It’s Midnight. Know Where Your Regional Floodplain Forest Is?


Regional Floodplain Forest for Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge Massachusetts

Addendum 8/6/14:

In the post below, I alluded to the long history of the floodplain forest which is likely to be cut down shortly, but I agree with those who have gently suggested I had not effectively pointed readers in the right direction for further information. The Friends of Alewife (FAR) maintains a web site which is the first place to stop to get more information, follow the campaign, and find ways to support the integrity of the parcel. It can be found at Friends of Alewife also posts on Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, FAR has been the leader in defending the 15 acres owned by O’Neill Properties in Belmont, Arlington, and Cambridge (3 acres in Cambridge, to be precise) from habitat destruction and development, notwithstanding the good efforts of other neighbors and organizations such as Green Cambridge, the Belmont Citizens’ Forum, and theCoalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands. In addition to these organizations’ sites, further information and a petition is also posted on a site compiled by Cambridge lawyer Mike Connolly, Meanwhile, the meeting described below, between Cambridge City Manager Richard Rossi and his counterparts in Arlington and Belmont, has been scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 7, at Cambridge City Hall. The meeting is not public (see below).

On Monday, July 28th, Cambridge city councillors downshifted a proposed policy order that would have paved the way for an open meeting with Belmont and Arlington regarding an area that has been dubbed the Silver Maple Forest. What’s at stake is storm water management in future flood scenarios and the consequent health, safety,  engineering, and local economic issues that depend on decisions made today. The policy order, originally sponsored by City Councillor Dennis Carlone, concerns a parcel of  land abutting Alewife Reservation that is due to be cleared of trees by a developer for a nearly 300-unit residence by the end of August. An open meeting proposed in the original order won’t be happening. Instead, Cambridge’s city manager is charged merely to approach his colleagues in the other municipalities regarding a collective effort to stave off the destruction of this critical floodplain forest. There’s a long history of battles over this piece of land.  If you care to delve further, see the  state’s 2003 master plan for the area. Numerous experts, most recently five professors at Lesley University,  have testified in support of the ecological and economic value of the floodplain forest (let’s call it that, in our next breath, after the mellifluous and evocative “Silver Maple Forest”).

“Urban forests are one of the major ways cities can mitigate the effects of increasing temperatures due to climate change; large forest reserves and their surrounding areas average 1–3 degrees cooler than the rest of the city and the larger the forest the greater the effect.” (Letter to Cambridge Community Preservation Committee Chair Lisa Peterson, June 18, 2014, by Professors Amy Mertl, David Morimoto, Jeffrey Perrin, and Albert Liau of Lesley University)

These same authors extrapolate from existing studies on Boston and other urban areas that  the annual savings to Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington, if the site remains forested, total

  • $1M per year in flood damage avoidance measures;
  • $50K per year in cooling costs; and
  • $30K per year in air quality remediation.

Let’s call the Silver Maple Forest our regional floodplain forest.  Let’s also call on the city leaders not to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. At its July 28th meeting, the City Council did vote to take a partial step in the right direction—calling the attention of the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation to the outdated rainfall predictions that were used when the proposed development was approved. Here’s what you can do:

  • If you vote or will vote in Cambridge municipal elections, let your city councillors know that the byzantine history of the Alewife area nor its romantic qualities should put them off  wise action on behalf of all of Cambridge’s citizens for generations to come—halting the imminent removal of the regional floodplain forest. The entire city council can be reached via  Individual councillors email addresses and phone numbers are available on this page. Thank them for recommending to the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation that the  developer be required to prove its proposed construction storm-worthy using up-to-date predictions of extreme precipitation events (More information here).
  • Take the  Friends of Alewife’s  Virtual Tour of Alewife Reservation (PDF).
  • Read the gory details:  Technical Analysis Upper Alewife Brook Basin Impact Study (2012).
  • Tell the Cambridge Community Preservation Committee that you support setting aside funds to purchase the Silver Maple ForestFriends of the Alewife Reservation has petitioned the Cambridge Community Preservation Committee to set aside funds to help purchase the Silver Maple Forest for conservation land. You can support this effort by emailing Karen Preval ( and Committee chair Lisa Peterson ( to say you value this unique floodplain forest and support the committee setting aside funds.Emails must be received by August 5th. 
  • Stay in touch with the Friends of Alewife on its “news and events” page. The public may accompany wildlife assessor Dave Brown on a walk through the reservation  on August 23, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. Future events will also be found at that link.


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