Thursday, April 27, 2006

letter to the Boston Conservation Commission about further illegal clearing on the Charles River

On April 19 the Charles River Conservancy applied to the Boston Conservation Commission for permission to do yet more work on our Charles River public parklands. Given the CRC's history of work contrary to provisions of the Wetlands Protection Act, I submitted this letter to the Commission:

To the Boston Conservation Commission:

re: Request for Determination of Applicability from the Charles River Conservancy for pathway and landscaping improvements adjacent to the Eliot Bridge, Soldiers Field Road, Charles River (100-foot Buffer Zone to Inland Bank)

When considering this request and related filings by the CRC and/or the DCR, please consider the organizations’ history regarding the Wetlands Protection Act and your Commission’s orders. Because of this history, CRC projects bear a heavy burden of proof that they are in the public interest. The evidence of the CRC’s work along the river indicates they are not.

Your site visits in 2004 confirmed the CRC’s illegal destruction at Herter West and from there to the Anderson Bridge. As a result, you ordered, among other things, that
no vegetation management activities by volunteers, including cutting and pruning, shall occur on any property owned or managed by the DCR along the Charles River in Boston without direct supervision by DCR or Charles River Conservancy staff. (letter, Chris Busch to DCR Commissioner Abbott, January 13, 2005.)

On Friday, March 10, at 12:40 p.m. I came upon a solitary CRC “volunteer” cutting the waterfront plants from the Northeastern boathouse downriver near the catalpas. Please see the enclosed photographs of the CRC worker, who identified himself as Kenny and said he was cutting the plants “for the regatta” (October’s Head of the Charles?). Kenny said he had worked with the CRC’s Evan Moss the previous weekend and that Mr. Moss had agreed he could continue to cut during the following week, as he was indeed doing, unsupervised.

This incident underscores the DCR’s previous misrepresentations to the Commission about its willingness or ability to supervise “vegetation management” by its agent, the CRC. Contrary to the agency’s statements at your hearings and on your site visits to Herter West, the chainsaw-wielding, then-CRC Board of Advisors member Lawrence Coolidge was not a “loose cannon” in October, 2003 when he and other CRC “volunteers” illegally destroyed much of that urban wild. Mr. Coolidge not only participated in the project but funded it, as the CRC’s website continues to acknowledge. The website also reports the DCR’s approval of plans for that project. Please see

Kenny, the unsupervised CRC “volunteer” on March 10, wore a Harvard cap and was working on the riverfront near Harvard’s planned Allston museum. As at nearby Herter West in 2003, the effect of this CRC work is to transform the Charles River parkland from the rural landscape its designers intended for us city dwellers to an office park for Harvard University’s corporate interests.

The DCR’s repeated failure to prevent such work indicates a policy of approval, although it is possible its “vegetation management” is only mindless. To get rid of an oriental bittersweet on the lagoon behind the Publick Theatre, for example, Mr. Moss’s workers destroyed every goldenrod and aster in full bloom there last September, revealing the theater’s dumpster and backside. Clear-cutting of the riverbank like Kenny’s keeps open vistas to the cars on the opposite shore. The DCR admits “invasive” false indigo holds the riverbank for free, yet weakens and kills it through the CRC’s perpetual clear-cutting. (How many acres of eroded riverfront parkland, how many acres of heron and herring habitat have we lost because of such “vegetation management”?)

The Wetlands Protection Act and your Commission have held the DCR to a higher standard of stewardship than this. Please keep the DCR’s and CRC’s history of actual destruction in mind when considering the CRC’s present request for continued work on our precious parkland and when reviewing DCR-CRC “vegetation management.”

Yours sincerely,
Marilyn Wellons

Boston Conservation Commission meeting April 19, 2006

On April 19 the Charles River Conservancy applied to the Boston ConCom for permission to do yet more work on our public riverfront parkland.

By the time I got to the meeting Richard Corsi (DCR)and Evan Moss (CRC) were finishing their presentation. I have the plans and plant list.

The project is to do things with "native plants" and "pervious surfaces" at the Eliot Bridge right where the CRC's "volunteers" previously cut down so many trees and shrubs for the Head of the Charles.

During public comment I distributed the letter (also posted) and photos about the DCR's unsupervised "vegetation management" on the Charles in March of this year, contrary to the Commission's previous order.

Summarizing the letter, I told the Commission that DCR and CRC representatives speaking to the ConCom had previously misrepresented CRC and DCR responsibility for illegal clearing in the past (October, 2003), that the unsupervised clearing was continuing, that the DCR and CRC were turning the riverfront into an office park for Harvard rather than protecting it as a public resource.

The ConCom voted to allow the project. One member admonished the DCR and CRC to supervise the "volunteers" and said I should monitor the project and tell the ConCom of any further violations. He then asked if I had anything to say. I replied that any ConCom remedy would come too late, after the damage.

The ConCom member said he was certain there would be remedies--did I remember the cherry trees? The Boston ConCom certainly did go after the DCR to get the donated Japanese cherries removed from the Esplanade, I know.

However, when dealing with outright vandalism, it's hard to remedy the destruction. The urban wild at Herter West still lacks the nice screen of plants that insulated it from the noise and sight of cars and commercial buildings on Soldiers Field Road. (This was among the things CRC Board of Advisors member and funder of the CRC project illegally cut down with his chain saw in 2003.) Can't paste the trunks and branches back on the trees and shrubs once they're gone.

And this unsupervised "vegetation management" is the third time the CRC has been involved in illegal doings on the river. The ConCom has previously taken steps to stop the damage, and the DCR and CRC have repeatedly violated the Commission's orders.

1.) In late February, 2002, my husband and I came upon CRC Board of Advisors member Lawrence Coolidge who was cutting down trees and other plants within one hundred feet of the river without an Order of Conditions from the Boston ConCom for the work. The Commission determined the DCR (then MDC) knew of Coolidge's illegal work, and in October, 2002 got a restraining order against the MDC to prevent further such vandalism.

2.) In September, 2003, Mr. Coolidge (still on the CRC Board of Advisors) was nevertheless at it again, this time paying for a major DCR project. He and other CRC volunteers again cut down and cleared trees and other plants illegally, as mentioned above. Having determined the clearing was beyond anything permitted, the BostonConCom informed the DCR Commissioner in January, 2005 that ". . . no vegetation maintenance activities by volunteers, including cutting and pruning, shall occur on any property owned or managed by the DCR along the Charles River in Boston without direct supervision by DCR or Charles River Conservancy staff" (letter, BostonConCom to DCR Commissioner, January 13, 2005, p. 2).

3.) Nevertheless, in March, 2006, an unsupervised CRC "volunteer" was cutting plants illegally on the Boston side of the river downriver from the Northeastern boathouse as described in my letter to the Boston ConCom. This time the ConCom took no action against the CRC apart from warning it to be sure to supervise the "volunteers" and the one member's asking me to monitor the CRC project just approved.

After the meeting the CRC "volunteer" coordinator asked why I hate him. He said once again he'd like to work with me (having said the same when I confronted him about his so-called supervision of the "volunteers" last fall when they indiscriminately cut down beautiful fall wildflowers behind the Publick Theatre. After denying any ["native"!] goldenrod had been cut down, he admitted having told his people they could clear cut). I tried to explain I don't hate him, I dislike the organizations he works for and with, and that he should get out of such unsavory company.