The Newsletter of Alewife Neighbors, Inc.  Summer 2002  Vol. 4, Issue 1
Grace Site Update
By Mike Nakagawa
Last summer, the Asbestos Protection Ordinance was tested when the W. R. Grace chemical company announced their desire to dig a large trench on their property to hold an upgraded electrical system. Since the soil on their property, adjacent to Russell Field and the Alewife T station, is contaminated with asbestos, Grace needed to comply with the Cambridge Asbestos Ordinance. The Ordinance requires a physical barrier, such as a tent, between work that disturbs soil that is highly asbestos-contaminated and the surrounding areas.
Rather than follow the regulations as written, Grace was hoping that the Public Health Department would allow them to work without the additional protection. After public meetings and an outcry by neighbors to public officials, the Health Dept. required Grace to do work in a tent with the inside air filtered to ensure asbestos could not escape the tent.
Grace then scaled down the size of the trench, which they originally claimed needed to be five times larger than their final proposal. An additional benefit was that since the diesel construction equipment releases a lot of soot that would quickly clog the filters, Grace indicated they needed to shut of the engines when not in use. Normally, the equipment is left idling all day using fuel and adding pollution to the neighborhood.
Both neighborhood and state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) representatives who observed the work felt the tenting was very protective and that any problems would be quickly obvious to the workers.
Work was completed in the late fall of 2001. Thanks to all the neighbors who contacted officials to ensure that the Asbestos Ordinance was upheld.
Other news regarding the Grace site is that the five-year permit for Grace's contractor to clean up the area expired in February. They had applied for an additional five-year permit, but were only granted a two-year extension to complete the work by the DEP.
During the permit extension process, Grace indicated that a final asbestos assessment report was forthcoming (supposedly last February), which would be followed by a short (21 day) period for public comments, such as to note shortcomings that Grace is required to address. If you are not currently on the Grace site contact list, contact Alewife Neighbors if you'd like to know when the report is available.
This past May, Grace completed work to clean up petroleum contaminants in their soil. Grace decided to use in-place bioremediation, in which enzymes and oil-eating bacteria are injected into the soil instead of digging up and removing the contaminated soil. Groundwater monitoring will continue for several months to make sure the work was done properly.
State Environmental Funding Suspended
By Kelly Matthews
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection announced in June that it was suspending its Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) program, due to state budget constraints.
The TAG program provided funding for neighborhood groups, including ANI, to participate in the assessment and cleanup of hazardous waste sites, such as the W.R. Grace property in North Cambridge. Over the past four years, ANI has used TAG funding to enlist expert technical assistance for soil testing on the Grace site and to promote neighborhood awareness of Grace's plans for the cleanup and development of the site.
Because the Department of Environmental Protection is chronically understaffed, Massachusetts has come to rely on neighborhood activists and TAG funding for much of it environmental oversight. The hard work of identifying and addressing the asbestos contamination at the Grace site, for example, was done largely by concerned neighbors, in conjunction with GeoInsight, the environmental engineering firm that TAG funds enabled us to hire.
Without the TAG program, it is unclear how ANI will be able to continue to fund its efforts to serve as a watchdog over the development of Grace's contaminated land. It is our hope that that TAG program will once again be funded in the future, when the current state budget crisis has passed.
Finding the Gold in Going Green: Luxury Apartment Complex Opens by Alewife Station
By Gretchen vonGrossmann
and Mike Nakagawa
If you've been by the section of Alewife Brook Parkway across from the Fresh Pond shopping center in the last year, you've seen the large building project underway adjacent to Alewife T station and behind Summer Shack restaurant. The nine-story, 311-unit apartment complex opened its rental office recently to lease the first 140 available units. The remaining 171 apartments are slated to be ready for lease in the fall of 2002. In an effort to contribute to the creation of a neighborhood at the site, the first floor of the building will house retail businesses, a gallery, and a function room.
Oaktree Green Development designed the complex known as CambridgePark Place. The $62.5 million structure was constructed on a 3.2 acre site. Mostly one- and two-bedroom luxury apartments, the rents will range from $1,750 for a studio to $3,700 for a penthouse suite. In compliance with current Cambridge zoning enforcement, 36 of the units (11.5% of the total) have been set aside as affordable housing, although the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance calls for 15% of the total to be affordable units. Preference is given to present and former Cambridge residents who meet the eligibility standards for affordable housing.
This new, luxury apartment building was billed as "currently the largest residential 'green' project in the country," by Gerard Savard, principal of Abbott Real Estate Investments, in an interview with The Boston Globe. The environmentally-friendly, or "green" design elements that distinguish the building are:
Gerard Savard, again quoted in The Boston Globe, remarked, "It costs more to go green, but we expect to get a full return on our investment within two years." Two years is a very short amount of time to recoup a real estate investment. Going green is not only good for the environment, but it also appears to be good for the investors.
When the project was still in its planning stages as the Oaktree Green development, area residents expressed concerns to the Cambridge Community Development Department and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection about the construction of such a large structure, with a 2-acre footprint, on a site that is completely within the 100-year floodplain. Typically, regulations discourage or forbid the construction of impervious surfaces, such as roofs and parking lots, within a floodplain because it increases the potential for flooding.
The neighbor's concerns did not bring about any significant changes in the final design of the complex, but they did result in a financial settlement between the developers and the group of neighbors involved. The settlement funds are being administered by the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods, a not-for-profit group, with the supervision of the residents involved in the settlement. They received, as part of the settlement, $60,000 for affordable housing programs. Part of that money is being used as a loan to leverage new housing construction in North Cambridge. Smaller amounts have been expended on studying solutions to neighborhood flooding problems, as part of the remainder of the settlement, which is for protection of the Alewife floodplain.
A substantial sum of money is still available to address other issues in the Alewife area. If you have thoughts about constructive use of this money, please email your suggestions to email@example.com and we will pass them along.
Update on Russell Field
By Denise Guérin
and Kevin Mayew
Over the past several years, ANI has been providing technical oversight, on behalf of the neighborhood, of environmental testing activity on Russell Field. At the beginning of July, ANI received a grant from the City to reimburse up to $6,500 of our expenses in overseeing the round of testing that started on July 8. This grant has allowed ANI to retain GeoInsight, our environmental engineers, to be on site during the sample collection process (which was completed on July 17), to obtain and analyze splits of all samples, and to prepare a report to the neighborhood on the results.
This current round of testing is a result of the City's plan for a substantial renovation of Russell Field, including proposed construction of a field house. The City is investigating upgrades to Russell Field to improve playing conditions for the Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school football team. Upgrades would include re-grading the field to alleviate drainage problems and constructing some type of field house in which the players could change. At present, there are no facilities on the site, and the field floods during heavy rains.
Because Russell Field abuts the W.R. Grace site, which has been proven to have heavy concentrations of several types of asbestos and other contaminants, many fear the cost of renovations will be prohibitive. The City's Asbestos Ordinance requires soil sample collection and testing prior to soil disturbance on or near a site of known or suspected asbestos contamination. The soil samples will provide neighbors and the City with important, although not conclusive, information for further risk assessment. The City samples will be analyzed only for asbestos, unless field volatility readings and/or visual inspection warrant further analysis. ANI has instructed GeoInsight to perform additional testing for the presence of PCBs on our soil samples.
As an alternative, City Councillor Tim Toomey proposed building a football stadium at the North Point development in East Cambridge. However, several local residents involved in Cambridge youth football strongly prefer the Russell Field location. The field's proximity to the Alewife T station and other public transportation makes it more accessible than the East Cambridge location.
Updates on the status of Russell Field testing and renovation plans can be found on ANI's web site, www.alewifeneighbors.org
West Nile Virus Update
By Mike Nakagawa
As you may have heard, a bird infected with West Nile virus (WNV) had been found near the North Cambridge/West Cambridge border. The Cambridge Public Health Department said this reminder that WNV is still in the area should prompt residents to take precautions to prevent getting bitten and to remove standing water in their yards in order to keep mosquitoes from breeding. Yards should be checked at least weekly that containers, such as trash barrels or flower pots, are not collecting water.
One Alewife Neighbors board member has been participating on the Cambridge WNV Advisory Group. Community members and experts had questioned the effectiveness and risks of spraying pesticides in urban streets, and in 2001, Cambridge, Boston and Brookline all developed plans that stressed aggressive prevention of mosquito breeding and growth to adulthood, rather than using pesticide sprays to reduce adult mosquito populations. There were no human cases last year in the three communities, although Jamaica Plain had been the hotspot in Massachusetts the previous two years, and eighteen infected birds were found in Cambridge.
However, last year marked the first human cases in Massachusetts, including the death of one elderly man in Woburn. Infected birds act as very early warnings that a virus pool might be coming to the area.
Contact the Cambridge Public Health West Nile InfoLine at (617) 665-3801 or Alewife Neighbors firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Board of Directors
Denise Guérin, President
Peter Cignetti, Vice President
Vicki Paret, Treasurer
Kelly Matthews, Clerk
Gretchen von Grossman
Alewife Neighbors, Inc. was formed in 1996 to serve the residents of North Cambridge by providing reliable information on quality-of-life issues as impacted by past and future development. The organization coordinates and participates in the monitoring and analysis of environmental, flooding, and traffic data collected with respect to development on parcels such as those at Russell Field, W.R. Grace properties, and the Alewife Reservation. ANI sponsors newsletters, neighborhood forums, and other public events. ANI is a tax exempt 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit corporation.
02140 Credits: Vol. 4, Issue 1, Summer 2002
Thalia Tringo, Managing Editor
Denise Guérin, Kelly Matthews, Kevin Mayew, Mike Nakagawa, Gretchen vonGrossmann