Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR)        Join Email List     DONATE!
Get email when website is updated

it's private
Snow saves Massachusetts silver maple forest
Article by Ben Proffer, Journalist New York magazine, Leisure, Elle, Travel
original article at

Snow Saves Massachusetts Silver Maple Forest from the Axe
by Ben Proffer February 07, 2011

Right now outside Cambridge, Massachusetts the snows of winter are all that stand in the way of a developer who is trying to eradicate a treasured silver maple forest.

Located in the Alewife Reservation, the forest has been the subject of a passionate campaign by groups like the Friends of Alewife Reservation, on the one hand, and O'Neill Properties Group on the other. On one side is a refuge for the gray fox, the river otter, and the frayed nerves of urbanites; on the other is a real estate developer based in Pennsylvania with a past as murky as a storm drain in March.

The duel over this land has been raging for 15 years, complicated by the wee fact that O'Neill owns the land and is simply waiting on the approval of his building permit. That in turn has been complicated by the fact that residents around Cambridge and Belmont love having what other American cities are desperately trying to manufacture-- a genuine wild habitat just a T-stop away from civilization.

But as Ellen Mass, the president of the Friends of Alewife Reservation, explained, once the permit is granted there is nothing but snow standing between O'Neill's bulldozers and these wetland trees. And once it melts there will be nothing left to do; it's game over for thousands of species that call Alewife home.

The Massachusetts legislature has already passed a bill that would require an appraisal of the damage such a loss would cause to the environmental health of the area, along with instructions to further appraise the price of the land. The hope is to buy it back and turn it into the focus of ecological tourism and a resource for environmental education. Not too difficult to arrange, really, as it's already both of those things.

The only problem? Governor Patrick hasn't signed the bill into law yet. Mass has created a petition to urge the good governor to get the lead out, because there is no good reason such an important matter should depend on the vagaries of New England weather.O'Neill Properties Group is based in King of Prussia, PA and is one of the largest development groups in the U.S. It's owned by one J. Brian O'Neill, and as Mass described him, "President [George W.] Bush called him 'sir' when he was in office." This is not necessarily sufficient reason to question his integrity, but there are other indications that getting in bed with this real estate mogul might not lead to the prosperity he advertises.

O'Neill specializes in Brownfield sites. He buys them up at rock bottom prices and then develops over their former lives, without necessarily cleaning anything. In 2008 he purchased the former National Lead property in Sayreville, NJ with an agreement to restore the Raritan River, which surrounds the property on three sides, eventually flowing into Raritan Bay. By the next year two environmental groups filed suit against O'Neill and seven other private and public organizations because the pollution was bringing the Bay close to Superfund status.

A federal judge dismissed the case, claiming that this was the jurisdiction of the DEP. Alexander Bono, a lawyer for O'Neill Properties, explained after the judge's decision that there were in fact environmental concerns, but that these were not O'Neill's problem. "Just because we happen to take over land as part of a remediation project, we're not producing industrial waste," he said.

He then went on to describe the marina, the performing arts center, and the school that would be built atop the exact same land that was almost a Superfund site.

The solution to a poor remediation record is not clear-cutting a rare urban forest.

Please sign the petition to Governor Patrick urging him to protect the gray fox, the river otter, and the Red Sox from O'Neill's designs.