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Update and Overview of Alewife Reservation progress and threats
Written by Ellen Mass - October 19, 2012

Silver Maple Forest and changes at Alewife Reservation

A prolonged hot summer provided opportunities to appreciate our local natural resources in the Alewife Reservation urban wild. Its location as a major metropolitan transit area offers learning about local ecology and climate change. For 6 weeks, the Friends' Alewife Ecology campers studied bee and butterfly species which pollinate flowering plants. They investigated geology of the area, discovered benefits of good soil, conservation protections and studied New England native plant. The open DCR-owned area is now a regional biking crossroads to other towns and Boston.

The historic wetlands restoration project abutting large R&D buildlings of Cambridge Park Drive brought FAR volunteers, community members and local labor unions during July and August who planted thousands of wetland plants The 5-acre wetland/marsh project now contains wildlife habitat restoration areas, for mammal species such as fox, coyote, mink and deer, and for species of birds and insects. New photos are available on the City's website:

After West Cambridge sewers are separated from the storm water system, water enters giant culverts originating in West Cambridge south of Fresh Pond running north through large hooded catch basins and grit pits, through the Reservation, with cleaner, well-filtered storm water into the filerting forebay and then detention basin, restoring part of what was once "the great swamp". This project brings Cambridge into compliance with the Federal Clean Water Act. FEMA has designated it mostly, a floodplain and floodway, especially in the Belmont Uplands vicinity and Cambridge Park Drive.

Cambridge's official climate "Adaptation" plan is several years away. Despite this plan, overdevelopment endangers the Alewife area's forests and remaining open space causing damages to these natural resources. Over a million square feet of impervious surface is either under way or planned in the Alewife area along Route 2, and south in "the triangle" along Concord Avenue, and along Cambridge Park Drive, thus diminishing the capacity of wetlands and low-lying open space to absorb and filter stormwater run off.

This polluted storm water can flow and flood downstream through Alewife Brook and the Mystic River into Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Currently, the Mystic River Watershed Association monitors the levels of toxic bacteria in the environment, including E. coli from sewage and finds spikes in contamination of the Mystic and its tributaries during severe storms which are more frequent.

Despite 2012 evidence by the Horsley and Witten Upper Alewife Basin report, Cambridge Conservation Commission continued to give the developers of the Belmont Uplands property permits for enabling construction on the floodplain's edge. Last year, offices along Cambridge Park Drive near the Belmont Uplands closed briefly during an intense storm because of a flood system malfunction. Neighboring residents in Belmont experience frequent flooding and sewage backups in their basements during severe storms.

Cambridge permission places more pressure on Belmont officials to allow clear cutting and construction in the floodplain wooded town area near the Arlington border. The city permit ignores the Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands' and the Friends of Alewife Reservation's legal case pending before the Massachusetts Appeals Court, and the Belmont Conservation Commission's case before Middlesex Superior Court, both appealing the Department of Environmental Protection's 2008 decision to allow housing construction in this fragile woodland in a condensed neighborhood, which sees the forest as their landscape and protection against flooding basements.

Also, the Plaintiffs were deprived of their Constitutional right to due process by the DEP Presiding Officer's refusal to consider cross-examination of their expert witnesses elicited over four full days at their 2009 adjudicatory proceeding in Reading. Officers misapplied the DEP's wildlife habitat regulations, whereby the rich upper floodplain habitat of the Uplands was not fully assessed as regulation requires. Recently the Uplands developer submitted design plans to Belmont, but not to DEP as required. Conditions are clearly premature on the site for construction to be allowed.

At the September Belmont Citizens Forum flooding forum, professionals called for more stormwater attenuation and improvements to Belmont's sewage system Test results for severe pollution were noted by a scientist from the Mystic River Watershed Association. The Town engineer and a member of the Board of Selectmen committed themselves to increase support and funding for sewer infrastructure and best management practices (BMP's). The continuing legal case for the Uplands conservation was presented by the Belmont Conservation Commission and the Civil Action of the Belmont Coalition.

The Coalition circulated a letter update about the latest Attorney appeal Brief, and thanked the town for supporting the town's case. Green Cambridge and Friends of Alewife Reservation circulated a letter to the City Manager asking to deny further permits affecting the Uplands until after all legal efforts are complete.

Despite the expansion of Cambridge wetlands by state and city agencies, an outcome to proceed with the impervious million plus square feet by various developers that includes the rare woodlands, will affect public health and safety, wildlife conservation, the protection of wetlands and climate adaptation center, and access to natural resources for education and recreation. Letters are encouraged on this matter by Friends of Alewife Reservation to Environmental permitting agencies of the city.