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Army Corps Study
planned for Blair Pond at Alewife Reservation

Coastal Massachusetts Ecosystem Restoration

Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays

Section 905(b) Analysis





A.  The Coastal Massachusetts Ecosystem Restoration study was authorized by a resolution adopted by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the United States House of Representatives on 23 July 1997.  The resolution is as follows:


“Resolved by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the United States House of Representatives, that the Secretary of the Army is requested to review the report of the Chief of Engineers on the Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays, Massachusetts, published as Senate Document 14, 85th Congress, and other pertinent reports, to determine whether modifications of the recommendations therein are advisable in the interest of environmental restoration and other allied purposes along the Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays’ coastal shoreline and associated waters.”


B.  In fiscal year 2001, $100,000 was added by Congress to initiate and complete the reconnaissance phase.




The study will seek to: (a) determine water resource related needs of the Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays watersheds; (b) identify a possible plan of improvement which shows that Federal participation in a feasibility study is warranted; (c) define the Federal interest based on a preliminary appraisal consistent with Army policies, costs, and benefits; (d) prepare a Project Management Plan (PMP), which will identify the tasks and studies to be undertaken during the feasibility phase; and (e) assess the interest and support from non-Federal entities in the identified solutions and cost sharing of the feasibility phase and construction.




A.  The study area (see enclosed map) encompasses the watersheds of the Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays, as defined by the EPA designated National Estuary Program.  The total study area is about 170 miles in length.


B.  The study area is located in the following Congressional Districts:


Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D)

Senator John F. Kerry (D)

Barney Frank (D) – 4th District

Martin T. Meehan (D) – 5th District

John F. Tierney (D) – 6th District

Edward J. Markey (D) – 7th District

Michael Capuano (D) – 8th District

Vacant – 9th District

William D. Delahunt (D) – 10th District




In the past, the New England District (NAE) has conducted numerous studies that focused mainly on storm and flood damage reduction and navigation improvements in Massachusetts.  More recently, the Corps has begun to undertake a number of ecosystem restoration projects and studies


The study area contains twenty-eight Corps navigation projects, ten shore and bank protection projects, and six local flood protection projects.  Additionally, NAE has completed several Planning Assistance to States studies in the study area, many of them focusing on identifying wetland restoration opportunities.  Most recently, NAE has completed the largest salt marsh restoration project to date in Massachusetts at the Sagamore Marsh in Sandwich.




A.     Identified Problems


            The Coastal America Northeast Regional Implementation Team has been working with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) since signing a 1994 “Resolution to Restore Massachusetts’ Wetlands” (see attached).  In response to this resolution the EOEA established the Massachusetts EOEA Office of Wetlands Restoration.  Numerous projects have been conducted under this partnership, both in conjunction with the Corps and with the other Federal partners.  The Sagamore Marsh Section 1135 project was one of the largest of these partnership projects.


At the request of the Commonwealth (through Congress), this General Investigation was initiated to prioritize aquatic habitat restoration throughout the study area.  The primary areas of focus during the reconnaissance study have been on wetlands (freshwater and salt marsh); anadromous fisheries migration corridors (fishways, dam removal, spawning and migration, benthic habitat improvements, riffle – pool – run complexes, etc.), shellfish bed restoration, and the remediation of highly contaminated estuarine habitats.


There are several specific problem areas that have been identified.


1.  Wetlands (Freshwater and Salt Marsh)


Wetland loss in the United States is well documented.  In Massachusetts, 28% of all the state’s wetlands have been lost since colonial times; the remaining wetlands are in varying stages of ecological health.  Alteration of the hydrology of an aquatic system may change the functions and values of wetlands and associated floodplains.  In particular, freshwater wetlands in urban areas may have vital wildlife carrying capacity functions as well as significant flood damage reduction functions.  Often these two attributes need careful consideration for optimizing the outputs of these valuable resources.  Many freshwater wetlands in the upper reaches of the Massachusetts/Cape Cod Bays estuary have succumbed to development pressures from urbanization.  Communities and watershed groups are now recognizing the need to restore their wetland functions.


Several freshwater wetland systems in the study area have become severely degraded due to development in the watershed, specifically through filling, isolation or sedimentation.  Usually there is also a loss of flood damage reduction functions in these systems as well.  Opportunities exist to restore the ecological functions of the wetlands and restore the flood damage reduction capabilities of the system.


A number of coastal salt marshes in Massachusetts have been adversely affected by restriction of tidal flooding or filling.  Tidal restrictions reduce the frequency, duration and depth of flooding of the marsh surface and soil by brackish water resulting in undesirable changes in plant species composition, estuarine aquatic productivity, and the temporal and spatial availability of estuarine habitat.   Salt marshes are wetlands, which are classified as Special Aquatic Sites under the Clean Water Act, Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines.  Salt marshes provide valuable nesting, spawning, nursery, cover, and foraging habitat for aquatic and semi-aquatic animals, nutrient transformation functions, and aquatic productivity enhancement.  The degraded state of this habitat has significant adverse environmental effects on the value of these sites as coastal habitats.


At a minimum, the following sites should be evaluated for adverse effects of hydrologic alterations (e.g., filling, tidal restrictions, sedimentation, etc.).


a.  Merrimack River Estuary/Plum Bush Creek – Newbury (80+ acres)

b.  Forest RiverSalem (4 acres)

c.  Waters RiverDanvers (100 acres)

d.  Ballard Street Salt Marsh - Saugus  (30 acres)

e.  Freshwater wetlands and estuarine complex of the Saugus River - Saugus,

     Revere, Everett, Malden, Lynn, Lynnfield, Wakefield  (75 acres)

f.  Mill Creek Estuary - Chelsea   (5 acres)

g.  Blair Pond – Cambridge, Belmont, Arlington (10 acres)

h.  Mugar Parcel - Arlington  (30 acres)

i.  Metropolitan District Commission’s "ADL" parking lot - Arlington (30 acres)

j.  Gulliver’s Creek – Milton (40 acres)

k.  South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp – South Weymouth, Abington,

     Rockland  (40 acres)

l.  Musquashcut Pond - Scituate  (70 acres)

m.  Straits Pond – Hull - Cohasset (97 acres)

n.  Cordage Park Pond system – Plymouth (6 acres)

o.  Bluefish River salt marsh – Duxbury (20 acres)

p.  Ellisville Harbor salt marsh - Plymouth (50 acres)

q.  Bridge Creek – West Barnstable (45 acres)

r.  Herring River estuary – Wellfleet (600 acres)

s.  Pamet RiverTruro (160 acres)

t.        Pilgrim LakeTruro, Provincetown (490 acres)


At this level of study, the total estimated wetland restoration acreage is about 1,980 acres.  Other sites may be identified as additional information is gathered.


2.  Fish Passage


Fish passage for river herring, shad, striped bass and other anadromous and catadromous fish is impaired in many watersheds in the greater Massachusetts Bay.  The sites listed below should be among the areas investigated for fish passage potential/requirements in a feasibility study.


a.  Baldpate Pond – Georgetown

b.  Saugus River & Lake Quannapowitt – Lynnfield, Wakefield

c.  Alewife Brook system - Cambridge, Belmont, Arlington

d.  Cordage Park (Mill) Pond – Plymouth

e.  Herring River estuary – Wellfleet

f.  Pamet River – Truro


In addition, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMR) has requested we examine all of the existing fish ladders, many of which are private or town owned.  Several are of such poor design that they could have their efficiency increased (i.e., allow 25% to 100% more anadromous fish to spawn) through modifications.  In total, this will represent the single largest increase in anadromous fisheries migration in the history of the state.  The enclosed table at the back of this report lists the DMR sites recommended for improved fish passage. 


3.  Contaminated Sediment Remediation


Benthic habitats are significant forage areas and the basis of our aquatic food chains.  Benthic community structure and organism sediment indices are common ecological tools that define the health and hence the ecological productivity of an aquatic system.  Often these areas are sinks for suspended and dissolved contaminants in a watershed.  Corps dredging projects encounter this phenomenon since estuaries and harbors are often the site of contaminant accumulation adsorbed by sediments.  Analysis of the significance of contaminant degradation is governed by the Clean Water Act and bioassay/bioaccumulation testing criteria under the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act.  Where significant benthic contaminants are encountered, remedial dredging and vegetative stabilization are warranted to restore the system’s ecological health.  The sites listed below are potential feasibility study sites that are in need of contaminated sediment remediation.


a.       North River - Salem

b.      Forest River - Salem

c.       Malden River - Malden, Everett, Medford

d.      Town Line Brook - Revere, Malden, Everett

e.       Blair Pond – Cambridge


4.  Shellfish Bed Restoration


Shellfish beds are Special Aquatic Sites under the Clean Water Act and often provide commercial benefits in tandem with their high ecological productivity.  Restoration of these beds often involves a manipulation of substrate and hydrology (e.g., flushing).  The two sites listed are potential feasibility study sites in need of shellfish bed restoration.


a.       Plum Bush Creek – Newbury

b.      Pines River - Revere, Malden, Everett


5.  Without Project Condition


If no action is taken to restore the wetlands, salt marshes, anadromous fisheries migration and spawning corridors, shellfish beds, and other estuarine habitats within the Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays, these areas will continue to exist in their present degraded condition, worsen, or perhaps disappear. The significant improvements in fish and wildlife resource outputs that would accrue annually with restoration will not be achieved.  Food chain, carrying capacity, flood damage reduction, and other functions will be foregone.  Also, without restoration, the potential benefits of fish passage, including increased numbers of fish for food chain and human use, will not be realized. 


6.  Opportunities


This reconnaissance study has identified opportunities to accomplish the following:


a. Restore valuable aquatic habitat in the form of salt water and fresh water wetlands. This will be accomplished through improving hydraulic conditions, dredging and/or planting, and overall improvement of ecological productivity through improved circulation.


b. Restore fish passage opportunities in various locations.


c. Restore contaminated sediment, which will result in the overall improvement of the study area’s benthos and also improve forage habitat for fisheries, nesting birds, and waterfowl in the inter-tidal foraging areas.


d. Improve commercial and recreational shellfish beds.


B.     Alternative Plans


The array of plans that will be considered at a minimum in the feasibility study include the following: 


1.  Alternative 1 – No Action: This alternative will provide an assessment of the without project condition.


2.  Alternative 2 – Restoration of Salt Marsh and Fresh Water Wetlands: This alternative will examine various measures to increase tidal flushing and improvement of conveyance within the salt marsh.  Freshwater wetland restoration will include measures to remove fill and/or hydraulic modifications to the wetland.


3.  Alternative 3 – Anadromous Fish Passage Restoration:  Fish passage alternatives will examine opportunities for adding fish passage where none exist at this time.  Fish ladders, notched weirs, and trap-and-truck methods will all be considered.  At sites in the Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays estuary where existing fish ladders are found to be grossly undersized or designed with outdated (circa early 20th century) technology, the feasibility study will examine modifications that improve efficiency.


4.  Alternative 4 - Contaminated Sediment Remediation: The feasibility study will examine ways to improve benthic habitat.  This will include measures such as the removal of contaminated sediments or cut and cap procedures.  


5.  Alternative 5 - Shellfish Bed Restoration: Measures that will be examined to restore shellfish beds will include changes to the hydraulics of the site to improve flushing, reducing siltation, dredging of filled areas, and oyster/mussel bar creation.


C.     Evaluation of Alternatives  


1.  Salt Marsh and Fresh Water Wetlands


The most obvious change in wetlands that experience reduced tidal exchange or changed freshwater hydrology is a shift in the plant community from dominance by salt marsh species to common reed (Phragmites australis).  Common reed is a relatively low value species, ecologically, compared to salt marsh and freshwater plant species.  The tendency of common reed to grow in dense stands and exclude other species of vegetation reduces the benefits that accrue to the coastal marsh system, which has a diversity of higher value vegetation.  Common reed has relatively low value for fish and wildlife.  Although its productivity is quite high, the value of its plant material is limited.  Whereas a portion of wetland production is exported to the aquatic and terrestrial food webs, common reed production is, to a large extent, unavailable to food webs as it mats onsite.  It has relatively low value as a food item because of the coarseness of its stems and leaves and its hairy seeds.  It also presents a potential fire hazard, makes management of mosquitoes difficult, and has a lower aesthetic value.


Salt marshes and freshwater wetlands, in contrast, are important fish and wildlife habitats.  The salt marsh plants and associated organisms provide food for black ducks and other waterfowl, marsh and shore birds, and mammals.  It is estimated that two thirds of the value of the commercial fish and shellfish catch landed on the East Coast of the United States comes from species that live at least part of their life cycle in the coastal marshes.  Over one hundred species of invertebrates including insects, snails, and crabs have been found in New England salt marshes.


Periodic tidal flushing of the salt marsh, at frequencies ranging from once daily to several times monthly, is necessary to restore estuarine habitat and maintain soil water salinity levels high enough to discourage the growth of common reed.  Soil water salinity in the range of 20 parts per thousand is necessary to restore salt marsh vegetation.  For this investigation, benefits of salt marsh restoration will be calculated as area of salt marsh restored.


Freshwater wetlands provide valuable fish and wildlife habitat in the form of foraging, spawning, and migratory space.  These wetlands also provide other ecological values in the form of improved water quality and stream baseflows.  Freshwater wetlands have the ability to retain flood waters and, in some cases, improve downstream flooding conditions.  Freshwater wetland benefits will be measured in terms of acres of habitat restored. 


            The Saugus River watershed is an example of a microcosm of salt water and fresh water wetland restoration potential available in the Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays estuary.  The Saugus River watershed (47 square miles) originates at the outlet of Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield.  The length of the river is 13 miles.  This Class B water flows from the outlet of the lake in an easterly direction through the 540-acre Reedy Meadows.  The Reedy Meadows wetlands complex has been heavily manipulated by industry, private development, and railroad crossings, resulting in various degrees of degradation and loss of marsh area.  After Reedy Meadows, the river turns south and flows past the Colonial Golf and Country Club to an impoundment where the City of Lynn diverts the river through a water supply canal.  The river can be characterized below this point as heavily encroached and silted-in; typical of urbanized watersheds.  Below the Saugus Iron Works the river becomes a tidal estuary.  The estuary has seen a great deal of manipulation over the years, including various fill and restricted areas.


2.  Fish Passage


Anadromous fish are Federally significant resources due to their ecological and commercial value.  Several species of anadromous fish are identified as priority fish species targeted for restoration by the Coastal America partnership.  These include Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), American shad (Alosa sapidissima), alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis), white perch (Morone americana), sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), and the Federally endangered shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum).  In addition, other species will benefit from fish passage including the non-native sea run brown trout (Salmo trutta).  Herring are important links in the estuarine and marine food webs between zooplankton and top fish-eating animals and are important commercially.  Shad are an important recreational fish and also provide food web support.


Provided other environmental conditions are adequate, fish passage structures would be required at appropriate points along the waterways.  Inexpensive aluminum ladders have been successful in the region for this type of passage.  Other solutions include dam removal or notching, rock ramps, and other fish ladder technologies.


The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has requested that the entire Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays system of fish ladders be examined.  They believe many of these 67 existing fish ladders offer an opportunity to improve anadromous fish passage by 25% to 100%.  These 67 fish passage structures use old technology passages that could be made more efficient.  This is not a maintenance issue; it is solely related to design improvements.  Benefits of fish passage will most likely be calculated in terms of area of habitat restored.  Also, any potential historic significance of old fishways will be coordinated with the Massachusetts Historical Commission. 


3.  Contaminated Sediments


The benthic habitat is a major indicator of the health of the riverine or coastal system.  Some of the sites examined during the reconnaissance investigation appear to have significantly degraded benthic habitat.  Several communities in the study area were old industrial centers that were heavy contributors of various types and amounts of industrial waste to the watershed. The old industrial properties are now gone, and the communities are looking to reclaim these areas for modern uses.  Other urban impacts to benthic communities result from non-point and point source contributions.  In any event, the impacts to the sediments remain. 


During the feasibility study these sites will be tested to determine the level and types of contamination that may exist in the sediments.  Strategies will be devised to either remove these sediments or replace them with cleaner material that will enhance ecological goals.  Contaminated sediments that are determined to be “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act are the sole financial responsibility of the non-Federal sponsor.  The benthic indicators and analogous Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act sediment biotoxicity and bioaccumulation criteria will be used for habitat indices and eventual assessment of potential disposal sites. 


The North River (Salem) and Town Line Brook (Malden/Revere) are examples of the type of urban stream that have contaminated sediments.  What was a natural stream centuries ago has been modified to be an integral part of the city’s drainage system.  The sediments in the waterway may have trapped all kinds of contaminants from the urban drainage to the point that natural benthic habitats have been severely degraded, if not eliminated.  Restoration efforts in these two streams alone will result in recapturing over 10 acres of benthic habitat that are not only migratory corridors for anadromous fish, but forage areas for estuarine fish and waterfowl.  Benefits of remediated sediments will be measured in terms of acres of habitat restored. 


4.  Shellfish Beds


Significant commercial and recreational benefits are obtained from shellfish concentration areas.  Generally clams, mussels (Mytilus edulis) and oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are commercially harvested resources in the study area.  Clams include the soft-shell Mya arenia and hard clam Mercenaria mercenaria.


In the Pines River estuary, for example, upstream erosion and flooding has resulted in siltation and coliform contamination of commercially productive clam beds.  Localized dredging and upstream bank stabilization may result in the restoration of 30 to 50 acres of shellfish habitat.  Again, benefits of shellfish bed restoration will be measured in terms of acres of habitat restored. 

5.  Summary


In this reconnaissance level study, it is apparent that the alternatives considered will result in a net gain in environmental benefits.  Additional incidental benefits may be derived from flood damage reduction and recreation.  Of particular importance is that all of the alternatives will provide an increase in habitat for fisheries, including shellfish and waterfowl.  The Project Management Plan will be based on the refinement and analysis of these alternatives.  Based on the limited evaluations to date, it appears that the alternatives will be technically feasible, environmentally sound, and can be justified for implementation.




Since ecosystem restoration is a high priority budget output and ecosystem restoration is the primary outcome of the alternatives to be evaluated, there is a strong Federal interest in conducting a feasibility study or studies.  There is also a Federal interest in other possible outputs obtained by implementing the alternatives, including potential flood damage reduction and limited recreational benefits.  The habitat to be restored is significant for Federal interests as Special Aquatic Sites (Clean Water Act) and anadromous fisheries. 


In addition, restoration efforts in the Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays area would be part of Coastal America Partnership efforts in New England to restore coastal ecological productivity.  The potential restoration sites were identified as priority efforts under the enclosed Coastal America Resolution “Resolution to Restore Massachusetts’ Wetlands”, signed by the Corps and other Federal and State partners at a press event hosted by Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works in 1994.   




The Massachusetts EOEA has expressed its intent to act as the non-Federal sponsor for the feasibility study and assist in coordinating all of the various community sponsors.  A letter to this effect is forthcoming.  The sponsor is aware that it will be responsible for 50 percent of the costs for the feasibility study.  The sponsor is also aware that it will be responsible for between 25 and 35 percent of the implementation costs (depending on implementation authority) for the project and 100 percent of the costs for operation, maintenance, repair, rehabilitation, and replacement.




The recommendation of this reconnaissance level investigation is that the New England District proceed with a cost-shared feasibility study of environmental restoration and related purposes, with the Massachusetts EOEA as the local cost-sharing sponsor.  A preliminary cost estimate, to perform the feasibility study for the Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays, is $1,000,000, and the duration is expected to be approximately three years.  These estimates will be refined during finalization of the Project Management Plan.


The recommendations contained herein reflect the policies governing formulation of individual projects and the information available at this time.  They do not necessarily reflect program and budgeting priorities inherent in the local and State programs, or the formulation of a national Civil Works water resources program.  Consequently, the recommendations may be modified at higher levels within the executive branch before they are used to support funding.  However, prior to initiating the feasibility study, the non-Federal sponsor will be advised of any modifications and will be afforded an opportunity to comment further. 



Timely approval to proceed with the study, and timely completion and approval of the Project Management Plan, are required to meet the expectations of the local sponsor.  There are no other issues affecting the initiation of the feasibility phase.


X.  PROJECT LOCATION MAP  (Copy enclosed)






John L. Rovero

Lieutenant Colonel, Corps of Engineers

Acting District Engineer



3 Encls

1.  Project Location Map

2.  Massachusetts Coastal Fishways Table

3.  Resolution to Restore Massachusetts Wetlands