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Downstream

When a small pond downstream could be affected by so-called development many miles away, the law of unintended consequences strikes again.

On the border between Morris Plains and Parsippany, near where Grannis Ave. in the former becomes Old Dover Rd. in the latter, there is a small brook. A few years ago it received a sign identifying it the “North Branch of the Whippany River,” which was news to those of us who persist in calling it Thompson Brook.

This brook meanders down to the road, goes under it and then meanders some more roughly parallel to Collins Rd. in what used to be called Greystone but is now Central Park of Morris County.

When it gets near Central Ave. it joins with Watnong Brook to form a pond called Thompson Pond. The brook ends and the stream that leaves the pond and goes over a small waterfall and under Central Ave. remains Watnong Brook, eventually flowing into the Whippany River.

It is a small pond and in it are a few islands that have built up over the years. I have seen a variety of birds in and around this pond including great blue heron, green heron, Canada geese (including goslings), turkey vultures, black vultures, mallards, wood ducks and the occasional hooded merganser.

There is nothing around it for quite some distance except a large residence up a hill that seems to be a shelter for women and children or some sort of halfway house. (There is no sign or an address, as far as I can see.)

I mention all this because of something I received in the mail last week that I regard as rather curious.

It was a registered official letter from an office in East Hanover, N.J., where the Morris Plains engineer works. It was to notify me “an application for a flood hazard area permit” was being submitted to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The permit was needed because “some or all of the work is proposed in a flood hazard area or in a riparian zone.”

I was told that if I had comments I had to write a letter - snail mail! In this day and age! - to Trenton. The attached copy of the form sent to the state said the borough proposed to spend $110,000, plus $1,000 fee, for “Thompson Pond sediment removal.”

Why would the Borough of Morris Plains want to pay $111,000 to remove sediment from this pond for the first time in the nearly two decades I‘ve lived here, where there is nothing around it except that building I mentioned?

And why was I - and presumably some of my neighbors, such as those across the street who are physically closer to the meandering Thompson Brook than my house - getting this registered letter?

I suppose I could’ve called the engineer, interrupted his no doubt busy day with my question. Instead, I’ve thought about the possible reason why for the past few days.

Here is what I came up with: I was obviously too narrow in my thinking. It isn’t the pond with the potential problem but what flows into the pond.

As Patch readers know, there will be big changes on Route 53 when the former buildings of Pfizer are torn down for a proposed combination of stores, apartments, townhouses and homes. When these go up and people move in, they will be living a stone’s throw from Watnong Brook.

There has been concern that by putting homes into this area there will be quite a lot of runoff into the brook, which then will go downstream through backyards of many homes in Morris Plains and on to Thompson Pond. When last we read about this, the developer was trying to address those flooding concerns.

Perhaps that is why the borough has rediscovered little Thompson Pond.

Another example of the law of unintended consequences.

More athletic competitions in the park led to the closing off of part of Glenbrook Rd. (which is now re-opened, by the way, either because residents didn’t want a one-way street after decades of two-way traffic or because winter has ended athletic competitions until next year).

Tearing down the woods on the north side of Central Ave. for yet more fields prompted the many birds I used to find to take off for friendlier territory and will create yet more traffic.

So if this commercial/residential development - aka “tax ratables” - is built, there could be flooding downstream for Morris Plains residents.

I guess it is worth the $111,000 to the borough to avoid this possibility.

(I am still not sure why I was one of those who received notice unless someone has been reading my previous Patch blog posts and knows I have taken an interest in what Morris County is doing with this large tract of open space it bought for $1 from the state.)

My feeling is, if the borough can't tear down the Pfizer buildings and leave the area alone it shouldn’t allow commercial AND residential development. There were never concerns about possible flooding of the Watnong when Pfizer, and Warner-Lambert before it, owned the property.

Once you start putting in residences you open a big can of worms such as more people, more cars, more traffic, more garbage, more runoff of lawn chemicals, etc. etc. Look at the townhouses that have sprung up on Route 202 on property that was once a country day school. Like this area needs more traffic. There's not even a traffic light for the new residents to get in and out. Welcome to the Community of Caring.

The law of unintended consequences.

I know, I know, the borough needs the tax ratables once Pfizer abandoned first one side of Route 53 (selling its consumer goods unit to Johnson & Johnson, which for now is staying put) and then the area altogether to become leaner and meaner and increase the returns of stockholders and the salaries of executives. I get that. I don’t want my property taxes to go any higher, Lord knows.

But why homes, townhouses and apartments? If there must be "development" why not just businesses that close up for the night and everyone goes home?

Let me remind you that back when economic times were good, the borough allowed huge tracts of land near Pfizer that once hosted a wildflower meadow to be ripped out and office buildings thrown up - office buildings that opened when the economy went south and to this day REMAIN EMPTY.

Would it have been so radical for a developer to take over these empty buildings rather than create a new “mixed use” neighborhood on the other side of the street next to the brook?

I guess the borough is more desperate than I realize, especially with all that post-Hurricane Sandy overtime it's paying out to the Public Works people.

It’s just a shame little Thompson Pond so many miles away, and the birds that take refuge there, will be punished for the stupidity of man.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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