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Belmonters Speak out for Regional Forest
January 5, 2006 Belmont Citizen-Herald www.townonline.com/belmont/opinion/view.bg?articleid=402617
The Belmont Uplands' silver maple forest provides a beautiful border for Cambridge, Arlington and Belmont. It stands tall and healthy and alive with diverse natural resources. Its birds, animals and tree canopy directly benefit Belmont's eastern residents. After years of zoning changes, the owner-developer, O'Neill Properties Inc. of Pennsylvania, filed an application during Christmas week for permits to build a large 40 B housing complex, a much needed low income federal housing requirement. This past spring, Mass Development approved O'Neill's proposal to Belmont. We see this decision as very unfortunate for anyone who might choose to live there. It is removed from all public amenities and would create isolated 'ghetto' conditions. This development area does not have play areas, neighborhood schools, or stores and sidewalks. It is one mile from the Alewife T and other public services. All amenities would have to be built on top of or adjacent to the floodplain forest and the fragile and rare ecosystems that presently exist in the area. The reality is that the development is surrounded by ponds, a river, and is in the middle of an extensive well-functioning small northern floodplain forest consisting of a large monoculture of rare hardwood silver maples.
On June 28th, 2004, the town of Belmont passed motions together with Arlington Selectmen, in concurrence, not to develop the skating rink site for the Uplands owner, and not to develop the Uplands itself. Cambridge City Council also passed a number of resolutions and held hearings on the area favoring open space to Uplands development. The city owns almost 3 acres of the Uplands, in the vicinity of its largest wetland area, and has stated its desire to preserve the 130 acre urban wild. Cambridge Dept. of Public Works is also concerned with sewer capacity issues and has stated them clearly at the city Environmental Committee's public hearings in 2003 and 2004. Forester and former chair of Mass. Association of Conservation Commissions Charles Katuska has described the Uplands to the Belmont Planning Board as an unprecedented natural community in the Boston metropolitan area. Referring to the 10 acres of silver maple and ash stand of the Uplands, he said, "The urban, suburban setting is very uncommon, essentially unique on this watershed."
Many Belmont citizens continue to publicize their concerns about clear-cutting rare trees and grading banks (which requires clear-cutting) of a well-functioning floodplain forest, an excavation component necessary for any such construction. Members of The Uplands Advisory Committee, appointed by the town to study the Uplands and report to town officials, has participated in "Belmont Focus" cable program, a Forum panel, on this natural resource, recently presented to Belmont residents on several occasions.
Specialists on the TV show, "Belmont Forum", noted both the environmental value of the area and the economics that are challenging the town's decision makers to choose between the environment and public housing. Massachusetts Audubon's Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary Director Roger Wrubel spoke of the diversity of the area, economist Martin Duffy spoke on disadvantages of the site for housing, and Mystic River Watershed Association's former President and environmental attorney, Fred Paulsen, spoke on the general non-feasibility of the site for development. An urban wild slide show of the Reservation was included in the panel discussion. Appalachian Mountain Club naturalist Michael Arnott made the show, including history of the area, for Friends of Alewife Reservation Inc., exploring its mammals, birds, history, topography and hydrology, with some attention to flooding dynamics.
We concur with the findings of the Uplands Advisory panelists, and with scientists world-wide that our forests have a great deal to do with both global warming and local flooding. The silver maple forest makes a small but meaningful contribution to the mitigation of global warming and a direct contribution to the mitigation of local flooding of businesses, homes, and roads. Catastrophic recent events remind us of the importance of our flood plain trees.
Friends of Alewife Reservation Inc.