Blog Archives

 

by Eric Moskowitz, The Boston Globe

CAMBRIDGE — Shielded from the cold in black running gear, Michal Fabinger interrupted his morning workout along the Charles the other day and extended a gloved finger, pushing the button for the walk signal at Western Avenue and Memorial Drive. It’s something that happens hundreds of times a day even in winter: walkers, bikers, and joggers on one of the region’s most popular recreational paths, stopping to wait for traffic to pass. …(more)

 

by Boston Herald Staff

A furious Mayor Thomas M. Menino said it could cost millions to clean up the mess being made by dirty water pouring into the Mystic, Charles and Neponset rivers.

Dot Joyce, the mayor’s spokeswoman, told the Herald last night Menino fears a multimillion-dollar bill over a lawsuit accusing the city of violating the Clean Water Act.

The mayor is also airing his anger at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission in a recorded interview for not being warned about the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the EPA joining in the dirty-water suit this week.

 

 

by Stephanie Ebbert, Boston Globe

The federal government joined a lawsuit yesterday against the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, alleging that the city agency is violating the Clean Water Act by failing to stop raw sewage and pollutants from flowing into rivers and streams and ultimately into the cleaned-up Boston Harbor.

The suit, originally filed by the Conservation Law Foundation in US District Court in February, seeks to compel the to stop the alleged violations and devote resources to finding illegal sewer hookups and reducing pollution. The US Department of Justice joined the suit on behalf of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“For many years, EPA and others have made major investments in improving water quality in the urban waters in and near Boston,’’ said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Ensuring that we take steps to stop the daily discharge of sewage and other pollutants to these water bodies is critically important for protecting the health of our people and our environment.’’

The Conservation Law Foundation led the federal lawsuit in 1983 that paved the way for the massive, federally mandated cleanup of Boston Harbor. The latest lawsuit and the US government’s decision to join it suggest that water quality improvement remains a work in progress.

A spokesman for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission would not address the details of the complaint.

“While we have no comment on the specifics, the commission takes its role as an environmental steward as seriously as any other and is proud of its contributions to the resurgence of Boston Harbor and the waterfront,’’ Thomas R. Bagley, the agency’s deputy director of communications, said in a statement. “The commission’s commitment to a better environment has been consistently demonstrated in its aggressive capital improvement program, which commits significant resources to system improvements.’’

With the major work of the harbor cleanup complete and with a dramatic improvement in water quality, attention is turning to smaller but cumulative sources of pollution in waterways. Environmentalists, both locally and nationally, once focused on problems as vivid as raw sewage oozing from pipes. Now, they are trying to stop oil and antifreeze in runoff from roadways, toxins in storm-water systems, and animal droppings on riverbanks, all of which wash into waterways during rainstorms and diminish the gains from prior cleanup operations.

“The federal government’s entry into this case is a clear indication of the urgency of the matter and the priority EPA places on it,’’ said Christopher Kilian, director of clean water and healthy forests for theConservation Law Foundtion. The Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s “inability to maintain a system that ensures clean water is a violation of the law and an affront to the people of Boston,’’ Killan said.

The suit alleges that raw sewage and pollutants are being discharged into rivers including the Mystic, Charles, and Neponset, which flow into Boston Harbor. Some of the pollution comes from illegal sewer connections that carry raw sewage directly into storm sewers or indirectly through the city’s drainage system. Some comes from sewer overflows that send untreated waste water directly into rivers and the harbor.

The suit charges that the commission has not done enough to track down illicit sewer links or to implement programs it planned, such as working with contractors to reduce pollutants from construction sites.

Kilian pointed to cities such as Philadelphia and New York that are taking steps to improve their drainage systems to minimize pollution.

“It’s one of the biggest problems in the country causing water pollution,’’ Kilian said. “It’s time for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission to get out of the Stone Age and start applying modern thinking.’’

It remains unclear how much it would cost the commission if it were ordered to upgrade its systems and whether Boston ratepayers would see higher bills as a result.

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s infrastructure covers more than 14 square miles of land and hundreds of discharge pipes into rivers and harbor, Kilian said. The commission was created in 1977 and is run by a three-member board appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The foundation previously sued the state Highway Department over road pollution, calling for better drainage systems and restrictions to prevent grease, oil, and pollutants from being washed directly into rivers and streams. The state was ordered to make improvements, but in May, a federal judge scolded the state Department of Transportation for ignoring the court order.

Since then, Kilian said, the state has updated three stretches of highway and developed a plan for continued improvements. Kilian said he hopes the city’s progress will be swift when the commission is pressed to focus on improving its infrastructure and rooting out problems.

Kilian said the Boston Water and Sewer Commission has focused on maintaining infrastructure, instead of modernizing to improve water quality in Boston and its harbor.

“There really needs to be an evolution of the system in the way it is managed,’’ he said.

 

by John Ellement, Boston Globe

Federal officials today joined the Conservation Law Foundation in demanding that the Boston Water and Sewer Commission fix its sewer system and cut down on the volume of polluted water flowing into rivers around Boston.

In a statement today, Massachusetts US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and the Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office alleged the Boston Water and Sewer Commission is violating the federal Clean Water Act by polluting the Charles, Neponset, Mystic, and other rivers, all of which eventually flow into Boston Harbor.

“Protecting the integrity of our waterways is important,’’ Ortiz said in a statement. “This enforcement action reflects our continuing commitment to that goal.”

The federal agencies now say they will intervene in a federal lawsuit filed against the commission by the Conservation Law Foundation in February. In a statement today, the foundation said the lawsuit “documents serious failures in the system that are allowing ongoing unlawful pollution of Boston’s waterway.”

“The federal government’s entry into this case is a clear indication of the urgency of the matter and the priority EPA places on it,” Conservation Law Foundation official Christopher Kilian said in the statement.

Today’s actions by federal officials adds significantly more clout to the foundation’s demand that the commission spend the time and money needed to permanently implement pollution controls.

“Ensuring that we take steps to stop the daily discharge of sewage and other pollutants to these water bodies is critically important for protecting the health of our people and our environment,” EPA Regional Administrator H. Curtis Spalding said in a statement.

“With sufficient investment of resources, we expect that BWSC will be able to implement measures to control these pollution sources and improve water quality,” Spalding said.

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission issued a statement reacting to the federal action, but declined to address the specific complaints raised in the lawsuit.

“We have no comments on the specifics,’’ the statement said. “However, the commission takes its role as an environmental steward as seriously as any other and is proud of its contributions to the resurgence of Boston Harbor and the Waterfront.’’The statement continued, “The commission’s comment to a better environment has been consistently demonstrated in its aggressive capital improvement program which commits significant resources to system improvements.’’

Commission spokesman Thomas Bagley declined further comment.

 

by Staff Writers, Allston-Brighton TAB

Allston-Brighton — Genzyme helps clean up parklands in Allston Genzyme volunteers clearing bittersweet vines with the Charles River Conservancy.

The Charles River Conservancy is working with the Genzyme Corporation to restore a long-neglected stretch of the Charles River parklands in Allston.

In coordination with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Conservancy’s volunteer program organized two large events, bringing Genzyme employees out to remove a massive amount of invasive bittersweet and buckthorn, prune parkland trees and clear downed limbs on the shoreline between the Western Avenue and River Street bridges.

Genzyme has made a commitment to the Charles River Conservancy through its “GIVE” program to act as stewards of this narrow, but highly visible section of the Parklands directly in front of their manufacturing plant in Allston.

Sandra Poole, Genzyme Allston’s site head, said, “Ensuring a safe, healthy and environmentally responsible operation is foundational for everything we do here in Allston. We want to foster a culture where these aspects of our operations are on the forefront of people’s minds at all times. This not only applies here inside the plant, but to our surroundings as well.”

Future volunteer events to replant and enhance the riverbank are currently in the planning phases.

Since 2000, the Charles River Conservancy has dedicated its efforts to the stewardship and renewal of the DCR-owned parklands from Boston Harbor to the Watertown Dam. Conservancy programs include advocating for the Parklands, overseeing the work of some 2,500 volunteers annually, returning public swimming to the river, building a skate park, restoring pathways, pruning and planting trees, hosting free Sunday Parkland Games with yoga and dancing, hosting public TV shows and providing education about the Parklands.

 

by Brian P. Nanos, Cambridge Chronicle

Education First received the zoning change it needed to go forward with a planned expansion of its Cambridge headquarters — but not before members of the City Council debated how the city should allocate the more than $900,000 in mitigation money the company was providing to the city.

Mitigation funds are often paid to the city by a developer in order to counteract any negative impact of building.

Councilors were expressing their frustration with the process used to allocate mitigation funds.

Councilor Craig Kelley called the current process “very broken.”

“This is just nonsense, at this point,” Councilor Marjorie Decker said of the debate over mitigation. “That’s just, it’s not a good process.”

“It would be great if we could focus on fixing that before we get more of these proposals down the line,” Kelley said.

Later in the meeting, the Council turned its eye to creating a better process for spending mitigation when it passed an order asking the city manager and city staff to provide a report on the law relating to mitigation in zoning amendment petitions.

For a project that caused so much debate, the EF expansion was not controversial among the Council.

The company has been planning an expansion of its current headquarters at 1 Education St. that would include a new building across the street.

McKinnon filed a zoning petition on behalf of EF Education First that would allow the proposed development to be built under the same zoning provisions as the last building. The minimum size of a development parcel, under current zoning laws, is 100,000 square feet.

Additionally, EF is asking that the Planning Board be given the right to waive a requirement that 35 percent of the development be residential.

When councilors spoke about the project itself, it was often to praise the company, its adding jobs or the union construction jobs that would be created by the expansion.

“I would like to urge my colleagues to support the adoption of this zoning petition this evening,” Mayor David Maher said. “I think that this is a good thing for EF, it is a good thing for the City of Cambridge.”

The debate came over how the city would spend the $914,000 in mitigation funds offered by EF. The order passed Monday night called for those funds to be spent in a manner to be decided later by City Manager Bob Healy.

Councilor Tim Toomey was unhappy with that. He wanted assurances that the bulk of the money would be spent in East Cambridge, the neighborhood that would be most affected by the new construction.

“I’m talking about being used as a fool here, and I just can’t allow that to happen,” he said.

He said that he had been led to believe — as co-chairman of the Ordinance Committee that had met on the zoning amendment — that there was already a deal in place for mitigation.

He said $250,000 should be given to the Cambridge Citywide scholarship fund; $250,000 to the East Cambridge Scholarship Fund; $75,000 each to the Fletcher-Maynard Academy, the Kennedy Longfellow School and the King Open School; and $25,000 to the Cambridge Energy Alliance.

“For some reason at the last minute that was changed and the rug was pulled out,” he said. “To pull the rug out from that neighborhood is just unconscionable.”

Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis suggested that Toomey’s concerns would be addressed when the city allocated the money and most of it went to East Cambridge.

“As much as I would like to believe that, after I went through that process that level of trust is no longer there,” he replied.

In response to Toomey’s complaints, both Councilors Ken Reeves and Marjorie Decker suggested that mitigation funds should be spent citywide, so that neighborhoods with less construction aren’t left out.

 

 

Feasibility study meets with frustration from elected officials and residents

-By Dan Murphy, Beacon Hill Times

The clear consensus among the elected officials and roughly 50 West End residents at the Amy Lowell

Apartments last Tuesday suggests that the state’s feasibility study now underway for the proposed Leverett

Circle Pedestrian Bridge is an exercise in futility.

“This is a tremendous waste of time and money,” City Council President Mike Ross said. “No bridge in the

history of Massachusetts has had this much discussion. Either build it or don’t build it, just stop wasting our

time.”

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Project Manager Amy Getchell said the

approximately $70,000 study would evaluate three alternatives – a no-build option that would maintain

existing at-grade pedestrian and bicycle access, a bridge with no at-grade crossings and, finally, a bridge with

at-grade crossings.

Criteria used in the study include safety for all users, security, length of travel and cost and construction,

among other considerations.

In June of 2011, the study team is scheduled to submit its final recommendations to officials from MassDOT

and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the agency that would ultimately have jurisdiction

over the bridge. MassDOT Secretary and CEO Jeffrey Mullan committed to deciding on the matter by the

early summer, Getchell said.

State Rep. Marty Walz voiced her concern that one alternative proposed doing away with at-grade access at the

intersection.

“I’m absolutely mystified as to why we’re getting rid of at-grade crossings,” Walz said. “To take away an

improvement to this community…makes no sense to me whatsoever.”

Bob O’Brien, executive director of the Downtown North Association, said both a bridge and at-grade crossings

were necessary for user safety in light of proposed large-scale development in the area, including planned

expansions of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary campuses.

“Our position has always been in favor of a tandem strategy that involves rehabilitation of the pedestrian

bridge and at-grade improvements,” O’Brien said.Meanwhile, longtime proponents of the bridge expressed frustration with the lack of progress made to date,

especially since the outcome of the study evidently provides no assurance that the state will actually build the

overpass.

“We are entitled to a bridge, and we demand it,” said Ivy Turner, a West End Council member and a Whittier

Place trustee. “We will accept nothing less.”

 

By Laura Paine, Watertown TAB

WATERTOWN — Federal funding has been found to rebuild Watertown’s beloved Charles River dock.

According to State Rep. Jonathan Hecht, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved money for replacing the dock that washed away in March’s heavy rains.

“Right now we’re trying to figure out with [Department of Conservation and Recreation] if it will be enough money to cover the cost and if not, where the additional money is going to come from,” said Hecht, who did not specify an amount. “Its been slow so far and a long and very bureaucratic process.  It’s important we get that dock back up as soon as we can.”

Hecht said there have been many discussions with the DCR, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the FEMA about how the money will be passed on to the town for the dock’s replacement.

According to DCR spokesperson Wendy Fox, a spokesperson for the DCR, she did know that the federal funding had been made available.

A call made to a FEMA representative was not immediately returned.

The DCR filed a request for disaster relief funds for the dock with FEMA in August. President Barack Obama had declared a major disaster for Massachusetts because of the heavy rains and resulting flooding in the spring.

The federal government set aside $6.4 million to help reimburse local and state governments, as well as some nonprofit organizations, with infrastructure repairs. FEMA only pays for 7 5 percent of the work and the local government is accountable for the rest.

The entire dock disappeared down the swollen Charles River in mid-March, finally coming to rest at the Newton Yacht Club. The remains had to be broken into pieces and removed by a crane, according to Christopher Hayward, Watertown’s conservation agent.

In the dock’s place now, a set of stairs leads directly into the river. The dock in Watertown Square had been a popular place for fishing, sunbathing and peaceful relaxation.

 

by John P. DeVillars, Boston Globe

IT IS IRONIC that as a new Congress prepares to convene in Washington — propelled by public disenchantment with government’s seeming inability to serve the public interest — we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that has had an enormous impact on the nation’s economy and quality of life, and was established by a Republican president with the strong support of Democratic leadership in Congress. The agency’s success is, in part, defined statistically. Across the board — air, water, land, and sea — the environment is measurably improved. Emissions of the six most common air pollutants have been cut by more than 50 percent. Lead emissions are down 98 percent. Our cars are 99 percent cleaner. The percentage of the population served by advanced wastewater treatment plants has more than doubled. More than 3,000 Superfund sites have been remediated. All this has been achieved during a time in which the population increased by nearly 40 percent and the economy more than doubled.

For every $1 of public investment in achieving these advances, there have been $30 of public benefits in reduced hospital admissions, fewer premature deaths and lost work days, and the creation of a world-renowned environmental technology industry that last year alone contributed more than $250 billion to the US economy.

In 1969 Time Magazine displayed Ohio’s Cuyahoga River on fire and declared Boston Harbor the dirtiest harbor in America. Three years earlier the Charles River was fabled in song in The Standells’ “Dirty Water.’’ Today, as a consequence of the EPA’s stewardship of the 1970 Clean Water Act, kayakers are on the Cuyahoga, Boston Harbor is a rich ecological and recreational resource, and last summer the Charles was safe for swimming more than 90 percent of the time.

But EPA’s success and its standing as a model for public governance in an age of public disenchantment is defined by its means as well as its ends. It founded its regulations on strong science and sought to implement and enforce them with common sense. It has attracted and retained a highly educated workforce — the agency has more employees with graduate degrees than any federal agency other than NASA. With the notable exception of a brief period during the Reagan administration, it has been untainted by scandal. Consistently and steadfastly it has put the public interest ahead of special interests.

Of course, there is much more to be done, especially on climate change and other threats, from fracking chemicals to mountaintop coal removal.

But EPA also recognizes that government alone can not protect the environment. The agency’s leaders understood this from the beginning. We must “enhance the awareness of all the people and all the institutions of this society,’’ said William Ruckelshaus, the EPA’s first administrator. And they understand it today. “It’s about empowerment; making sure the community is part of the command structure,’’ the agency’s current administrator, Lisa Jackson, has said.

From helping small businesses prevent pollution to providing information on toxic releases in communities, the EPA has recognized that protecting the environment is everyone’s job; the more the agency empowers others, the more effective it is.

Strong science, common sense, integrity, passion, commitment, partnership — these have been the agency’s watchwords for 40 years. They have served us well and provide a path for all of government to follow in restoring trust and confidence.

John P. DeVillars was the New England administrator of the EPA from 1993 to 2000. 

 

by Daniel Charles Defraia, Allston-Brighton TAB

Brighton, Mass. — In the cold early morning at Herter Park on the banks of the Charles River, a small crew of volunteers planted a thousand daffodil bulbs donated by Mahoney’s Garden Center in Brighton. It was the final daffodil event of the season for the Charles River Conservancy, an advocacy group dedicated to the renovation and redecoration of the parklands.

Last year, with the help of volunteers, the conservancy planted 10,000 daffodil bulbs. They planted more than 800 more bulbs on Saturday, bringing this year’s total to 10,000.

The bulbs need to be planted this fall for daffodils to bloom next spring.

Most of the volunteers were students from local colleges such as Wentworth, MIT, Boston University and Bunker Hill Community College.

Students from Wentworth College’s Phi Sigma Phi honors fraternity participated as part of a “service requirement.” A group from Bunker Hill Community College said this was their second time planting daffodils and were happy to serve the community.

Charles River Conservancy volunteer coordinator Logan Walsh directed and organized the event. He handed pickaxes to eager volunteers to break through the sod and hard soil, spade shovels to dig the trenches for the flowers, and wheelbarrows to haul away the excess plants and brush.

Of the many varieties of plants cleared away, desert false indigo was the most notorious. While not technically an invasive species, some gardeners consider the plant to be a problem. When cut at a specific time, the plant produces a red fluid that was intended to be a substitute for indigo dye. But the plant has long outgrown the original intention, and now covers many parts of the riverbank.

Walsh mentioned that while “daffodils are not actually native to the New England area, “ they have become naturalized in the sense that local residents “really enjoy having them here.”

In late April, he said, when the daffodils bloom, there’s not “much happening on the parkway. And [the daffodils] are a nice way to get people back outside after the wintertime. It gives them a reason to come out to the river and walk around. They’re really beautiful.”

Yearly, the Conservancy brings together more than 2,500 volunteers to perform vital maintenance work and build permanent improvements in the parklands— planting bulbs, painting park benches, removing invasive species and trimming brush.

Since 2002, more than 17 ,000 Conservancy volunteers have contributed more than $1 million of donated labor to improve the health, safety, and beauty of the Charles River Parklands.

Get involved To learn more about the Charles River Conservancy, visit www.charlesriverconservancy.org.