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Mass Audubon letter
April 7, 2003

April 7, 2003

Henrietta Davis, Vice Mayor
Committee on Health and Environment
City Hall
795 Mass Ave.
Cambridge, MA. 02139

Kathleen Dias, Selectman
Arlington Town Hall
Mass. Ave.
Arlington, MA 02476

Will Brownsberger, Selectman
Town Hall
Belmont, MA 02478

Dear Councilor Davis, Selectman Dias, and Selectman Brownsberger:

Mass Audubon is grateful for the efforts the Tri-Community Working Group to seek regional solutions to flooding, habitat protection, and development issues in the Alewife area. We hope that through the cooperation of state and local officials, the Mystic River Watershed Association, the Friends of Alewife Reservation, and other interested parties, a comprehensive plan will be developed that will chart a more sustainable future for the entire Alewife area.

As you know, the MDC Alewife Reservation is a vital "urban wilds" supporting many species of wildlife and providing nature observation and enjoyment opportunities for thousands of people. The wetlands and waterways in and around the Reservation are the remnants of a once much larger system that has been filled in and encroached upon by numerous developments over many decades. The Alewife area already has more than its share of flooding, water quality problems, and traffic. Because this area lies at the juncture of three communities (Cambridge, Arlington, and Belmont), regional planning and cooperation are necessary to undertake effective programs to abate existing problems and secure protection for remaining natural resources. Ultimately, regional cooperation can help reverse the damage and restore resources and flood control functions for the benefit of all three communities and the public as a whole.

As an immediate first step, each community should do everything possible to ensure that development permits issued on properties within its municipal boundaries do not exacerbate existing conditions on-site or downstream. Where vegetated floodplain areas exist, they should be protected to maintain their wildlife habitat value as well as flood control functions. Wildlife habitat is a protected "interest" in floodplains recognized under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. The conservation commission in each of the three commuities has certain specific authority to prevent projects from compromising the wildlife habitat function of floodplains within their jurisdiction. Conservation commissions also have the authority to limit work in upland buffer zones in order to ensure that buffer zone projects do not degrade adjoining wetlands. These provisions of the wetlands regulations may apply to all or portions of the silver maple forest on the Frontage Road site. All projects proposed in the Alewife area should be carefully reviewed under all applicable permitting processes. Wetlands, land subject to flooding, riverfront areas, and buffer zones should be protected to the fullest extent possible under the law. Considering the overburdened infrastructure in the area, new projects should not merely be prevented from making traffic, flooding, or water quality worse. Any new development should be required to show improvement over existing conditions in relation to these infrastructure capacity issues.

Creative options such as Transfer of Development Rights should be explored to protect remaining undeveloped lands. Opportunities to restore land and water resources should also be pursued, such as demolition of the Faces building and removal of historic wetland fill on that site or elsewhere in the Alewife area.

We applaud the leadership shown to date by the Cambridge City Council in regard to the Alewife area, and encourage you to continue to pursue every available avenue to protect the Alewife Reservation, achieve a balanced and sustainable pattern of development in the surrounding area, and restore natural resources. Mass Audubon appreciates the efforts of the many public officials and citizens in Cambridge, Arlington, and Belmont who are working toward these goals.


E. Heidi Ricci
Senior Environmental Policy Specialist

cc: MAPC
Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge Conservation Commissions
Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge Planning Boards
Nancy Hammett, Executive Director of the Mystic River Watershed Association
Ellen Maas, President, Friends of Alewife Reservation