Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Environmental issues at Alewife: Archon Group's proposed development

Water Quality, Habitat, Boston Harbor

The Archon Group, developers of three new buildings on CambridgePark Drive at Alewife, announced at the September 23, 2008 Planning Board hearing that holding tanks for 38,000 gallons of raw sewage will go under one of those buildings.

Archon's civil engineer explained that Cambridge is under court order to clean up Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) there. Cambridge Department of Public Works (DPW) has asked Archon to put storage tanks sufficient for 1.5-2 days of raw sewage during a flooding "event," as "mitigation."

The storage tank is not the stormwater retention pond Cambridge proposes to put in the Alewife Reservation, although it is related to it.

Steve Kaiser reminded the Planning Board that the retention pond is the subject of a court case to be heard Wednesday, October 1, in Suffolk Superior Court. And Elsie Fiori, Arlington resident and former Conservation Commission member, said even if Archon or other developers put sewage in the holding tanks, any overflow goes directly into Alewife Brook.

Following up with both, I have tried to understand the relation of the sewage tanks and the retention pond to see where the Archon project fits in all this. Given the pending court case, this is a preliminary report.


Only a very small portion of the Great Swamp between Fresh Pond and the Mystic River constitutes the Alewife Reservation--state parkland. The larger area has been and remains wetlands and flood plain. Cambridge, our "green" city, has declined to forgo any development of land there in private hands. (It could presumably use Community Preservation Act funds to acquire and protect this natural flood storage system.) Instead, ignoring the costs of its strategy, it has treated Alewife as a piggy bank that pays out with each new development.

Over the years, the city's investment in sanitary drainage from development of the great swamp has not kept pace with building there. CSOs, where raw sewage and stormwater runoff mix in sewer pipes, overflow onto the land in storms and back up into people's houses. Ultimately this pollution makes it to the Mystic River and Boston harbor, to the detriment of living beings in its course. A federal court has ordered the state to clean it up. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) was the agency created to do so.

Cambridge's Design

According to Ms. Fiore, Cambridge has now separated all but 4 of 11 combined sewers there but argues it doesn't have $1M to separate the final 4.

According to Mr. Kaiser, although the MWRA is the sponsoring agency for the CSO separation, Cambridge was designated for the design. Cambridge's design changed the project to include a retention pond for stormwater runoff from the Fresh Pond flood plain north of Concord Ave and around New Street. Cambridge puts the retention pond at Alewife Reservation, right next to Little River. The pond consumes much of the Reservation, a precious urban wild.

DPW's Owen O'Riordan is apparently the city's point man for the design and the sewage storage tanks. (I think leverage must be through the Conservation Commission and the Wetlands Protection Act. The ConCom allowed 310 residential units in the floodplain in the Oaktree building with a sewage storage tank under it.)

Given Archon's statements at the Planning Board, Cambridge's position may be that holding tanks for raw sewage under new buildings at Alewife are adequate "mitigation" for failure to separate the final 4 CSOs. Since I understand the case in Suffolk Superior Court deals only with the retention pond and not specifically CSOs, I am still not clear whether the court has allowed Cambridge to separate 7 and not 11 CSOs provided it requires sewage tanks and constructs the detention pond, or whether there are further legal issues.

Cambridge's Plan

So, as I understand the city's plan: in a big storm, stormwater from Fresh Pond properties is to flow into the retention pond in the Alewife Reservation, to be discharged into Little River and Alewife Brook in due course. At the same time, raw sewage from new buildings at Alewife is to be stored under them for 1-2 days, and then discharged into unseparated sewers.

As "Best Management Practices" (BMPs), as I think these are called, the retention pond and the storage tanks assume 1.) the storm goes away in 1-2 days; 2.) the floodplain drains; 3.) the detained stormwater and stored sewage then run into unseparated sewers to Alewife Brook, thence 4.) into the Mystic River, 5.) thence into the harbor.

Ms. Fiore points out that in a more serious storm that exceeds the storage capacity of the sewage tanks, raw sewage beyond the Archon tank's 38,000 gallons will go directly into the combined sewers, thence into the flooding Alewife Brook and plain, and sewage backs up into sanitary drains. She notes that releasing the stored sewage gradually after any storm may be more harmful to habitat than discharging it all at once; no data have been offered.

Cambridge's Strategy

The city will maintain development in Cambridge's Alewife flood plain (hence tax base and revenues, hence bond rating), shift the burden of complying with the court order to clean up Boston Harbor to Alewife developers, and spare the city an estimated $1M to separate the last 4 illegal, polluting, combined sewers there.

It will shift the burden of stormwater management from land around Fresh Pond zoned for development (hence tax base and revenues, hence bond rating) to Alewife's state parkland, sparing the city's coffers the loss of such development.

For many years the city's executive has pursued this strategy of preserving the development potential of every scrap of land, and shifting every possible municipal cost to others, whether they be homeowners in Cambridge or Arlington, developers at Alewife, or all who benefit from the urban wild on state parkland at Alewife.

Staff departments and boards work on operational details, and, supported up to now by the City Council, cultivate a public image of probity and prudence in the execution of this strategy.

Air Quality at Alewife

In addition to the CSO storage tanks, Cambridge apparently wants Archon to pull another chestnut from the fire.

Archon's project is supposed to be transit-oriented-development (TOD), but the congestion at Alewife is a mess. (Archon was previously the developer at North Point, another presumed TOD.)

The city says traffic at Alewife is a regional problem, not one of Archon's making. So the Assistant City Manager for Traffic and Parking, Susan Clippinger, thinks 1648 new autos from that development are ok, and 1827 are negotiable. (The people who wait 45 minutes to get out of Cpark Drive during the afternoon rush hour said at the hearing they don't agree.)

Ms. Clippinger said the city wants either the state or Archon to fund improvements to the Rte2/Rte 16 intersection to help unclog the massive traffic jams all along Alewife Brook Parkway and CambridgePark Drive.

Massachusetts, with a $20B backlog on existing maintenance of the transportation infrastructure and long lines for the transportation bond money, seems a poor candidate to pay for any such thing. In the current financial climate, and given previous problems at North Point, it's not clear whether Archon would be happy to pick up the slack.

The Planning Board continued the hearing to October 7, public comment remains open through that meeting.

Marilyn Wellons

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Article in Boston Globe, Letter in Cambridge Chronicle

Bob La Trémouille reports:

1. Boston Sunday Globe report.

The City Section of today's Boston Sunday Globe (September 14, 2008) published an excellent article on the BU Bridge project and the impact on the Charles River White Geese.

It may currently be viewed online at:

Good article. Excellent photo of one of our eminent residents.

2. Cambridge Chronicle letter.

The Cambridge Chronicle printed our recent Sarah Palin article on the first letters page, page 9 in its September 11, 2008 edition. We published it below at: The Chronicle published it without apparent edit. The Chronicle printing of the letter may be seen at

The title provided by the editor is "Sarah Palin, Cambridge have a lot in common." Interestingly, this was the third letter printed. The first letter took the Chronicle to task for the title provided a letter in a previous edition for the Chronicle's apparent failure to recognize irony.

There is no way I would, with any great vigor, go to and challenge the Chronicle after publishing the letter so visibly. I can see, however, how Republicans might object to Governor Palin's behavior being compared to the civil rights and environmental irresponsibility of the City of Cambridge, MA.

I am aware of no grounds to contend that Governor Palin is as irresponsible as the City of Cambridge either in the civil rights or environmental fields.

Additionally, the truly reprehensible part of the behavior of the City of Cambridge comes from their extreme hypocrisy. There is no reason whatsoever to compare Governor Palin to the real vileness of the hypocrisy in the City of Cambridge.

The purpose of the letter was to say that she would love to CHALLENGE the City of Cambridge for their hypocrisy.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Bob La Trémouille reports:

The following is reprinted from with permission of the author, exact URL provided:

Archie Mazmanian on September 11th, 2008 at 8:31 am:


I hadn’t taken a walk along the Charles River for several years. A niece from California visiting with us likes to walk, so we accessed the Charles River through BU’s campus at the Marsh Chapel and the pedestrian bridge over Storrow Drive . We walked down to and crossed the Massachusetts Avenue bridge, noting the “Smoot” distance markings, and then headed westerly towards the BU Bridge.

Since my last perambulation along this route, there have been many changes on the Cambridge side along the Charles. Bushes at the waters’ edge would block views of the white geese who used to “control” much of this bank of the Charles where guests at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, nearby workers and strollers would feed them. I recalled that one had to keep distance from the geese – especially children – as white geese were very protective of their goslings. For the most part, people enjoyed, admired and respected these white geese, especially in an urban environment, providing a valuable life experience especially for children observing and learning respect for nature.
Perhaps these bushes were planted to thwart both the white geese and the people who fed and watched them. Who was accountable for this? Was it the City of Cambridge ? BU which had taken over and substantially enlarged a boat house across the Charles from its Boston campus at the easterly Cambridge side of the BU Bridge? The Hyatt Regency Hotel? The Commonwealth? Surely it wasn’t the strollers or the workers at the several rehabbed facilities just across Memorial Drive enjoying lunch breaks on the bank of the Charles and a respite from urban life.

During our walk, I gave my niece a “history” of what has happened in this area since we moved to nearby Brookline in 1973. As we passed the BU boat house, I noticed for the first time a flight of stairs leading down to an open sandy area just back from the River, surrounded by protective vegetation, filled with white geese, their nesting area. We didn’t go down the stairs for a closer look as we did not wish to disturb the white geese; after all, they respect our privacy, don’t they?

This nesting area is just easterly of the GJRL and the BU Bridge it passes under crossing the River. As any commuter in the Commonwealth Avenue/BU Bridge area knows, the Bridge is undergoing extensive, long-needed repairs. But conservation issues have just recently surfaced, involving not only water quality issues but the situation of the white geese and their nesting area. The plan of the Commonwealth may include using the white geese’s nesting area, or a portion, for staging BU Bridge repairs. But what would happen to the white geese community?

The Cambridge Conservation Commission has entered the scene, perhaps goaded (or goosed?), to address conservation issues associated with the Bridge repairs. On the Boston side, there are no white geese issues, only water quality, so that Boston ’s Conservation Commission seems to have been silent on conservation issues related to Bridge repairs. The Town of Brookline ’s Conservation Commission lacks jurisdiction as its borders stop at the southerly side of Commonwealth Avenue . So let’s credit the Cambridge environmental community for goading (or goosing?) the Cambridge Conservation Commission into addressing the white geese who are between the rock ( Charles River ?) and the hard place (BU Bridge?). But might this Commission cave-in to the priority of Bridge repairs over the white geese?

Phase 2 of the Urban Ring continues to plod ahead with its Charles River crossing route either over or under (GJRL) the BU Bridge, which would affect more than the white geese nesting area along the GJRL in portions of Cambridgeport towards Kendall Square . Perhaps it is time for the Urban Ring project to reconsider the location (and method) for Phase 2’s Charles River crossing. A long traffic bottle-necked Commonwealth Avenue/BU Bridge area gets worse and worse with BU Bridge repairs proposed to take place over the next three years or more. Adding Phase 2’s 60-foot articulated BRT buses over – or under (GJRL) – the BU Bridge may get us closer to gridlock as well as destroy the white geese nesting area.

We must listen to the “Cry of the White Geese” variation on the late Frankie Laine’s hit recording of yesteryear: “My heart knows what the white goose knows, I must go where the white goose goes.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Elaboration on BU Bridge Proposal

Bob La Trémouille reports:

The extreme irresponsponsibility of the Department of Conservation and Recreation has made their proposal for major work on the BU Bridge even more destructive than the least it would be with a responsible bureacracy at the helm.

The BU Bridge needs work, BUT that work is being done in the context of strikingly irresponsible behavior by Cambridge and the state bureaucrats.

The irresponsible record makes the situation that much worse in their reprehensible treatment of the Charles River White Geese.

The geese have been starved. Their habitat has been destroyed, and the sick people doing this have entered into the ghetto to which they have been confined. They have destroyed ground vegetation and destroyed ground vegetation and destroyed ground vegetation.

The result is that the area now proposed to be destroyed is what little vegetation these bastards have not destroyed in the past four years, PLUS they are destroying a very significant part of the ghetto to which the Charles River White Geese have been driven.

This is nothing less than outrageous.

If the Charles River were restored to the situation before 2004, the environmental damage of the BU Bridge project would be excuseable IF IT WERE TEMPORARY.

There is not only no proposal to undo four years of damage, but the bastards at the DCR and Cambridge are continuing additional environmental destruction.

IN ADDITION TO NOT doing the even more destructive stuff that I reported on in the prior report, the following needs to be done:

1. The sickos from the Charles River Conservancy MUST BE STOPPED. Their ongoing destruction of ground vegetation is threatening the migration path and has destroyed all ground vegetation at the nesting area stretching beyond the railroad to the BU Boathouse.

Pretty much the only vegetation which has not been destroyed would be destroyed by the latest outrage.

The area must be reseeded. The native vegetation which the sickos from the Charles River Conservancy are destroying ON BEHALF OF the bureacrats and Cambridge must return.

2. The bizarre vegetation walling off the Charles River from Magazine Beach must be chopped down and kept chopped down. Give the sickos something constructive to do. Get rid of this mess and let the Charles River White Geese return to Magazine Beach for normal feeding.

3. Kill the Cambridge and DCR plans to poison Magazine Beach with chemicals. Absolutely bizarre, quite simply bizarre.

Thank you.

Public Tour on BU Bridge Rebuilding this Friday, Official Hearing 10/20.

This coming Friday at 8 am, the DCR will take the Cambridge Conservation Commission on a tour of the Nesting Area of the Charles River White Geese and other Cambridge locations impacted by the proposed BU Bridge reconstruction.

The Cambridge Conservation Commission meeting Monday evening on the project was striking for the environmental insensitivity of the DCR and its consultant.

Instead of using the rotary under Memorial Drive for staging, these destructive individuals intend to use half of the geese's last residence, the half next to the Memorial Drive off ramp.

A drainage system which could be installed on the west side of the bridge, with the same contempt for the environment, is scheduled for installation in the geese's nesting area as well.

Apparently, major work is needed for the eastern side of the Bridge. That would require use of part of the habitat. The DCR is proposing what appears to be destruction of 2/3 of the habitat including pretty much all the ground vegetation which, to date, has not been destroyed by the Charles River Conservancy acting as agent for the DCR.

Monday's meeting was not an official hearing. The official hearing will apparently be conducted the evening of October 20, 2008, 7 pm or so, on the fourth floor of Cambridge City Hall Annex at the corner of Broadway and Inman Street.

Monday's meeting was covered by the Globe City Section and by the BU student press.

Sarah Palin would love Cambridge, MA and the state bureaucrats

The following letter was sent by Bob La Trémouille to a number of recipients. Sarah Palin is the Republicans' candidate for vice president. She is currently governor of Alaska:


Sarah Palin, who mocked Senator Obama at the Republican convention, would have a field day with the City of Cambridge and its friends. She would love the frequently heartless behavior in the fields of civil rights and the environment.

Very quickly the city council will have to choose between firing the city manager or appealing a $4.5 million jury decision. $3.5 million of that decision is penal. The jury found that the city manager fired a black woman head of the Police Review Board in retaliation for her filing a civil rights complaint.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has twice now found probable cause of discrimination in the city council’s attempt to keep a handicapped woman from using her guide dog.

The city’s "environmentalism" includes destroying what appears to be thousands of healthy trees at Fresh Pond. Healthy mature trees are being destroyed so the city council can plant saplings. The city council brags of its saplings but keeps tree destruction secret.

Monday, September 8, the Cambridge Conservation Commission will decide whether to authorize the destruction of the final part of the habitat of the Charles River White Geese.

The rest of the habitat has already been destroyed for them and their food taken away from them.

The key bureaucrat in the Department of Conservation and Recreation calls this "doing no harm" to them. He has repeatedly made that assertion since state attacks against animals and native vegetation on the Charles started in October 1999.

DCR agents now routinely destroy the eggs of as much water fowl as they can get away with on the Charles River.

DCR agents, twice a year, destroy protective vegetation needed by migrating waterfowl on the Charles River, while omitting destruction of the bizarre wall of vegetation planted at Magazine Beach.

The DCR and Cambridge are destroying green maintenance at Magazine Beach for chemical maintenance. At Ebersol Fields, the DCR followed up with Tartan. They poisoned the Charles from the harbor to the Mass. Ave. bridge.

"Environmental protection" in the zoning ordinance is too often anything but. Let us not forget the zoning change which was claimed to protect green space between the Radisson Hotel and Memorial Drive. Secret fine print did exactly the opposite.

Sarah Palin would love Cambridge. The holier than thous are so commonly flat out hypocrisy that Cambridge is the Republicans’ holy grail in their fight against liberalism.

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” ( 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

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 .