss in area to development loses the earth’s ability to act as a sponge and absorb and hold moisture. water, which contributes to increased runoff or flooding, he said.
One of the main benefits of wetland restoration is for homeowners with basement water issues. A nature-based solution approach to conservation design could ameliorate existing flooding problems at lower cost than bypass canals or other traditional solutions, he said.
Land restoration is also one of the best ways to bring climate change under control, he said, and preserving natural areas helps pollinators.
Land restoration costs “much less” than traditional landscaping, and long-term maintenance of traditional parks or lawns costs more than restored land, Apfelbaum said.
“Every dollar invested provides benefits in all of these categories,” Apfelbaum said.
If the new library does eventually move to this site, the rest of the area should be preserved permanently and the village council should formally place a moratorium on any future construction there after the library, Nelson said. .
“It’s death by a thousand cuts that we want to stop,” Nelson said. “This is a very important area that we believe should be restored, mitigating development impacts as much as possible.”
She recommends placing the library building and parking lot as far away from the wetlands as possible, in the northwest corner of the park, near the intersection of North Alpine Parkway and West Netherwood Road. This site differs from the one the library board considered.
“This would provide the maximum possible vegetative buffer to reduce the transport of pollutants to wetlands,” Nelson said.
She also recommended re-routing the existing paved recreational pathway around the library and moving it away from the library building and low-lying areas that could become wet or flooded during high-water years.
And she stressed the importance of limiting the use of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and winter salt in the library’s landscaping and parking lot.
The library should also act as a nature center, dedicating space and funds to this concept, she said.
An ecological designer should be hired to help conceptualize or visualize this, such as an outdoor patio overlooking wetlands or a chain of water gardens to collect water from roads and then channel that water to grassland and wetlands below the library.
A rainfed swamp facility could be constructed that looks like a garden and is planted with native wildflowers and native swamp grasses and sedges.
The roof could be covered with grass, which would both be more visible to area residents accustomed to looking at a park and would absorb rainwater, helping to prevent runoff.
Extra efforts should also be made to control pollution or erosion during the construction phase, going “beyond minimum requirements”, Nelson said.
Administrator Michael Wunsch insisted on getting a rough estimate of what the cost of hiring environmental consultants or green designers would add to the overall project, but Apfelbaum said knowing the exact location of the library would be important for this estimate.
“I know we’ve had our disagreements about where to put the library, but I think the attenuation of its effects is perfect,” Wunsch said. “I think it’s a very valuable report.”
Village Chairman Randy Glysch stressed that if such concepts were to be implemented, it should be done up front, not later, to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
The overall goal should be for the library to blend into the surrounding environment, not “sort like a sore thumb,” Nelson said.
“The pandemic shows that people need natural spaces and must close them,” she said. “We don’t want people driving anywhere else to get that.”