When a Brookline couple proposed constructing a $1 million floating walkway along the shore of Hammond Pond to honor their late son, Newton officials rejected the plan even as many commended the family’s generosity.
Four years later, the couple’s dream may take shape after all — though in a more modest form.
An order from the state Department of Environmental Protection is paving the way for a scaled-back version of the plan by Semyon Rudyak and his wife, Rufina, to build a “living memorial” to their son, Mikhail S. Rudyak, who was a prominent developer in Russia before his death at 46.
“The family is very excited to get this started,” said project manager Oleg Kirzner. “It’s been a long journey with a lot of stops and starts.”
Kirzner said the Rudyaks hope construction of the walkway will start this spring, pending final approval from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The agency’s OK is needed to build the walkway on and under the water at the state-owned pond, which is just steps away from the Street Chestnut Hill, one of several nearby malls lining Route 9. DCR spokesman Bill Hickey said the comment period on the application is closed and the project is being evaluated.
Following an appeal by Hickey’s agency, the Department of Environmental Protection issued a “superseding order of conditions” that overrides Newton’s decision to reject the Rudyak family’s proposal, according to Jennifer Steel, the city’s chief environmental planner.
Steel said Newton does not plan to appeal the state’s decision, which includes modifications to the proposal that significantly reduce its size.
Instead of the original plan’s 1,372-foot-long floating walkway along the entire southern shore and parts of the western shore of Hammond Pond, the revised project extends 537 feet along a portion of the pond’s western shore, near a parking lot off Hammond Pond Parkway and in back of the Street.
The family will make improvements to a path connecting with the parking lot, making the floating walkway accessible to people with disabilities. The state agency’s conditions also require that the family provide an endowment to pay for maintenance of the walkway for 10 years after completion.
Semyon Rudyak could not be reached for comment.
The plans, originally made public in 2010, brought objections from many area residents who opposed the floating walkway because of concerns about safety, and the environmental impact of the structure, particularly in light of the pond’s already compromised natural habitat.
“It has not been a popular proposal, we thought it was gone, and now it’s not,” said Beth Schroeder, president of a local nonprofit land trust, the Newton Conservators. “I’d rather see the money spent to help the health of the pond instead of just sticking floating walkways into it.”
Alderwoman Ruthanne Fuller said the Rudyaks’ plan became an unintended catalyst for efforts to clean the murky waterway.
She noted that Hammond Pond is suffering from an explosion of aquatic plant growth, stimulated by nutrients in storm-water runoff from Route 9 and nearby parking lots. The overgrowth is depleting oxygen in the pond, killing off other underwater species.
“The highest priority is improving the health of Hammond Pond,” she said. “I’m not against the walkway, but I have other priorities.”
Fuller said she organized a group of local and state officials, concerned residents, environmental groups, and property owners that has been working on a plan to clean the pond.
Part of the solution may be state funding that state Representative Ruth Balser, a Newton Democrat, has included in an environmental bond bill, with the money earmarked for eradicating the overgrowth.
“The bond bill authorizes an expenditure, but it doesn’t appropriate it,” Balser said, explaining that it may take a year or two for the approximately $150,000 allotted for the pond to be seen in Newton. “The cleanup is something I’ve been working on for years.”
Balser said she doesn’t oppose the walkway.
“I like the idea of more people having more access, it’s such a beautiful pond,” she said. “Change is always difficult. But my hope is that people can work together on the health of the pond, that’s what I’m concentrating on.”
Officials at WS Development, which owns the Street, say they are also working to improve the pond’s health. “We are certainly not objecting to the plans, but we defer to the neighborhood and the city,” said Bob Frazier, vice president of development for the Chestnut Hill-based company.
Frazier said he has spoken with the family and likes the idea of having an amenity to encourage people to use and enjoy the pond, but his company’s priority is to try to improve drainage around the parking lots and Route 9 to protect the pond from the harmful runoff.
The Rudyaks also want to see the pond cleaned and preserved, and they want to see the whole area around Hammond Pond enjoyed by the public for fishing and walking, as their son had done whenever he was in town, according to Kirzner.