Thursday, December 18, 2008

BU Bridge work and environmental damage

Marilyn Wellons reports on her e-mail letter dated December 17, 2008, to David Mohler, Deputy Secretary for Planning in the Executive Office of Transportation, about plans for the Boston University Bridge, and posts the letter below.


At Boston and Cambridge Conservation Commission hearings on August 20 and November 17, 2008, respectively, the Department of Conservation and Recreation showed its plans to repair the bridge. They include a "rehabilitation" of the stormwater system. Unlike other work on the structure, this "rehabilitation" actually increases its footprint--the area of ground it covers--rather than conform to the existing one.

At a public meeting on October 16, 2008 at Boston University, DCR Deputy Commissioner for Operations Jack Murray stated that the DCR is a parks agency first and manager of highways second. However, in Cambridge the new stormwater system will inflict serious and permanent damage to the urban wild that is home to the Charles River White Geese, Canada geese, mallard ducks, rabbits, hawks, and migrating songbirds, among other species. The damage to the goose meadow is consistent with the DCR's long-standing plan to eliminate the Charles River White Geese from the river through habitat destruction, among other means.

At the BU meeting Mr. Murray also said that, under the terms of the Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP), the footprint cannot be expanded to accommodate better, safer bicycle and pedestrian access.

Whether the footprint can nevertheless expand for the DCR's new stormwater system is the question posed in my e-mail to Deputy Secretary Mohler. I believe he chairs the newly established ABP Oversight Council.

The question arises because the DCR has invoked M.G.L. Chapter 91, the recently revised law governing certain work in filled tidal wetlands. By invoking Ch. 91, the DCR effectively nullifies the Cambridge Conservation Commission's ability under the Wetlands Protection Act to require an alternative stormwater system that would avoid damage to the environment. Thus on November 17 the Cambridge ConCom found it was unable to require the DCR to tie drainage from the BU Bridge into the DCR's own stormwater system for Memorial Drive at the Reid Overpass, treat it with the device planned, and use Mem Drive's existing outfall--drain pipe--into the river. This was a possibility the DCR acknowledged in its Cambridge filing. The DCR nevertheless chose to add the new structure.

The two new structures on the Boston and Cambridge ends of the bridge expand its footprint. As such, they require a pro forma license from the Department of Environmental Protection. The letters cited in my e-mail to David Mohler are correspondence between the DCR consultant and DEP officials concerning the expanded footprint and the DEP's determination that the DCR needs a new Ch. 91 license for the footprint's new elements.

The matter of the expanded footprint is not, I think, trivial. Given current concern about the state's transportation funding crisis and history with the Big Dig, this question of control seems to have some point. Holding bridge repairs to the existing footprint is a primary ABP means of control over scope and cost. It will be interesting to learn what Mr. Mohler's take on the issue is.

E-mail letter:

Dear David Mohler:

It is my understanding that the Accelerated Bridge Program requires repairs to conform to any given bridge's existing footprint. For example, the Boston University Bridge cannot be expanded to accommodate bicycles, despite the great need.

Most of the work to repair the BU Bridge will be within the existing footprint. However, the Department of Conservation and Recreation's proposal for "rehabilitation of the existing stormwater management system" will expand it.

This seems contrary to the terms of the ABP. Since you supervise this program I write [to] ask for your opinion.

Please see the letter, attached here, from DCR consultant Kathryn Barnicle to Ben Lynch and Alex Strysky, Department of Environmental Protection Waterways Regulation Program, dated October 24, 2008. In para. 2, Ms. Barnicle states that "[t]he only work proposed outside of the existing footprint of the bridge is two stormwater outfalls needed to meet the Massachusetts Stormwater Policy." The letter includes plans for reach of these new structures, one in Boston, one in Cambridge.

Also attached is Mr. Lynch's response to Ms. Barnicle, dated November 20, 2008. In paras. 2 and 3, Mr. Lynch distinguishes between work to repair the bridge, which requires no new Chapter 91 license, and the "additional outfalls and associated drainage structures." These are "new structures . . . and therefore require c. 91 licensing prior to construction of those drainage facilities."

The structures are shown on plans on pp. 3-4 of Ms. Barnicle's letter as well as in DCR filings with the Boston and Cambridge Conservation Commissions.

In the DCR's Notice of Intent, filed with the Cambridge Conservation Commission (DEP File # 123-0215, August, 2008 [Revised October 2008]) Drawings No. 3 and 4 show the extent of the change. Section 3.2, Proposed Work, describes the change to the footprint on the Cambridge side in some detail (plans for equivalent changes to the footprint on the Boston side [is] in the DCR's NOI with the Boston Conservation Commission, DEP # 006-1171):

"The water quality structure will be a [hydrodynamic separator] installed 25 feet east of the bridge . . . . Extending from the water quality structure will be 120 feet of 12 inch concrete pipe. . . . At the end of the line a flared end section will be mated to the new pipe and a riprap channel will be installed . . . . The riprap channel will extend 5 feet from the water line to the outlet of the pipe" (p. 3-2).

Cleaning up Boston Harbor is an important and necessary task. Given the crisis in our transportation system, maintaining the integrity of the Accelerated Bridge Program is also critically important.

The DCR has identified a means of doing both: tying the new drainage system and hydrodynamic separator to the Memorial Drive stormwater system at the BU Bridge (Cambridge NOI, Section This would also, presumably, work in Boston at Storrow Drive/Soldiers Field Road. The agency nevertheless has opted to change the bridge's footprint, with attendant damage to riverfront parkland.

I would be grateful if you would let me know your opinion, as the official charged with the ABP, of the proposed change to the BU Bridge's footprint. I will call to follow up later this week . . . .

Yours sincerely,

Marilyn Wellons

[Attachments as indicated above.]