In creek dredging issue, where is the beauty?

Audubon Park Mayor Larry Pennock walks along the banks of Peters Creek. He said he was proud of improvements being made on the creek's banks.
Audubon Park Mayor Larry Pennock walks along the banks of Peters Creek. He said he was proud of improvements being made on the creek's banks. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 04, 2013

Peters Creek is turning into the swamp it's always wanted to be.

Owned by the blue-collar Camden County boroughs of Audubon Park and Oaklyn, this placid waterway meanders between them for less than a mile before flowing into the Newton Creek near the Black Horse Pike.

Peters Creek was dredged and, in effect, widened decades ago. But like the Newton, which also has been altered, the stream bed is inexorably filling with sediment.

This marshification has yielded bumper crops of spatterdock and other aquatic plants, a development local environmentalists are inclined to accept and at least some nearby residents . . . aren't.

"It's horrible," says Jim Meier, a retired businessman who's lived on the creek's Oaklyn side for 24 years. "It's a shame."

"Disgusting," adds his neighbor, Louise Hannigan, a lifelong Oaklyn resident who turns 91 on Christmas. "I've never seen it like this."

Across the water - in spots only a few inches deep - Audubon Park Mayor Larry Pennock is proud of $100,000 in improvements underway on the creek's wooded banks.

The borough has set aside federal community development grants to pay for the projects. They include a rain garden to filter polluted runoff of the sort that encourages florid and foul-smelling algae blooms.

Meanwhile, a planned network of walkways will enable more residents to appreciate the open space and the view of the creek, the mayor says.

"But as beautiful as we can make the banks," Pennock adds, "if the water looks the way it did last summer, it will take away a considerable amount of the value the creek brings to my community."

Pennock wants the creek to be dredged, and so does Oaklyn Mayor Bob Forbes. They plan to meet soon, and the cost of dredging will likely be among the topics. Forbes estimates the tab for a partial job at $3.5 million. Then there's the question of "where to put the spoils," he adds.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental advocate for the Delaware River watershed, Peters Creek included, doesn't much care for dredging.

"In general, it adds pollution to the water," says John Nystedt, a restoration specialist with the network, who lives in Haddon Township and designed the new Audubon Park rain garden, among others.

He points out that older sediments dating from an era of minimal environmental regulations could be churned up during a dredging project.

Not everyone laments the return of Arrow Arum and other native plants to the creek bed, says Fred Stine, citizen action coordinator for the Riverkeepers and also a Haddon Township resident.

"Peters Creek used to be a tidal marsh with a serpentine little stream coming through," he says. "Attitudes are changing. People see beauty in rain gardens and meadowlike riparian buffers."

Of course some do. But with all due respect to the value of wetlands, others would like Peters Creek to look like a creek, not a salad bar.

To that end, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority is working on a "holistic" plan to reduce runoff and erosion in the Newton Creek and Cooper River watersheds.

"We're looking at green kinds of measures, such as rain gardens and buffers," executive director Andy Kricun says.

Meanwhile, Oaklyn is considering a shared services agreement with the county for algae and plant removal. Says Forbes: "We have to work together on a master plan to take care of this waterway."

By all means. But let's hope the planners remember that Peters Creek is beloved not as the marsh it wants to be, but as the oasis its owners - the public - have created. And must care for.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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