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DEP File #: 123-0180, Cambridge Discovery Park, Acorn Park Road
Notice of Intent (NOI)
Ellen Mass, August 18, 2004
With an Appendix based on Peter Alden's conceptual experience

August 18th, 2004

Attention: Jennifer Wright, Director
Cambridge Conservation Commission
344 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139

RE: DEP File #: 123-0180, Cambridge Discovery Park, Acorn Park Road
From Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR)

Dear Commission Members,

Important Historical Information

It has been many decades since the active agricultural and industrialization period (1876-1940) developed and declined in the Alewife area, and since the days when Herbert Meyer and Stewart Sanders began to see the enormous value of protecting a wildlife refuge in the region. Cambridge, surrounding towns, and their developers now have a very rare opportunity to nurture and encourage the proper functioning of this beautiful and once thriving upper Alewife subwatershed of the great Mystic River, to which the former "Menotomy River" once flowed, resulting in a Coastal richness and a thriving ocean ecology at the mouth of the Boston Basin that flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

In the Notice of Intent, developer Robert Schlager has provided a highly creative design to meet the needs of our residential and business populations. In addition he is presently providing citizens and conservationists the means to maintain our urban wild natural treasure of over 115 acres, most of which disappeared during the industrial period. Much to our delight, nature, with many former species have revived during the last 30 years. The protection of the regional urban wild since the old brick manufacturing days with the large clay pits must be attributed to the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), formerly MDC. They bought the Reservation for public health reasons in the late forties and kept it from being dismantled and destroyed. The building trend was headed towards developing the entire area. Through natural growth by sheer neglect, the area has become a large bio-reserve for mammals, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians for many miles around, not to mention the rare flora ecosystems of forest, groves and wetland marsh. We should keep in mind the fateful days when our rare pine forest, east of Blair Pond, was clear cut to make room for the burgeoning industries along the railroad track, one of which is still in the quadrangle.

While the Commission's charge is to enforce the Wetlands Protection Act, Friends of Alewife Reservation feels the history and context of the Bulfinch Companies request to build adjacent to Cambridge's largest wetland area, also be considered for purposes of natural resources preservation and conservation. The permitting considerations and mitigation packages laid out in this Notice of Intent will determine some aspects of additional large-scale development in various perimeter locations surrounding the Reserve.

Important Watershed Functions

FAR has studied these development in this NOI closely and feel that the Alewife Reservation, a largely unique ecosystem in the Boston metropolitan region, must be examined within its watershed. It must be studied as a component of all the area waterways as they presently function. With the ongoing plans for the large water retention and restoration improvement projects (this project and City of Cambridge/MWRA Stormwater Basin and DCR Master Plan), it is especially important that they proceed with high quality watershed protection modeling, as has been presented. Other proponents who follow, will profit from the pleasant open space in their vicinity, making west Cambridge one of the most beautiful and loved locations in the city. Perhaps a meeting point of the 3 municipalities, as it is already for transportation.

Others will be benefited by the Commission's consistent implementation of best management practices (BMPs) regulated by the Commission on the city, state and Bulfinch properties'. In addition to BMP's, serious attention to mitigation, resource replacement and natural resource enhancement (including passive recreation passage and education) of what exists is necessary. These ecological considerations must be accounted for, just as regulatory performance standards and construction practices (WPA) must be adhered to. Nowhere does the Commission have a better opportunity to ensure provision of BMPs (BMP modeling - no such thing exists, do you mean water quality and flow modeling? Or do you mean stormwater basins and sediment control features will serve as models for others? ) and mitigation than the Bulfinch proposal for the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics Institute building.

Zoning Precedent

The history of zoning at the site is impressive indeed when legislators, Councilors, and neighbors helped to negotiate a settlement, whereby the Arthur D. Little Parking Lot stayed in MDC hands and made an agreement to restore the lot to natural conditions. The Company's agreement went well and common ground was reached in '92 whereby the company and the surrounding neighbors agreed to 1) support management of the Alewife open space; 2) seek a different "footprint" for the company's arrangement of buildings that will be harmonious with the river's edge: and 3) broadening the green border between Little River and the parking lot.

Thanks to the Bulfinch Co. and their Discovery Park Phase I concept Plan, formally presented, they are moving ahead with all 3 of these common goals. Cited in Sanders, Alewife Ecology Guide, p.49. And thanks to the DCR's Master Plan and to the Riverways grant specialist's findings for FAR in Biodiversity of the Alewife Reservation Area: Species, Habitat and Ecosystems, the following species of the period before 1857 have now returned. William Brewster, world renowned natural historian had this to say about the area as once was:

"Up until 1875, or a little later, it (i.e. pine swamp) remained an essentially primitev and strikingly beautiful bit of wilderness. Nearly half the swamp was shaded by enormous white pines. There were also a number of fine old oaks, beeches and yellow birches, growing along the tower slopes of the neighborning ridge. Pout Pond, then filled with sweek, if somewhat muddy water, lay hidden I the innnermost recesses of the swamp, the Pine Swamp continued to afford a congenial and reasonably secure retreat for most of the larger species of birds-as well as very many of the smallyer ones. It was frequened in autumn and winter by Hawks and Owls. IN spring and summer by Night Herons and Green Herons… Its secluded little pond was often visited by Black Ducks and Bule-winged Teal. The descruction of Pine Swamp and its immediate surroundings was accomplished between 1876 and 1884. During January and February of the forner year, most of the larger trees were felled. After the hills and ridges to the southward had been leveled, a work that consumed several years-the ground they had occupied was taken for a large slaughterning establishment. Besides disfiguring the locality by its unsightly buildings. It was permitted for a number of years to discharge its drainage directly into neighboring swamps. The Hawks, Owls and Grouse have disappeared of course, and the Night Herons and Wood Ducks are now comparatively seldom seen . . ."

Wetland Wildlife Productivity

Although the swamp was filled in after Brewster's writings beginning in 1847, it is amazing to note that many of the above species have returned, including the Great Horned Owl. Note the recently published, "Biodiverisity of the Alewife Reservation Area: Species Habitat and Ecosystems," 1993. Although inventories were not accomplished on the Bulfinch properties, the surrounding species on the uplands and south side of Acorn Park Drive should be evaluated as functioning similarly well on the large Bulfinch wetland acreage in Cambridge. This is the city's largest expanse of wetlands, a small portion of which is in Belmont including a small vernal pool at the Discovery Park entrance, whose waters are fed by subsurface culverts from Arlington under Route 2.

One notable quality of the huge wetland next to the new construction site is that is was once Menotomy River, or what is now called "Little River" and it contains rich pools and great amounts of wildlife which will be of great enjoyment to the Smithsonian employees who will work there. The variety of wetland habitats is what makes this area special. The largest silver maple forest within reach of the State capital exists along Little River. There is a beautiful sedge meadow with Blue Vervain next to Acorn Park Drive adjacent to the new building site. Vernal pools are located in various pockets throughout the marsh as well.

Robert H. Stymeist, editorial staff member, Board Member and major winter bird count leader for the "New England Birding Journal, Bird Observer", and, annually inventories the large fields of what are now phragmities and havens for amphibians, reptiles, large number of bird species, feeding ground for coyote, deer, beaver and otter. Most recently a deer carcass was found on the property near the area to be cleared, next to the helipad.

Mr. Stymeist has noted tens of thousands of wintering birds in the fields, as have I witnessed these birds throughout 4 straight years of dawn monitoring. They are not migrating but roosting, and mostly Robins are there year round with Starlings and Cedar Waxwings.

Wetland Restoration

In 1991, A.D. Little Co., former proprietors of the property, did a study of the wetlands and suggested that the wetlands be restored by either construction or inundation. This study agreed that the Alewife Reservation would be of greater value to the area, including recharging of groundwater if more water were given to the area, as it is the largest of the natural flood storage areas for the region. The northern edge of the property along Route 2 once served as the borders of the Menotomy River.

Inundating the Phragmities Marsh

Wetting the huge phragmities marshes with the storm water run off from the new proposed building should be seriously considered as a great conservation measure to the city and the wildlife refuge, and to the enhancement of the property as a whole. A detention basin to mitigate grading of the slope next to the proposed construction for purposes of drainage, without its connection to the larger wetlands seems highly limited indeed.

Impact of Grading and Detention Pond

Friends of Alewife Reservation will be researching the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office's, Wetlands Restoration Program Grants, and the Corporate Wetland Restoration Partnership Program with other local groups to try and bring more resources to deal with the wetlands in the appropriate manner to work with the company's plans and mitigation efforts. While Bulfinch Companies should not be restrained in their agreements with the new tenant, an extensive plan should be devised that deals with the impact of the grading and construction of the detention pond as they are integrated with the need to flush fresh water back into the wetlands. Please see proposed conditions in Attachment A.

Phase I & II Restoration for Classroom Education and Conservation

Bulfinch Companies is to be commended for its open space initiatives in phase one and phase two, whereby 19 acres will be restored and enhanced for wetland, conservation and recreation, including canoeing and classroom education. These endeavors will greatly improve the property and public interest in Discovery Park as an accessible office park, and place for conservationists to visit.

We expect that any mitigation for the wetlands adjacent to the A.D. Little parking lot will contain access for the public to enter the wetlands, possibly via provision of a boardwalk, for observation for educational purposes. This would be a valuable component for the protected wetland, and should be an enhancement to Smithsonian's purposes for understanding the atmosphere and our natural resources. This is a small mitigation step and one that should be seriously considered together with the pumping of storm water onto or beneath the wetlands.

Ellen Mass
President, Friends of Alewife Reservation

Suggestions from a Great Meadows Perspective in Concord
Peter Alden's conceptual experience
Interpreted by Ellen Mass, Friends of Alewife Reservation

Just as Great Meadows is an impoundment bordered by levies on all sides, the Bulfinch marshes protected by the WPA could do the same, with a levy from Martignetti border to Acorn Park Drive to make the fourth side. Acorn Park Dr. already holds in 3 sides of the huge wetland vernal pools with the necessary elevation to hold the existing storm water as a large stormwater detention basin on the North side of Little River, giving even more flooding relief to the town of Arlington. The restored wetland would be of great conservation and recreational benefit to the company, new employees and to the entire Alewife Reservation. Both the City of Cambridge Community Development and other naturalists such as Peter Alden and Stewart Sanders have recommended that drainage be used creatively to respond to the needs of the greater Alewife ecosystem that surrounds this property made most attractive by the surrounding marshes, woods and waterways for climate, beauty, wildlife, noise abatement, and recreation.

An "Impoundment" with sluice Gates would allow gravity draining from Route 2 and Arlington to be held as a large detention area which would kill the invasive reeds and hydrate the low flow river, once some riparian attention is given to the area. Volunteers would make this a very economical project.

Sequence of events:

  1. Flood the first year and continue as storm water retention area which will kill the phragmities
  2. Drain the water (using the sluice method) to one or two feet and put in plantings
  3. Drain in advance of rainfall
  4. Pump all stormwater and flood waters into it
  5. Use sluices to drain under Acorn Park Drive into riparian streams for river needs

An empolyee from the town or City would have the sluice keys so as to be able to drain and fill the impoundment for seasonal or pre and post rainfall requirements.

Other methods can be ascertained using a phragmities specialist.