A meeting was held on Monday, May 27, 2011 in the State House to review the status of key issues in the Mystic/Alewife area with the management of the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Notes on the last previous such meeting, in September 2010, are available at a previous post.

In attendance were:

  • Commissioner Ed Lambert and key members of his staff, including Joe Orfant, Director of Planning, Mike Misslin, Acting Director of Engineering, Bill Gode, Director of Flood Control Management, and Nick Gove, Operations Director for the North Region.
  • Senators and Representatives representing neighborhoods along the Alewife Brook and Mystic River from Belmont and Winchester out to Everett, including Senator Jehlen and her chief staff, Bob FitzPatrick, Cindy Friedman, chief of staff for Senator Donnelly, and Representatives Brownsberger, Donato, Garballey, Lewis, Provost, Sciortino (through his aide, Kathleen Keating), Smith and Wolf.
  • Roy Avellaneda, legislative liaison from the Department of Transportation and Paul King, the project manager for the Craddock Locks project.
  • Mike Rademacher, Arlington Public Works Director.

Flood Control

Flooding was the issue most discussed. Significant progress has been made and more progress is underway:

  • The Mystic Lakes Dam reconstruction has been completed. This is a big safety improvement as the dam was close to failing. Additionally, the new dam includes mechanized “Pelican gates” that will allow DCR to lower the Upper Mystic Lake by as much as two feet in advance of the largest expected storm events. The dam will also be able to support an increase of a foot over the baseline level, creating a total of 330 acre-feet of flood storage capacity. Note from WB: This a lot of storage — an acre-foot is 43,650 cubic feet, so this represents 14.4 million cubic feet — enough to contain the full peak flow of the incoming Aberjona River for 3 to 4 hours, a significant pause in a flow event lasting 24 to 48 hours.The reconstruction also includes the restoration of fully functioning fish ladders for herring and eel.
  • The Craddock Bridge reconstruction is a high priority because the old bridge has subsurface structures that tend to clog with debris and raise flood levels, perhaps by as much as two feet in the worst conditions. The reconstruction is still in the design phase, but changes of direction as to which agency is in charge of the project seem to be finally resolved. The Department of Transportation has prioritized the program as part of its Accelerated Bridge Program and is targeting 2013 to complete design and permitting and put the project out to bid. Most design will be complete in 2012, but there is an issue of a Coast Guard permit with a long approval cycle and the legislative delegation offered to help in any way it could to expedite that permit. The project schedule appears at this link.
  • A fourth pump for the Amelia Earhart dam would provide essential redundancy in flood events and also increase capacity to handle the largest events. The Charles River dam, similar in design, has sufficient capacity to keep one or more pumps in reserve in most events, while the Earhart dam is often pumping at full capacity. With the completion of the Mystic lakes dam, this issue has risen to the top of the flood control priority list and DCR has committed to start the necessary hydrology study in the coming fiscal year. The new study will use new precipitation data which reflects the observed 28% increases in precipitation over the past decade, apparently due to climate change. The ultimate project cost will be in the $11 to $15 million range — the pump engines are special order submarine engines.
  • Blaire Pond dredging is finally expected to go out to bid next month and work is expected to start in the Fall and be complete by February 2012. This work will reduce the risk of the main stormwater drainage channel for Belmont becoming occluded with highway sediment and also improve the natural beauty of the site.
  • Alewife channel dredging is a very large and expensive project which DCR perceives as having only marginal flood control benefits. Members of the delegation made the case for the environmental and recreational benefits of removing the sediment in the brook, which DCR acknowledged. DCR pledged to keep the project on the radar screen, but did not commit to any immediate steps to move it forward. DCR noted the good progress that it had made on debris removal in the brook, which the delegation much appreciated. This progress was especially appreciated in light of the limited funding that the legislature has made available to DCR recently.

Together the projects reviewed above are expected to make a significant improvement in flood control in the Mystic/Alewife area. However, DCR made the point that in the long term, it remains important for property owners to reduce the flow rate of storm water from all sources in the watershed — to retain more storm water on site and allow it to settle into the ground, rather than conveying it all into stormdrains.

Park Issues

  • Alewife Reservation — Commissioner Lambert expressed his strong appreciation of the value of urban wild spaces like the Silver Maple Forest, but offered no help on the acquisition possibility. Planning Director Joe Orfant did express his commitment to moving forward as permitted financially on implementation of the Alewife Reservation Master Plan after Cambridge completes the stormwater utility project presently underway in the reservation.
  • Bicentennial Park — the delegation expressed appreciation for the clean up of Bicentennial Park in Arlington.
  • Dilboy Field — the delegation expressed continuing concern about noise control at Dilboy field, while acknowledging significant progress. The Commissioner expressed that any physical adjustment of the lighting of the field was probably too expensive, but agreed that the lights-out time could perhaps be further managed. There is a new operational agreement for the field in progress and the Commissioner agreed to consult with the delegation on the agreement.
  • McCrehan Pool — the delegation expressed appreciation for the improvements at the recent McCrehan Pool and for the operational schedule of the Pool (all much appreciated in a limited funding environment) and raised a further plea to strengthen the fencing. DCR rejected on cost grounds installing a truly robust steel fence, but pledged to keep after repair of the chain link fence in place. DCR did express the intention to remove asphalt and increase green space around the pool.
  • Arlington Skating Rick — without making any substantive commitment, and expressing concern about the loss of revenue potential for the state, DCR expressed willingness to participate in conversations with Arlington about possible turnover of the DCR skating rink to the town.
  • Fells — the Fells Resource Management Plan is moving forward and DCR is hoping to see a submission of the draft plan to the Stewardship Council in September or October.

Other Issues

  • Route 16 Striping — DCR acknowledged the need for repainting the stripes on Route 16 approaching Route 2 from the East and stated it was on the current season work list.
  • Bike Paths
    • The Bikepath from Davis Square to Brighton Street in Belmont is moving forward on schedule, with the principal barrier to final completion being the utility work that Cambridge is completing for its water quality project.WB Note: I understand final completion by Cambridge to be approximately 18 months away.
    • The Bikepath from Alewife to the Mystic River is in progress and should be complete in the current construction season.
    • DCR is aware of the language issues (unrealistic easement execution timeline) in the proposed agreement to preserve the right-of-way along the tracks that might be used under one scenario for future bikepath construction between Brighton Street and Belmont Center. The DCR legal department is reviewing the agreement. It was reconfirmed in the meeting that there is no consensus at all about routing of the bikepath along that right-of-way, and that the concern at this stage is only to keep the option open.
  • Arlington easement — Arlington has been seeking an easement under the DCR-owned Mystic Valley Parkway for sewer improvements. DCR advised that an easement is a conveyance requiring legislative action, but that other forms of permission could be provided more quickly.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

5 replies on “Mystic/Alewife Updates”

  1. Local Neighborhood Meeting on Major New England Storm Water/ Wetlands Project in
    Alewife Reservation. Held September 7- West Cambridge Youth Center
    (Published in Cambridge Chronicle- September 15)

    The neighborhood meeting held Wednesday night at West Cambridge Youth Center
    brought some strong dissenting concerns over the city’s Alewife Reservation storm water-wetlands project which will cost 15 million public funds on the Reservation and around 140 million over the next 10 years, as the North Cambridge neighborhoods are secured for infrastructure development and discharge to Alewife Reservation, where a large wetland will be created as a of a natural marsh style storm water retention basin to what is now a dry and invasive plant area . River recharge in the slow non-meandering Little River is much desired, and we were informed that the project will clean up the river 85 percent.

    Engineers, the city and Mass Water Resources Authority, 5 years ago, convinced the local environmental organizations including Mystic River Watershed Assoc. that such a project was beneficial to the watershed and to the Little River and Alewife Brook,
    although there were dissenting opinions. A majority vote was taken to proceed.

    The storm water basin has undergone a number of improvement designs which our organization promoted and the present plan emphasizes with a full re-creation of storm water wetlands, observation decks, boardwalks, signage, and an oxbow for fish spawning and many more. Bioengineering which performed the Fresh Pond Black’s Nook restoration and walkways will be in charge of the Alewife project. Duke Bitsko of Bioengineering and Phil Rury Wildlife Biologist are in charge of the design planning. Dan Driscoll of the DCR
    must make sure that the plans are according to the DCR Alewife Master Plan.

    While FAR has no Fresh Pond Advisory to speak officially for its open space, a volunteer monitoring team is urgently called for to observe the changes and to observe this costly and potentially worthwhile project The city’s storm water management project director, Catherine Woodbury is the contact person for the project at 617 3484818. Catherine has provided 2 site visits for the community whereby FAR and others asked for concessions related to the project, i.e. a wildlife corridor blockage between Blair Pond and the silver maple forest, retention of certain older vegetation which would be preserved, an endangered species in the area, registered with the state, in proximity to the work site. We are still awaiting to hear from DCR on the corridor blockage of deer and coyote which cross the rail road tracks frequently to the forest.
    Call FAR if you would like to follow the project and monitor the process: 617 415-1884.

    To follow progress of the major city-state project here are the links:
    2006_05_stormwatermanagement_opr05U23.pdf

    http://www.mhd.state.ma.us/ProjectInfo/Main.asp?ACTION=ViewProject&PROJECT_NO=600811
    CHECK OUT THE PLANS.

    http://www.cambridgema.gov/theworks/cityprojects/detail.aspx?path=%2fsitecore%2fcontent%2fhome%2ftheworks%2fcityprojects%2f2011%2fcambridgeparkdrivewetlands
    SCHEDULE

    Ellen Mass
    President
    Friends of Alewife Reservation

  2. The greater communities in the Alewife sub-watershed of Belmont, Cambridge, Arlington are
    most hopeful that our legislative team who passed two bills through the legislature these past 3 years will now get solidly behind the City of Cambridge’s strong efforts to protect the downstream communities from major flooding which has become extremely apparent to those who live in the area of Alewife and the silver maple forest.

    Last month a Council resolution was passed to ask our city leaders to speak with Belmont and Arlington to get a purchase discussion going after an appraisal was made by EOEEA.
    Many submissions were made to the Community Preservation Act Hearing in june to set aside funds for the eventual purchase of the Uplands. Noted environmental leaders and many written comments were made to solicit request for open space funding in the future.
    The City Manager must speak to environmental decision-makers in Belmont and Arlington
    along these lines of possible negotiations with the developer. This is the 10th such Resolution the city has passed to protect the Alewife Reservation and its small river floodplain forest. Some of these resolutions were based on the bills that you have submitted to the legislature to give support to your efforts.

    Please consider assisting in the progress of these discussions. Both Belmont and Cambridge
    have adopted the Community Preservation Act.

    Thanks for your consideration.
    Ellen Mass

  3. just a question: is there any disadvantage to Arlington acquiring the old DCR skating rink site instead of Belmont? It was considered as an alternative to the Uplands housing in a swap that O’Neill refused, however, another developer might not? Or is there an advantage to Belmont for Arlington to acquire the site?

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