Sunday, March 27, 2011

Worcester Planning Board assists Harvard’s destruction on the Charles River.

1. Introduction.
A. General Ruminations.
B. The importance of the Beacon Yards.
2. Worcester Planning Board Meeting, March 23, 2011.

1. Introduction.

A. General Ruminations.

Last Wednesday, I leafleted a con game meeting being conducted by the City of Cambridge at the Cambridge Main Public Library. Meetings of this sort fool well meaning people as to which side of environmentalism Cambridge, MA is on. These con games are very much non stop.

Cambridge maximizes the publicizing of LOCALLY next to meaningless “initiatives” while keeping their very destructive REAL LOCAL record as secret as possible. This in turn fools the very significant number of Cambridge voters who would be very deeply offended by the real situation in Cambridge, and the fact that nine out of nine city councilors are on the wrong side.

B. The importance of the Beacon Yards.

At the same time I was leafleting people, Marilyn Wellons was at a planning board meeting in Worcester, MA. This meeting concerned Worcester’s gaining a freight yard expansion as their part of the removal of Beacon Yards to Worcester. Beacon Yards is, for all practical purposes, visible from Magazine Beach.

Harvard bought Beacon Yards and the Mass. Pike off ramps to Allston a few months after state transportation people completed a study which showed that the Grand Junction bridge could be used as an off ramp from the Mass. Pike, and thus that the Mass. Pike off ramps could be moved from their current location.

A significant part of the environmental destruction on the Charles River can be explained as stemming from Harvard’s plans for Allston. The Beacon Yards and the Mass. Pike exit ramps would appear to be Harvard’s anticipated future home for Harvard Medical School. Harvard purchased a very major part of Allston in secret.

Moving Harvard Medical School, in turn, would allow expansion of various Longwood / Harvard Medical Area hospitals which are very much pushing at their boundaries in their expansion. Harvard Medical School is an obvious location for expansion of the Hospitals. It abuts Boston Children's Hospital in one direction. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is across the street, and it abuts Brigham and Women's Hospital on two sides or more.

The Harvard School of Public Health, located between Harvard Medical School and Huntington Avenue is openly planned for movement to Allston in the near future.

Harvard Dental School also abuts Harvard Medical School and, really, has less reason to be in the Longwood / Harvard Medical Area than do the other two schools.

Marilyn’s report on the Planning Board Meeting follows.

CSX is the railroad owning the rail operations.

2. Worcester Planning Board Meeting, March 23, 2011.

CSX appeared before the Worcester Planning Board to ask for a Special Permit for a 10K gallon fuel storage tank at their expanded freight yard there.

In their presentation to the Board, CSX invoked the MEPA Environmental Notification Form and the MEPA Secretary's subsequent Certificate to reassure that all was well with the project, including emissions.

You may remember the ENF for this expansion relies on reduced diesel emissions from Beacon's closing to argue that increasing emissions from Worcester will be a net benefit to the region. The Secretary accepted that argument. At the same time he rejected the need for a wider view of effects on regional air quality, e.g., from greatly increased truck traffic within I-495. The Secretary's response invoked court rulings that physically separate projects cannot be considered together when analyzing environmental impacts. That is, analyzing interaction between the two facilities is not allowed--yet CSX did so and the Secretary accepted it.


If CSX didn't need the reduced emissions at Beacon to set against the increase at Worcester it surely wouldn't have used them. That the Secretary accepted this analysis despite the court rulings he invokes to the contrary, leads me to believe air quality at Worcester will be significantly degraded. And the inconsistency raises nasty questions about the integrity of the process, I believe.

At Wednesday's Planning Board meeting, residents worried about emissions and increased noise at the eastern end where the expansion's taking place. I asked the Planning Board if they couldn't offset noise reduction at Beacon against noise increase at Worcester, the thinking the Certificate accepted for air quality. When the Chair asked what purpose that would serve, I said it would reassure people.

The Secretary's Certificate requires CSX to report on air quality three months after opening the expanded freight yard, with CSX to decide on reports thereafter. The expanded yard will not be at full capacity within three months (CSX's own filings refer to an ultimate buildout at an unspecified date). Public reassurance does seem to be the name of the game here.

CSX will also report noise complaints and what it does about them to DEP as CSX chooses.

An articulate and knowledgeable Worcester resident asked the Planning Board to require, among other things, CSX's direct and regular reports on air quality and noise complaints to Worcester. He asked how long CSX would take to phase in expensive new cranes that reduce noise and pollution; and observed that calculations of air quality are for increased freight only, not for the proposed increase in commuter rail.

So we have two major flaws in official analysis of air quality following the proposed expansion. One is the use of data from Beacon to justify the work at Worcester. The second is omitting a full picture of what's proposed for Worcester itself.

I left before the end of the meeting so missed the Board's decision. It would be surprising if they required any significant mitigation, like independent monitoring of noise and emissions as that Worcester resident proposed.