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Proposal for support from Department of Conservation and Recreation ("DCR") for adding Belmont/Cambridge Uplands to the Alewife Reservation
from Paul Solomon, Chair, Board of Selectman, Belmont Massachusetts
(Microsoft Word version of letter)
Draft: April 6, 2005
TO: Department of Conservation & Recreation Land Acquisition Committee
FROM: Paul Solomon, Chair
Board of Selectmen
CC: Thomas Gray, Esq.
RE: Belmont Uplands Preservation
This is a proposal to request financial, political, and legislative support from the Department of Conservation and Recreation ("DCR") for adding the Belmont/Cambridge Uplands (the "Uplands") to the DCR Alewife Reservation. Your support is vital because this property consisting of forest and wetlands is a critical component of the Alewife Reservation and if developed will be irretrievably lost.
UPLANDS DESCRIPTION AND HISTORY
The Uplands are located off Frontage Road (connecting Lake Street and Route 2) and Acorn Park Drive in the northeast comer of Belmont and a portion of Cambridge. The Uplands consist of 15.6 acres with 12.9 acres in Belmont and 2.7 acres in Cambridge. See attached plan.
The Belmont Uplands directly abut DCR's 120‑acre Alewife Reservation. The Reservation consists of a narrow corridor located along Little Pond, Little River, and Alewife Brook.
In Belmont, 3.4 acres are wetlands and 9.5 acres upland. Much of the wetlands are located in a drainage ditch along Frontage Road. These wetlands are degraded, lacking sufficient water and filling up with invasive plants.
The Cambridge Uplands consist of a 2.7 acre triangle of land at the southern end of the property. In Cambridge, 1.2 acres are wetlands and 1.5 acres, upland.
4.6 acres out of the total 15.6 acres are wetlands. The wetland 100 foot buffer and riverfront zones surround much of the buildable portion of the land.
Currently there are no utilities on the Uplands site and no direct ramp to the site from Route 2.
In constructing Route 2 in the 1930s and later widening Route 2 in the 1960s, the former Massachusetts DPW relocated Little River and added to the historic filling of the wetlands previously located on the Uplands as shown on the 1903 USGS Map and the plan entitled "Plan Showing Distribution of Malaria" by the Metropolitan Park Commission, dated July, 1904. The acquisition of the Uplands by DCR will not only expand the Alewife Reservation established by the Legislature in 1903 as an addition to the Metropolitan Park system developed by Charles Eliot and the office of Frederick Law Olmsted beginning in 1893 (thereby reversing the series of reductions and adverse impacts to the Parkland over the years), but will also reduce floods,
preserve habitat, and strengthen the Greenway, all priorities under the DCR June, 2003 Alewife Master Plan.
Flood Storage-As documented by Stephen Kaiser in "History of Flooding", dated November, 2004, flooding increasingly impacts the flat Alewife Watershed of Arlington, Cambridge, and Belmont due to the large 'increases of impervious surfaces from development and drainage improvements. Flooding has become more severe recently with three major flood events in the past eight years.
As reported by BSC (a consultant to Bulfinch, who is the developer of Cambridge Discovery Park), ENSR, consultant to FEMA, shows an increase of 28 inches in the 100‑year flood elevation over the 1982 FEMA study (from 8.2 to 10.6 feet elevation). Also, a higher 100‑year flood level subjects a greater portion of the buildable area of the Uplands to the state Building Code requirement to place the lowest floor of any building above the I 00‑year base flood elevation and the Wetlands Protection Act requirement for compensatory flood storage to be located adjacent to the impacted areas and at the same elevation from which flood storage is being removed.
The TriCommunity Task Force commenced a study of flooding 18 months ago. The Task Force issued its report in June 2004. On January 10, 2005 the ABC (Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge) Storm Water Flooding Board was established under an Environmental Joint Powers Agreement to continue to work on this issue, reaching across municipal borders, to solve problems.
The Uplands provide vital floodwater storage in the naturally pervious land areas and wetlands of the Alewife floodplain. These functions help to ameliorate flooding in the adjacent area as well as water shortages through the absorption of rain and snow melt and the slow release of groundwater in the soils.
This contrasts with the stormwater functioning of the same site were it to be developed. While under DEP's Stormwater Management Standards developers may not exceed pre‑development peak discharge rates for 2 and 10‑year storm events, the 25, 50 and 100 year storm events are not necessarily covered. Moreover, the impact from the volume of water discharged over time is not fully compensated for because under DEP's Stormwater Management Standards loss of annual recharge to groundwater need only be minimized to the maximum extent practicable.
Moreover, the development of the Uplands would result in the loss of the evapotranspiration naturally occurring in the forest. Therefore, it is not just the land itself that reduces downstream flooding through infiltration and wetland storage but the existing vegetation as well.
Last, such development on the Uplands means a potential increase in pollutant loading assuming standard urban stormwater runoff of zinc, lead and copper, unless careful attention is given to sediment removal and ongoing maintenance of applicable best management practices.
Greenway-As demonstrated in the "MDC Alewife Reservation and Alewife Brook Master Plan, dated June 2003 (the "Alewife Master Plan"), the DCR Alewife Reservation, with improved access from the Alewife MBTA station and the Minuteman Bike Path, could provide a vital link
to the urban greenway which on the east connects Little River, Alewife Brook, and Mystic River to Boston Harbor, and to the west, Clay Pit Pond, the McLean Open Meadow, Habitat, Belmont's Rock Meadow Conservation Land, and the DCR managed Metropolitan State Open Space. By adding the Uplands to the Alewife Reservation, DCR would be permanently widening the current narrow corridor to facilitate bird watching, hiking, and recreation for the large nearby urban/suburban population in addition to enhancing the value of the land as wildlife habitat.
Wildlife Habitat-The developer's scientists as well as community environmentalists have studied the habitat resources. The Uplands consist of an unusual upland forest of silver maples and a mixed wetland community including trees, shrubs, and other wetland plants providing habitat for a wide variety of wetland and upland species. Many species require not only the wetlands but also the uplands for successful breeding. Species that need both wetland and upland and sighted in the Alewife area include 3 species of mammals, 2 of reptiles and 1 snake specie and 12 species of birds, as well as amphibians. 1 In addition, size and shape of this forest supports interior dwelling species of birds and mammals. The Alewife BioDiversity Study found over 80 species of birds including 45 nesting species and 19 mammals dependent on the area habitat. As Dr. David Morimoto states, "The unique wild nature of this place, with its complex mosaic of habitat types is not replicated anywhere within the greater Boston area." 2
Neotropical migrant birds as well as resident avian species have been sighted within and adjacent to the Uplands including, but not limited to, screech owl, red tailed hawk, robin, catbird, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, cedar waxwing, American goldfinch, belted kingfisher, great blue heron, and various aquatic species such as American black duck, mallard, hooded and common mergansers. Some of these species also breed here. Mammals such as beaver, muskrat, skunk, raccoon, chipmunk, otter, weasel, woodchuck, gray and red squirrel, and rabbit are likely residents according to habitat surveys.
The Alewife Master Plan for the entire Alewife Reservation cites 176 plants plus 7 invasives, 6 species of fish plus 2 invasives, 100 birds, 18 mammals plus 2 introduced, 4 reptiles, and 9 insect species.
Little Pond, wetlands and adjacent uplands are vital to reptiles and amphibians. Spring peeper eggs have been found in vernal pools on the site so it may be assumed that green, wood and bull frogs are also likely to be present as well as salamanders, garter snakes, and painted and snapping turtles which have been sighted in Little Pond.
Invasive plant species are also present on the site including phragmites and loosestrife. Wetland restoration could lead to removal of these plants so common on disturbed wetlands and waterways.
By preserving this site from development and restoring and expanding the wetland areas within and adjacent to the Uplands, DCR will be recovering lost wetlands and insuring the health of existing wetlands. Conditions will be enhanced for blue backed herring and Alewives that come up Little River to spawn in Little Pond.
COORDINATION WITH GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES
In accordance with the Alewife Master Plan, Bulfinch, as developer of Cambridge Discovery Park (the old ADL property in Cambridge), with the support of Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR) has agreed to participate in a Corporate Partners Wetlands Restoration Program under the CZM to restore 10 acres of degraded wetlands called the Central Marsh to the southeast of the Uplands. As part of mitigation for the CSO separation, the City of Cambridge proposes to create a wetland basin nearbv on the south side of Little River. The wetlands at the perimeter of the Uplands such as the ditch area along Frontage Road could similarly be upgraded through reintroduction of natural drainage, removal of invasive species and introduction of native plants to restore wildlife habitat and wetland functions. In due course, the abandoned DCR skating rink site adjacent to the Uplands on Route 2 could be restored and made part of the Alewife Reservation and serve to abate flooding and enhance wetland conditions.
The Town of Belmont, in its commitment to improve water quality, is proceeding with the long range rehabilitation of sanitary sewers and prevention of infiltration/inflow, and is working currently in the neighborhood adjoining Little Pond (across from the Uplands) to ensure that stormwater and sanitary waste are connected to the appropriate mains.
The above efforts combined with the Uplands preservation and wetland restoration will improve natural drainage and natural plant life and wildlife in the entire Alewife Watershed.
An earlier Belmont Uplands Advisory Committee 'in its study of priorities for the best use of the Uplands recommended the land remain Open Space. The Belmont Open Space and Recreation Plan of January 2001 cited the land as a priority for acquisition as Open Space.
CONSISTENCY WITH STATE INITIATIVES
Smart Growth-Preserving the Uplands is consistent with the State Administration's Sustainable Development Principles coordinated by the Massachusetts Office for Commonwealth Development and Executive Order 385. The Town of Belmont is in the midst of efforts to develop housing on already built up sites in existing residential neighborhoods.
Massachusetts Water Policy 2004-Preserving the Uplands is consistent with EOEA's new Water Policy to promote increasing infiltration close to the place of origin of the rainfall and runoff and extending the stormwater standards to upland areas. Most important, EOEA supports grant programs for acquisition of land to maintain filtration capability, to serve as recharge areas, and to maintain biological integrity.
Funding sources in addition to open space acquisition funding by DCR include the State Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Trust for Public Land, Massachusetts Turnpike Transportation
Open Space Program, the Community Preservation Act ("CPA"), the Rivers Protection Act, etc. Cambridge has adopted the CPA; and the UAC intends to meet with the Belmont Board of Selectmen to discuss the pros and cons for adoption of the CPA 'in Belmont.
CPA funds may be used as a municipality's matching monies for state and federal grant programs that require a local match such as Massachusetts Preservation Program Fund (MPPF), and the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) Massachusetts Forest Legacy program, Self‑Help and Urban Self‑Help programs.
The UAC is also studying the use of transfer of development rights (highlighted under the Rivers Protection Act) to link segmented portions of land along rivers and streams and investigating charitable deductions that might accrue to O'Neill Development by donating part of the value of the property as a charitable gift to DCR.
The Belmont Uplands Advisory Committee appointed by the Belmont Board of Selectmen in April, 2004 is working to preserve and enhance the Uplands. We want to work with O'Neill Development to acquire the property with funding from a variety of public and private sources and through the use of charitable tax deductions to benefit O'Neill, but we need the cooperation and support of DCR. This includes Open Space Acquisition Funding as well as other DCR Grant programs.
In the year 2005, we respectfully ask DCR to make the acquisition of the Uplands a priority for the following reasons: (a) the new data accentuates the severity of the flooding problem, (b) the affected municipalities are cooperating under the Joint Powers Agreement, and (c) essential improvements to the Alewife Reservation are planned, such as implementation of the Alewife Master Plan and the restoration of the Central Marsh through the CZM and FAR and the construction of the wetland basin by Cambridge/MWRA.
The benefits to the Commonwealth and the three adjoining communities, as well as the Boston Metropolitan Region, include the following:
(1) The restoration of the natural drainage on the Uplands and surrounding area will mitigate the increasingly frequent flood events harmful to health and public safety.
(2) The enhancement of the Alewife Reservation parkland for recreational purposes will benefit the dense urban/suburban population living and working near the Reservation.
(3) The preservation of the Uplands will protect the diversity and health of wildlife
1 Boyd, L. 2001. "Buffer Zones and Beyond: Wildlife Use of Wetland Buffer Zones and Their Protection under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act", Dept. of Natural Resources Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.
2 Morimoto, David, Ph.D, Program Director, Lesley University's Natural Sciences and Mathematics Department.