Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Climate Protection and Adaptation Strategies Losing in City over Silver Maple Forest

By Ellen Mass, Belmont

Climate specialists and citizens are working on a deep cut in new building emissions with a municipally popular “Net zero” petition to the Cambridge Planning Board. Many Cambridge citizens advocated for stringent pollution reduction requirements on new buildings and the city appointed committee is underway. There is currently no enforceable, across-the-board environmental standard to limit the type of large-scale development that brings about large increases in greenhouse gases. In addition, there are no citizen oversight committees for the two vital municipal permitting agencies, Community Development and Cambridge Conservation Commission.

Overdevelopment at Alewife should be seen in the context of the Open space plan and the FEMA floodplain map. The Alewife area is a model for damaging development that occurs when professional and scientific oversight is absent from the permitting process. “Flipping” or turning over buildings for fast profit has been enabled by ‘spot zoning’ with no cumulative  water rise assessments of buildings with environmental floodplain permitting, allowing the piling up of each residential building, ignorant of cumulative  impact to create flooding as far away as Somerville or Medford for  or even Chelsea. The entire area on Cambridge Park Drive, now densely permitted, is shown as floodplain by FEMA map in Cambridge’s 2009-2016 Open Space and Recreation report (Map 32).  Recently on July 29th, flooding was reported by many homes in Cambridge and Arlington and increased precipitation figures have been presented by Town Meeting member Anne Marie Lambert which were backed by a hydrologist at a Belmont Selectman's meeting. Their further research steps are uncertain and were not voted on.

Overdevelopment at Alewife:

The 1992 Alewife design of city planners and architects was developed for the Alewife area as a whole, not in fragmented pieces, but the plan was not then accepted although widely publicized. However, individual departments like Community Development and the Conservation Commission have no environmental standards by which to administer the area as a whole and have ignored the 100 and 500 year floodplain warnings of FEMA for cumulative review. As a result, when in 2011, FEMA, a non-enforcing federal agency accept through flood insurance agencies told concerned citizens that the new Route 2 buildings, Alewife Residences with 250 units were unacceptable for placement in a federally ascertained floodway, it went up anyway with local special permitting.

Another example is165 Cambridge Park Drive (a property of Blackstone Equity, one of world’s largest hedge fund supported real estate Companies) which, with permitting obtained by local McKinnon Co. of 255 units, was immediately flipped for profiteering to Texas-based Hanover Co., specializing in luxury housing units. McKinnon has permitted Route 2 building on Floodway and 2 other crowded giant buildings on cul-de-sac Cambridge Park Drive (over 1000 units).  Erin Baldessari, Chronicle reporter, says 1000 units are planned, but after the approximately 600 thousand square feet at Route 2 are leased for commercial as advertised by Bulfinch Co. (nearly 2 acres of Discovery Park open space pending development) within the 100 year floodplain, and essential to maintain vital flood protection. It also provides "a buffer zone for a successfully restored three acres of rare wetland meadow", says Harvard botanist, Walter Kittredge. The restored meadow was previously a parking lot, and soon-to-be negatively impacted by increased air, water and noise pollution. Ten citizens recently appealed a 400 thousand sq. foot hotel and garages to go on the remaining open space which was accepted by DEP, superseded and has now been appealed and pending a second time by Friends of Alewife Reservation supporters.

In addition, Alewife-Concord project has expansive ‘revitalization’ plans for the quadrangle on Concord Ave. that promises 600 plus  new housing units. This Alewife subwatershed area has not been permitted by the city since the days of industrial steel in the 1940’s because of its FEMA floodplain location, and the environmental sensitivity of the overall upper Alewife Basin of the Mystic River watershed. (Study by Horsley and Witten Co. 2012 on FAR website). Previous conservation commissions have not allowed it, so how is it that developers could suddenly move forward this year? Previously the city unanimously passed resolutions seven times to conserve and protect the Alewife Reservation and Cambridge/Belmont silver maple forest.  While the new storm water/wetlands restoration is a benefit for the watershed, it will be undermined with this level of residential use. An additional special Environmental Hearing by then Councilor, Henrietta Davis forbid the silver maple forest developer, Brian O’Neill,  to run sewer lines through Cambridge until after the legal plaintiff Appeals process is completed.

Taken all together, the addition of these new housing units in Cambridge are making housing headlines in Boston business real estate magazines, will deliver a significant impact, not only for climate effects, but also on traffic, city services, and the special Alewife wildlife reservation. Need we look to other global climate change examples of wetlands blunders with devastating impacts?

Stormwater control in the Floodplains

The city and state’s storm water/wetlands project on the floodplain via Little River is nearly complete on DCR owned reservation, and might protect the watershed from flooding and water pollution if allowed full use and attention. The DCR Reservation is a fantastic educational center situated on a major metropolitan transit stop for understanding wetlands ecology and the city is building an outdoor granite engraved amphitheater for it.  City planners and business managers will require instruction and education to protect the ecologically rich reservation from overdevelopment of the contiguous areas in the floodplain such as the silver maple forest now in line for clear cutting with over 700 floodplain trees. We have ignored long enough- the last wildlife refuge in the only remaining undeveloped floodplain.

Silver Maple Forest

If rare wildlife and our floodplain are to be conserved in the face of fast moving climate change, the silver maple forest in Belmont and Cambridge must remain as  integral to the Alewife Reservation. Old forests like this are the best at providing environmental services, from reducing CO2 emissions, to reducing flooding by soaking up rainwater, to reducing water pollution, to providing habitat for wildlife.

State legal appeals by local residents of the Coalition to Preserve Belmont Uplands and the Friends of the Alewife Reservation have failed at  Ma. Supreme Court from Plaintiffs (Coalition to Preserve Belmont Uplands Inc., 12 Belmont neighbors around Little Pond, and Friends of Alewife Reservation Inc.), were  questioned for 'standing' by a new set of judges in Appeals Court after  going through 2 years of DEP Hearings with the Belmont Conservation Commission appealing as well.  The BCC has since stopped appealing with Selectmen withdrawal from backing them, based on the advice of one Selectman.  Scientist witnesses were also denied their standing at DEP and “Due Process” basics circumvented. The special nature of the case and one which could be precedent setting for future nature defense includes “upper floodplain habitat”, requiring developers to assess animal habitat in all aspects of the general woodland/marsh area. But in 2009, the DEP court refused to consider the “upper floodplain”, which is full of deer, coyote, mink, otter and forty species of nesting birds that use this critical area. The loss of this unique remnant of old forest would be devastating for wildlife throughout the local area.

Most recently on July 28th, Councilors passed a silver maple policy order asking the City Manager to reach out to other
municipal administrators as to whether they were amenable to a shared acquisition effort. The City Manager was highly critical of the following order and "open meeting" was removed. FAR is concerned with any 'behind closed doors' likelihood. The Order however was incorrect stating that it would hook up sewer connections with Cambridge. A special hearing in 2013 was held noting that no sewer connections would be made bringing Uplands effluent to come through Cambridge.

Thus far, with past city councils, 7 Alewife floodplain and silver maple preservation resolutions and policy orders have been passed and 3 Environmental silver maple hearings have been officially conducted.

Policy Order Resolution
July 28, 2014


The Silver Maple Forest is the site of a controversial development project along Acorn Park Drive in Cambridge; the forest is located at the intersection of Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington; and
The 15.6-acre Silver Maple Forest is a small-river floodplain forest and is an integral part of the Alewife Reservation ecosystem, home to deer, coyote, mink, river otter, red fox, fishers, and some 90 species of birds, including hawks, wild turkey, blue heron, swans, cat birds, hummingbirds, and goldfinches; and

Local advocates and noted hydrologists continue to assert that the current proposal does not adequately meet the needs for storm water management in the 50, 75, and 100 year storm scenarios, all of which are expected to increase in severity as a result of climate change; and
According to a report prepared by the hydrology firm Horsley and Witten, the proposal to clear the Silver Maple Forest would result in significant loss of vegetation and associated evapotranspiration; these losses would elevate the current water table, inundating the proposed underground storm water storage basin and compromising the integrity of surrounding infrastructure and the safety and property of nearby residents; and

Development of the Silver Maple Forest would directly impact the capacity of the surrounding area to withstand the effects of climate change; and
Development of the Silver Maple Forest would also add additional traffic to an area where traffic congestion has become a major issue for many Cambridge residents; and

Representatives from the Trust for Public Lands, a national organization with a respected track record of brokering deals in similar situations, have been making attempts to contact the developer, Mr. J. Brian O'Neill of the O'Neill Properties Group of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in an effort to secure an option to purchase the Silver Maple Forest; and
On Saturday, June 28, 2014, more than 150 local residents gathered at the Alewife T satiation and paraded up Acorn Park Drive to the Silver Maple Forest in an effort to raise awareness and promote the preservation of this important community resource; the event featured participation from members of the City Council, the Belmont Board of Selectman, the Massachusetts State Senate, the Massachusetts Sierra Club, Green Cambridge, Friends of Alewife Reservation, the Mystic River Watershed Association, the Cambridge Residents Alliance, the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance, TROMP, Lesley University Division of Science and Mathematics, the Green Sanctuary Team, the Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands, Belmont Citizens Forum, Belmont Land Trust, Sustainable Belmont, Sustainable Arlington, Occupy Arlington, and many other local organizations; and
Over the past fifteen years, the City Council has adopted no less than twelve policy order resolutions in support of the Silver Maple Forest, now therefore be it
That the City Council go on record to affirm that the City of Cambridge is ready, willing, and able to contribute funds for the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest, as part of a broader effort that might include additional funding from grants, institutions, corporations, philanthropists, other municipalities such as Arlington and Belmont, the Commonwealth, and any other possible sources of revenue; and
That the City Clerk be and hereby is requested to transmit a message to Mr. J. Brian O'Neill of the O'Neill Properties Group of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, sending him our warmest regards and informing him that the City is eager to do its part to help reach a resolution to this matter that will be to his benefit and to the benefit of all concerned; and
That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with staff to convene an open meeting with officials from Cambridge, Arlington, Belmont, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, along with representatives of other interested parties, to discuss all possible options for the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest; and
That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to take any and all legal steps necessary to prevent the City from providing any water or sewer connections to the proposed Silver Maple Forest development site; and
That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council on this matter.

# # #

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dispensing Myths About Styrofoam

Dispensing myths about Styrofoam

By Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, Pittsfield, MA

As momentum grows to ban Styrofoam ("polystyrene"), so does the opposition, and with it, the perpetuation of myths.

Myth No. 1: It’s illegal for Pittsfield to ban Styrofoam.
Under what is known as home rule, which is in the Massachusetts Constitution, local municipalities can pass any legislation they want so long as it not proscribed by the state Constitution or is contradictory to state law. Under home rule, local municipalities can ban Styrofoam, since no state law prevents this. Numerous municipalities in Massachusetts have passed Styrofoam bans such as Brookline, Nantucket, and Amherst. Great Barrington’s ban dates back to 1990. Polystyrene manufacturers have not challenged these bylaws in court and the Massachusetts attorney general has approved them.

Myth No. 2: Styrofoam is a harmless substance. 
Jim Therrien, covering the Green Commission meeting of May 19 for the Eagle, wrote that industry representatives "said there are myriad claims voiced about the materials but they’re rarely based on scientific research." Here’s some scientific research.

The National Toxicology Program, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011 added styrene to its "reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen" list. The abstract of the study reads, "Styrene is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on limited evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans, sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals, and supporting data on mechanisms of carcinogenesis." Styrene migrates from the containers into food and beverages when heated or in contact with fatty or acidic foods. In fact, the studies of the deleterious effect of polystyrene on health and the environment are voluminous.

Myth No. 3: Styrofoam harmlessly breaks down into innocuous compounds when incinerated. 
Some of the Styrofoam purchased in Pittsfield will end up in the Pittsfield municipal waste system (instead of the forest and streams where it will never break down), and Pittsfield does incinerate its garbage.

So the false argument goes, when polystyrene is burned at 800 degrees Celsius, polystyrene breaks down into harmless chemicals. But when local resident Katherine Lloyd looked into the matter and spoke before the Green Commission, she discovered that Pittsfield incinerates at 400 degrees Celsius, not 800. Moreover, even if Pittsfield did incinerate at 800 degrees Celsius, the industry claims are not true.

When polystyrene is burned at 800 to 900 degrees Celsius, the products of combustion consist of a complex mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- scientific words for really toxic stuff. In fact, over 90 different compounds have been identified with the combustion of polystyrene. With the addition of chlorine donors such as simple table salt, "highly chlorinated polycyclic compounds" are formed -- more scientific jargon for some of the most biologically active toxins known to humans. According to the state DEP, about 50 percent of Massachusetts’ municipal solid waste is incinerated.

Myth No. 4: If you look at the entire life cycle of polystyrene, it’s less harmful to the environment than the alternatives. 
As the Eagle reported, the industry representatives argued "The amount of energy and water needed to produce foam containers is less." I call this the "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" argument because it overlooks the most serious flaw in favor a "balanced" approach looking at the "entirety" of the life cycle as if the benefits could possibly outweigh the detriments.

Katherine Lloyd pointed out that many of the industry claims are based upon studies which make no such conclusions. But even if less water and energy were used, polystyrene never breaks down and is highly toxic to humans and animals -- these disadvantages infinitely outweigh whatever imagined environmental benefits.

Myth No. 5: Styrofoam can be recycled. 
It cannot be effectively recycled, and the vast majority of it is not. There are very few polystyrene recycle facilities in the United States. Often, long distance travel is required. The nearest facility to Pittsfield is in Leominster, which is 119 miles away. There is little market for the recycled product. Food residue is considered a contaminant, so either it is not used or must be washed with solvents.

Myth No. 6: Polystyrene makes up only a small part of landfills. 
Since Styrofoam is extremely light weight, the industry always presents data in terms of weight. But Styrofoam is extremely volume consuming. The town of Amherst website states, "In a landfill environment, ten pounds (the weight of five reams of 8.5"x11" computer paper) of foam takes the space equivalent to a household refrigerator."

Myth No. 7: A ban on Styrofoam will work an economic hardship. 
When Amherst enacted the ban, its research team found that 70 percent of the restaurants do not use disposable Styrofoam anyhow. And while environmentally friendly alternatives are more expensive, the price comparison is a three cents Styrofoam cup versus an eight cents compostable cup -- an expense certainly worth the environmental benefit. Moreover, those that use Styrofoam do not have to pay for their environmental damage, and externalize this cost on the public.

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III is a local attorney in Pittsfield, activist, and has filed petitions in Pittsfield to ban Styrofoam and plastic grocery bags.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

HealthLink: Why we no longer support gas in Salem as we did in 1997

HealthLink: Why we no longer support gas in Salem as we did in 1997

Republished by permission

HealthLink has been asked why we no longer support gas in Salem as we did in 1997 when we first learned of the health damage from pollution.  Let’s put 1997 into perspective: 1997 was 4 years before 9/11, ten years before iPhones were sold, pre-Google and Hurricane Katrina an Superstorm Sandy were in our future.

Locally, all electricity from the 750 MW Salem and 1500 MW Brayton generating stations were needed. Today ISO has approved the closure of Salem and Brayton runs under 20% and has requested to close. Since 2007, total electricity consumption in the United States has fallen by over 100,000 MW and low gas prices due to controversial fracking methods put gas in competition with renewable energy.

Today, the additional concern is the rate climate change is happening. In 2007, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that the planet would see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100. Just six years later, The International Energy Agency predicted a 3.5C increase by 2035. Weather extremes, severe property damage, skyrocketing insurance costs, tropical diseases moving north and polar vortexes moving south are a few of those consequences.

Gas is used for over 2/3rds of MA's energy today, plenty to support the needed transition to renewable energy and economics compel Footprint to run their plant full time, negating their much touted "quick start" benefits.

The fifteen-month 167 MW shortfall ISO has modeled does not need 40 plus years of a 692 MW fossil fuel plant. Enhanced transmission upgrades, needed and already planned for the region, would get us through.

There is total agreement that the site must be remediated, something DEP has the authority to require and Footprint has the funding to do, jobs must be created and the dwindling tax base not just replaced, but grown. So we continue to ask, is this really the best we can do for Salem, the region and the State for the next 40 years?

Jane Bright

Smart grid vs. false choices - by Rep. Lori Ehrlich

Smart grid vs. false choices

by State Representative Lori Ehrlich

Just last week, an exciting and achievable energy vision known as a “Smart Grid” plan was unfurled by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU). This plan will require electric companies to modernize their infrastructure and move toward increased electric reliability and efficiency. This, in turn will go on to improve economic and environmental health by changing the way we generate and distribute energy.

This, while others locally cling to an older, outdated vision of our energy future based on the fossil fuel-burning giants of days gone by. Proponents of the development of a new gas-fired power plant at Salem Harbor have sought to put the project on a fast track, arguing that the regular review and appeals process for this project should be expedited. Promoting another oversized power plant, one that we can reasonably assume will be with us for the next half century, shows neither leadership nor vision. The new power plant’s size, cost and permanence — and the fact that it will impact generations to come throughout the region — makes our full consideration of all legal, environmental and monetary issues our moral responsibility.

The tax dollars Salem may recover from this project will be dwarfed by the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be paid by those who turn on lights or heat with gas — including many Salem residents. We will pay for more than half of the power plant’s construction costs through ISO charges, and the entire cost of gas pipeline expansion needed to feed a plant of this size.

We all know what happens when there is demand for a finite item: the cost goes up. While natural gas prices are currently only creeping up, history confirms they are subject to sudden increases made more likely as coal use sunsets. In addition, greenhouse gas and carbon capture taxes and fees are expected and being planned for by virtually all major companies. Cost comparisons that work right now may not work into the indefinite future.

Finally, the fact is that the old coal plant will close and be cleaned up even if it is not repowered. Owners are legally bound to do so. We need not be drawn into the false choice of coal v. gas. Additionally, the New England Electric System has collected millions of dollars from customers over the last 40 years which are supposed to be used to decommission the site. We have already paid for it.

Energy needs are projected to be about one fifth of the size of the plant proposed. That can be met by installing efficient, smart grid technologies, and turning to short-run advances in clean, renewable power sources. This will reduce costs for businesses and homeowners, increase the security, safety and reliability of the region’s electricity system, and create a healthier environment.

It is no longer necessary to build fossil-fuel burning megaliths with half-century lifespans when remarkable renewable technologies and electric transmission and distribution systems are on the near-term horizon. The whole region has borne the worst of this old way of doing things for over 60 years so Salem needs to be part of this smarter solution. Our state leads the nation in energy efficiency, conservation and smarter grids. Massachusetts’ well-trained workforce is well positioned to be a leader in using clean, renewable energy.
There is a choice and it’s not between coal or gas. Emissions, expense, explosions and fracking are on one side of the equation. Please join me on the other side in pursuing the vision of a smarter, healthier, less costly energy future.

Republished by permission.

Lori A. Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, is state representative for Massachusetts 8th Essex District and vice chairperson of the House Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sustainability for the Future Generations

My classmates and I are Millennials. Born at the turn of the century, we are the heirs to the Earth and will soon mature into our role as the Earth’s caretakers. However, in order to save the environment, both the older generations and the aspiring environmentalists of the younger generation must assume a greater role in stopping the rapid deterioration of the Earth’s ecosystems. The older generations must begin to realize that there is only one Earth, which must be shared with the future generations to come. And my generation must assume a greater role in saving the environment as we come of age. If my generation becomes more environmentally aware, then anything is possible. My generation could provide engineers and activists, who could change the world through eco-friendly initiatives and inventions.

The good news is that the younger generation is one of the most environmentally aware in history. My generation has been significantly exposed to the challenges the Earth faces today and we are mounting great efforts to change that. In my school alone, environmentalist students, such as myself, are trying to make Saint Sebastian’s School more sustainable. Not to mention the fact that aspiring environmentalists of Generation Y are already significantly impacting the environmentalist movement through eco-friendly inventions, as well as internet lobbying.

I want to proclaim to the world, that there is hope for the Earth in the up-and–coming generations, as long as the older generations don’t continue bring the Earth closer to a full-out eco-catastrophe? But then again, are we already at that point?

Samuel Cullen, Class of 2017
Saint Sebastian's School, Needham, MA

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Longtime Sierra Club Supporter Passes

Murphy, James J. “Joe” of Rockland, died June 2, 2013.
A graduate of Boston College, Joe received his bachelors degree in accounting and worked for John Hancock as an actuarial consultant. He enjoyed camping, crossword puzzles, playing card games, and supporting his Boston sports teams. He was a man of many trades who would spend his time outdoors, enjoying technology and reading about NASA. Joe’s main passion was his family. As a loving husband of Joan Murphy, a devoted father to Kerrin, Corrin and Brendan, and grandfather of four, he will be sadly missed.

Donations have been made to the Massachusetts Sierra Club in memory of Joe. Daughter Kerrin Murphy mourned her father's passing by saying, "my dad taught my sister, brother and I how important it is to take care of the land and our environment, and that is something we will never forget."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Your Comments are Welcome!

This is the Mass Sierra Club's members' blog. Use this post's comments section to share your thoughts, comments, and ideas about the state's environmental issues.