Silver Maple Forest — the end game (33 Responses)

As the saga of the Silver Maple Forest winds to a sad end, the question recurs: What will the state do to help save the forest? The discouraging short summary appears to be: nothing.

In two separate legislative sessions, I succeeded in putting legislation on the Governor’s desk that would have the state contribute towards purchase of the Forest to permanently protect it as an addition to the Alewife Reservation. In both instances, the Governor refused to sign the legislation. In the most recent session, a similar proposal that Senator Jehlen and Representative Rogers advanced also met a cool reception.

It is theoretically possible that in the next gubernatorial administration, there could be a different attitude towards acquisition of the forest, but there is a strong political balance against using using state funds for that purpose.

State environmental officials should be natural supporters of an expansion of the Alewife Reservation, but they have been lukewarm to the prospect. They support it in principle, but it isn’t high on their priority list. If the goal of an acquisition would be to preserve habitat for animals, they can, for the same money, permanently preserve much larger habitat areas in more remote parts of the state where land is much cheaper. If the goal of an acquisition is to provide peace and recreation for the people of the region, they have many alternative urban park investments that seem more urgent — renovation of decaying pool facilities, improvement of accessibility for the disabled in parks properties, extension of the bike path network, to name a few. The acquisition of the forest would cost well over $10 million (possibly several times that) and it has not been able compete successfully with the state’s other compelling environmental investment opportunities.

While the state environmental bureaucracy is lukewarm to the acquisition, the state housing bureaucracy is passionately and adamantly opposed. They believe strongly in their mission to expand affordable housing and the use of state funds in a way that would stop a housing project is absolute anathema to them. They instinctively suspect all environmental advocacy for the forest as disingenuous smoke that hides unsavory anti-housing sentiments. I made little progress in my efforts to build bridges to them on this issue.

Whoever the next Governor is, he or she will hear the same things that Governor Patrick did from his senior and mid-level managers. He or she will see the same basic balance of advice and is very unlikely to take a different position.

Like the state, Belmont, Arlington and Cambridge also have competing investment opportunities. Conversations among the communities have continued episodically for a decade, but have failed to yield a concrete and credible joint offer to buy the property.

As a citizen and as an elected official, I have made a sustained effort over the last 15 years to find alternatives to development of the Silver Maple Forest. It is with great sadness and a sense of defeat that I report these realities. For me, the Silver Maple Forest is a special place. If it were acquired by the public, it could, with a very small additional investment in construction of better paths over land that is already publicly owned, offer a deep green refuge, easily accessible by foot to thousands of people.

In the absence of a purchase option, the only alternative strategy has been litigation. However, the legal system is designed to yield eventual finality. Recent reports suggest that finality looms now.

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    Will Brownsberger
    State Senator
    2d Suffolk and Middlesex District