Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cambridge Conservation Commission to consider destruction of Nesting Area on September 8, 2008

Bob La Tremouille and Marilyn Wellons attended the Boston Conservation Commission’s August 20, 2008 hearing on the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s proposed work on the Boston side of the BU Bridge. After that meeting they discussed work on the Cambridge side with the DCR’s consultant and now post this report.

The Cambridge Conservation Commission will vote whether to destroy the nesting area of Charles River White Geese on September 8, 2008. The hearing will be at 7:15 pm in the 4th floor conference room at Cambridge's City Hall annex, 344 Broadway (corner of Broadway and Inman Street).

The vote is officially on a Department of Conservation and Recreation request to install a new drainage system on the bridge. This follows on a meeting of the Boston Conservation Commission which was reported in the Boston Sunday Globe of August 31, 2008, for work on the Boston side. A news report on that hearing may be seen at:

The Cambridge vote is also one on the DCR’s sub rosa request to finish destruction of the nesting area, illegally begun in 1999 and continued piecemeal since then. The DCR aims to eliminate the 25 year resident Charles River White Geese through habitat destruction and other measures. This is part of an ongoing attempt to destroy any and all animals they can get away with who are living on the Charles River. They use whatever excuse works.

Repair of the bridge will take three years and destroy half of the nesting area in a swath along the bridge itself for a new drainage system. Beyond a 100’ buffer zone along the river, in a wide swath parallel to and abutting the Memorial drive Drive sidewalk, staging for the project will destroy the upper portion.

The state’s Wetlands Protection Act, M.G.L. Chapter 131, Section 40, charges the Cambridge ConCom with protection of wildlife habitat, including the White Geese’s nesting area. It is also a refuge for injured Canada geese, nesting area for mallard ducks, hunting grounds for red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks, home to Baltimore orioles and other songbirds, and to rabbits.

Given that law, and given public support for the geese and other free animals here, the DCR has been careful in its efforts to eliminate the White Geese. The agency has subverted the Wetlands Protection Act, engaging in habitat destruction and inciting the bloody-minded to attack the animals, all the while protesting it means no harm to the geese.

The DCR initially kept the Cambridge ConCom ignorant of these efforts. In October, 1999, the DCR’s agent, Boston University, began clearing and poisoning the nesting area before the ConCom even met to consider the DCR’s request for the work. The DCR did not indicate any agent, and the work done far exceeded the permission the ConCom granted.

Now, in 2008, the DCR began work on the BU Bridge through the goose meadow in May, without even applying for a hearing. The DCR has argued that the work is maintenance and therefore exempt. It was clear, however, on August 20 that the Boston board rejects this argument. It is serious about its responsibilities and will fight to protect its jurisdiction. It is an open question whether Cambridge will do so.

Commissioner Kunian of the Boston Conservation Commission, in the August 20 meeting, explicitly asked the DCR to “listen to us,” rather than “let the Supreme Judicial Court decide who’s right and when.” Boston wants to know the actual work to take place in the 100’ buffer zone along the Charles and to understand the work beyond it, so the Commission can assess the impact. In passing, Commissioner Kunian referred to ongoing work on the bridge’s sidewalks from a barge in the river, saying he didn’t know what Cambridge had said about that. (The barge is supplied from the Cambridge side by truck through the nesting area.)

Cambridge of course has said nothing because it was not asked to review the work and has not demanded to do so. Whether Cambridge will insist on reviewing the barge supply for sidewalk repair as well as the proposed drainage system and structural work, including scaffolding and sandblasting in the nesting area over a three-year period, is an open question.

It is unlikely the impact of any of this work on habitat is even mentioned in the DCR’s filings.

The DCR’s consultant for the project is STV Inc., whose website announces the firm’s “environmental sensitivity” (http://www.stvinc.com/). In a conversation with Bob La Tremouille and Marilyn Wellons after the August 20 meeting, STV’s representative was familiar with the Cambridge work site in the nesting area of the Charles River White Geese. He stated he was unaware anything of he considered of value there. He made no mention animals or concern for animals. He said the nesting area is better for excavation, pipes, hydrodynamic separator, construction trailer, supplies, trucks, and traffic than the western, upriver land because it is “completely open.” We must assume that the DCR’s bid documents fail to mention wildlife habitat and/or that DCR officials dismissed questions about it.

Significantly, the DCR did not attend the Boston hearing. They sent their consultant.


For one take on the Cambridge ConCom’s possible approach to the issue September 8, see the exchange between former ConCom member, now City Councillor Sam Seidel, and Bob La Tremouille at http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/2007_05_29_archive.html.

Mr. Seidel focuses on the complex interaction of humans and natural resources in the “relatively unforgiving settings” of cities. His starting point is that “urban natural areas . . . . have already felt the [negative] impact of human choices” and “can improve through human intervention,” which he endorses, “with an eye toward restoration or improvement.” The aim is “sustainability,” to “rebalance the equation between humans and their environment,” i.e., “today’s consumption desires with tomorrow’s needs. In other words, we can’t mortgage future generations to satisfy our current wishes.”

Environmental science questions “long-entrenched assumptions” and is developing a “deeper understanding of the natural systems enmeshed in [cities].” Remarkably, Mr. Seidel praises an environmental science that discovers how “nature by itself does the important work” to remedy human harm. His example is the increasingly detailed appreciation of wetlands, whose “bioengineering” improves water quality and provides habitat at the same time.

Here is a recognition of urban wilds—those remarkable places where nature itself does the important work of filling in after often radical human disturbance—and an implicit acknowledgement of the value of such habitats for future generations of humans (to say nothing of their value for the plants and animals in them). While it seems unlikely bioengineering will remedy the specific problem of drainage from the BU Bridge, Mr. Seidel’s analysis here should lead the Cambridge ConCom to reject the DCR’s proposal to destroy critical wildlife habitat in the process of improving the river’s water quality and repairing the BU Bridge.

Given the ConCom’s decision about Magazine Beach, however, when Mr. Seidel and other members voted to allow the DCR project that will destroy habitat and give us toxic blue-green algae at the same time, the odds are not good.


A judge is currently reviewing a jury's award of more than $4.5 million in CIVIL RIGHTS damages including $3.5 million in penal damages stemming from their finding that the Cambridge City Manager violated the civil rights of a BLACK FEMALE Cape Verdean department head. They found that he fired her IN RETALIATION for her filing a civil rights complaint. It is unlikely that the judge will reverse the jury because judges normally do not reverse juries and because a previous judge in the same case has already refused to grant pretty much the same motion.

It would be a mistake to think elected City Councillors are less vulnerable to retaliation from the City Manager than one of his appointees, like the Complainant in this case. We petition Councillors about issues critically important to us, but the Manager is the executive to whom the Council looks for implementation, through department heads and appointed boards like the Conservation Commission.

If the judge fails to reverse the jury decision in the Monteiro case, it will be interesting to see whether the Council decides to change Managers and move the city to enforcement of the Wetlands Protection Act, among other laws.

In the meantime, the Cambridge Conservation Commission is making this important decision Monday, September 8, at its 7:15 hearing, 4th floor conference room, Cambridge City Hall annex, Broadway and Inman Streets, Cambridge , MA .