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Silver Maple Trial captured by Change.org, Ben Proffer
February 28, 2011
Massachusetts Silver Maple Forest Goes to High Court
In an historic building in Woburn, MA on Wednesday the plaintiffs defending the Alewife Reservation's silver maple forest will have a chance to save a rare urban resource.
The leaves of these maples shine pale gray on one side, and their root systems dam up rainwater at no cost to taxpayers. Thousands of animal species including coyote, fox, otter, and at least two endangered birds call this forest home; but if the case of the Friends of Alewife Reservation and local residents is lost, the forest will be replaced with a 300 unit housing complex and parking lot.
Friends of Alewife Reservation President Ellen Mass is surprised the case is being heard before spring, and she's more than a bit anxious about the outcome. For one, the judge hearing the case doesn't have a reputation for siding with the little guy (in this case, the big guy is uber-developer J. Brian O'Neill); and number two on the top of her stress list? "If they turn us down, we don't really have a plan B," she said Sunday.
The destruction of this forest would be a loss to generations of Boston-area children who will no longer visit one of the largest swaths of urban nature left in their area, just a quick ride to the Alewife T stop.
Even after an earlier hearing in which expert witnesses testified that removing the silver maple trees would raise flood waters in the area up to 22 percent, the Department of Environmental Protection closed debate and has been deaf to the arguments of residents and regional environmental conservationists. The primary thrust of the case for the plaintiffs on Wednesday will be precisely that the Department of Environmental Protection committed egregious procedural errors when it failed to include findings on the rise in the level of Little Pond during flooding events and when it omitted the testimony of the plaintiff's key witness as well as their cross examination of defense witnesses.
In other words, officials responsible for the permit of this development outside Cambridge have either in part or completely dismissed the warnings of people who have a stake in the forest, and have accepted a flawed assessments of the development's wider impact to the region.
Handling the case are Faustino Lichauco for the Belmont Conservation Commission and Thomas Bracken for the plaintiffs, two talented attorneys who may find their considerable talent evaporate in the courtroom on Wednesday if the trial is not considered with integrity and reason.
In light of the court's history, it would be a step in the direction of progress if the forest were preserved for future generations. Woburn, MA was home to the W.R. Grace tannery in the eighties, which was later found guilty of producing contaminated groundwater which caused children in the area to fall victim to high levels of cancer and leukemia. Seasoned environmentalists will remember this episode with a shudder, and many others will recall it from the film adaptation of the events, 'A Civil Action' with John Travolta.
Every summer children from the Boston and Cambridge area come into the silver maple forest to learn and breath the open air. The well-being of the forest and the well-being of these children, indeed even their opportunity to receive everything their parents had and more, depends on justice Wednesday.
Ensure the court follows the right direction of history. Please sign the petition and tell your friends, there are better places to build than Alewife.
Ben Proffer is an environment writer and has written for Sherman's Travel and New York magazines.