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Draft Environmental Impact Report - Belmont Office/R&D Building
Response from Sheila G. Cook, editor of The Great Swamp of Arlington, Belmont and Cambridge

Ellen Roy Herzfelder
Secretary, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs
251 Causeway Street, 9th Floor
Boston, MA 02114

Subject. Belmont Office/ R & D Building; EOEA #12376R

Dear Secretary Herzfelder, May 6, 2003

This letter is in response to the DEIR submitted by O'Neill Properties of PA, for a 245,000 SF office/R&D building and three-level (above grade) parking structure. In general, the DEIR is well organized and documented by the several firms retained to prepare the architectural, engineering, traffic, environmental plans and studies for the project. However, I have several objections:

1) Flooding
As editor of The Great Swamp of Arlington, Belmont and Cambridge, I know the water level of this area, which drains all the surrounding hills, is below the high tide level of Boston Harbor. Up until the late 19th century the swamp was able to absorb the runoff and keep it from flooding its environs except in rare 100 year floods. Houses built on the edges stayed dry.

However, during the last century, Cambridge chose to place much of its industry here, along with the railroad lines and then major highways. All of this development has reduced the swamp's area and its value in preventing floods. At this point only the 115 acres of the MDC's Reservation is left of the former 2,000, and there has been a huge increase of impermeable surfaces. The result is an increase of floods in the neighboring residential areas with repeated costly damage to citizens' basement equipment and documents. And despite the Federal mandate to clean up the CSOs, the funds provided have not been able to preclude these floods which include sewage as well as water.

This year the efforts of the Mystic Valley Watershed and the Coalition for Alewife results in a historic first in regional planning by creating an official Tri-Community Committee on Flooding. After nine months of well-attended meetings despite an icy winter the Committee has found:
a.) Much still remains to be known about the causes of Alewife flooding. One of the reasons is that the State has no accurate records of flooding. Another is that the rationale on which FEMA etc., is based, is faulty. The levels used to designate wetlands is low by at least a foot and, therefore, the flood prevention demanded by of the developers should be twice what is now required.
b.) All the communities agree that the worst offenders are developers, and the increase in impervious surfaces

2) Traffic
Your highly-detailed traffic study represents a commendable effort, but will essentially be meaningless, since your figures do not take into account the cumulative impact of traffic from more than 1,300,000 square feet of office/lab and housing to be built on the adjacent parcels. Current Route 2 traffic causes hour-long delays at the Route 2-Alewife Brook Parkway Rotary. Development of this parcel will only exacerbate the gridlock.

The location of the entry of Rte. 2 is so close to the foot of the hill it is dangerous, and will surely snarl with the traffic on Lake Street, a residential street already over-loaded by the suburban commuters.

3) Open Space Need.
Cambridge is one of the most dense parts of the United States. Rindge Field and Danehy Park are dedicated to sports, and the land area around Fresh Pond is minimal, but the Reservation offers a unique "urban wild" park, as well as an essential flyway to all three of the surrounding communities. Thus, although the uplands parcel is not legally included in the Alewife Reservation any more than is Spy Pond, it has been an integral part of the original Emerald Necklace connecting Fresh Pond with the Mystic River for over a century providing a natural buffer for Little Pond and Little River. Now, sound metropolitan planning makes it even clearer that this uplands forest parcel should be retained in its natural state as part of the Alewife Reservation to balance out the impacts of the heavily urbanized surrounding areas. Even the developer's recent switch to housing use will still create heavy impacts on the adjacent sensitive area with respect to flooding and habitat, and add more traffic in addition to the other damage it will do to the air quality (removing trees) and other environmental pollution.

Therefore, I request a moratorium on approval for development of any of the Alewife parcels until a comprehensive review has been made of the entire site - as proposed by a number of key area legislators in Senate Bill 1872, now under consideration.

Sheila G. Cook, 34 Follen St., Cambridge, MA 02138