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Forest campaigns updated by FAR president, Ellen Mass
Mass: Alewife: Forest ecosystem continues endangered status
Belmont Citizen-Herald opinion, December 12, 2007
original at

Belmont Conversation Commissioners, consulting with Scott Horsley of Horsley and Witten, are, presently questioning Uplands developers design plans: restricted vs. unrestricted hydraulic connections, natural flow, ground water levels, quantity and quality of storm water discharge, location, size and functioning of infiltration chambers, soil removal. They cite general inaccuracies, gaps, inadequate information, questions of the stormceptor system, size and location and backup of sewer storage system; and snow storage, to name a few. Construction or building plans to date are absent, yet permits are sought.

Next week, we await the Commission's verdict, which could be overturned further at the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection. The public may have to appeal if the DEP overturns the Belmont decision.

Epsilon Inc., hired by O'Neill Properties (Cambridge Partners Limited) has presented minimal assessments of wildlife, lighting, noise and traffic, which would affect Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge. The firm denies that bordering land subject to flooding will be impacted and avoids the fact of the surrounding 25-plus acre wetland complex, owned by the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation. The three adjoining acres in Cambridge include the city's largest wetland area and would most assuredly be impacted. Five professional assessment reports officially submitted to the Conservation Commission have not been considered by the firm, although they have received them.

Land connectivity for animal and bird passage over a building footprint arc of 180 degrees are ignored. Epsilon's Julie Vondrak, assessor for wildlife, said that only 7 percent of wild and forest would be impacted from the 245,000 square foot development which would likely house 800 persons in a four story building. Friends of Alewife Reservation has countered with studies of noted New Hampshire ecologist, Patrick Fairbairn. The book, "Biodiversity of the Alewife Reservation Area," demonstrates the Uplands-wetlands ecology requirement of many of the mammals and birds of the area.

Belmont's wetlands bylaws might have protected the uplands by now, if passed in the town last year. Cambridge began developing wetlands bylaws in 2002, but dropped the initiative. Without bylaws, municipal natural resources remain vulnerable. Forty percent of Massachusetts towns and cities have bylaws.

Pennsylvania blogs from Ardmore and Merian, Radnor Township have created coalitions similar to the Winn Brook Coalition to fight the O'Neill firm's plans which, to many speaking out, lacks respect for the citizenry, or for the town's health or standard of living. The O'Neill firm, source of Cambridge Partners Ltd., plans to fell a 7 acre rare forest proposing only two growing trees from the uplands forest on the building site. At least 20 trees on the building footprint have been assessed at more than 100 years.

The coalition to support the Belmont Uplands and Winn Brook Neighborhood has achieved support from many residents in Belmont, Arlington, and even Cambridge's Democratic City Committee, along with other regional organizations. Their civil action lawsuit contains environmental challenges of ecology, hydrology, sewage removal, neighborhood health protection, and resident's landscaped pond-forest view. Attorney Thomas Bracken of Boston, the Coalition attorney, recently won a tidelands ruling. The forest uplands is also filled in tidelands, say all of us in the Coalition, but not landlocked. The uplands are thus, covered by Chapter 91 noting that the hydrology of the area continues somewhat as it did 200 years ago, despite Acorn Park Drive which divides the marshes on surfaces.

Rep. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont, has a legislative initiative, H.B. 21, to purchase the Uplands for $6 million from the Environmental Bond Bill. Twelve legislators who represent Middlesex and Suffolk county communities along the Mystic River watershed now support the bill. If successful, this initiative may be the best avenue for preserving the uplands.

Ellen Mass is President of Friends of Alewife Reservation. She lives in Cambridge.