By Jaimie Julia Winters

With only two weeks until baseball season begins and the rainy months ahead, Edgemont Memorial Park users are wondering what town officials are doing to correct water drainage problems that have plagued the park since it underwent a $900,000 upgrade last year.

Last week, park frequenter Claire Ciliotta pointed to the two “lakes” that have formed and remained in the grassy area and the swampy areas around many of the older trees beyond the newly-widened walking paths.

Last year’s renovations included a new parking area in front of the park house, decorative benches, old-fashioned lights, widened paths, two new water fountains and the planting of 30 trees. The town received $23,000 in Green Acres funding for the upgrades to renovate the 15.5-acre park.

Paths that now sit higher than the grass, and the grading of the grassy area seems to be the problem.

“The paths have a one-inch lip preventing the water runoff when it rains,” said Ciliotta.

And instead of sloping to allow for runoff, the grassy area has berms and valleys, where the bodies of water have formed.

The path at Edgemont Park is about one inch higher than the grass blocking the run off to the lake.

Since the year-long project ended last summer, the park has been transformed into a marsh-like bog mostly used by geese and ducks, said park neighbor Michael E. Quiat.

“Particularly along the northern and eastern perimeters, with much of the terrain perpetually waterlogged and muddy, and effectively unusable,” Quiat said. “Whole areas of the park that in years past were home to various recreational and sports activities, are now submerged in water and impassable. One cannot walk across the lawn of the park east to west without sinking into water six inches or deeper.”

The issue was raised at a Feb. 25 planning board meeting by board member Keith Boderick while the members were voting on a list of future projects at other parks in which the town plans to seek Green Acre funding.

Community Affairs Director Steve Woods told Montclair Local that a new contractor will be sought to work along with department employees to install a drainage-piping system from the grassy areas to the pond. Whether the walking paths would have to be torn up or if they could be installed underneath remains unanswered.

The contractor and landscaper who did the initial work, Abraham General Construction LLC of West Orange and Eric and Diana Von Hoffmann Landscaping, will not be called back in to correct the drainage issue. Instead, the town will seek quotes from other contractors, and if the quotes come in under the bid threshold of $40,000, the town can avoid going out to bid, which could push off the project, Wood said.

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But work is not expected to begin until late spring or early summer, he said.

Bill Wallach, president of the Friends of Edgemont Park, told Montclair Local that the “the contractor screwed up. There was no problem before the work. The water has to go away.”

He added that “the mayor and other township officials have been aware of the drainage situation caused by the contractor and have indicated steps will be taken when the weather permits to have it fixed.”

Second Ward councilwoman Robin Schlager also acknowledged the drainage issues and said the Department of Community Affairs was addressing the problems.

Broderick noted “drains” that were installed above ground. Town officials, however, said those boxes are actually electrical units for the newly installed lights.

Wallach was told that Abraham General was not paid in full, and funds were being held in retainage.

“The town has assured me that it will complete the work and recoup its costs as the law permits,” Wallach said.

Park users are also concerned with water buildup wreaking havoc on the park’s vegetation.

“Some of our largest, oldest trees are now inundated with water, foretelling certain imminent demise. If nothing is done to correct the drainage problems we will lose many of the majestic old trees which currently grace the park,” said Quiat.

Wallach said he was assured by the town arborist, who had inspected the trees, that they are healthy.

Ciliotta and Quiat are hoping the work gets done sooner than later.

“Before you know it summer will be here and with it mosquito season,” said Quiat. “The park has turned into a vast breeding ground for mosquitoes.”

Video by Jake Vance