Charles R. advocates not on board with Soldier’s Field bypass

By Emily Norton, Laura Jasinski, and Kane Larin
Letter to the Editor
CommonWealth Magazine

On Monday, CommonWealth reported that although “[n]o one thought putting a structure out over the Charles would sit well with the river’s many enthusiasts, [ ] Mike O’Dowd, the project manager, says the idea has been well received by boating groups and others who regularly use the Charles.” O’Dowd  further said that “[t]here is no reason all the current activities on the river couldn’t continue during construction.” (To hear his remarks to the state transportation boards, click here at 1:58:20.)

These statements do not accurately reflect the position of Charles River advocates.

Until recently, MassDOT’s project team, led by O’Dowd, had professed their intent to avoid impacts to the Charles River during construction of the I-90 interchange project. Indeed, last fall, MassDOT declared that the temporary effects on parks and open space of the selected design would be limited to fully occupying the “throat area” and relocating the Paul Dudley White Path. Then in May, MassDOT did an about-face, announcing a proposal to “temporarily” locate Soldiers Field Road and the Paul Dudley White Path in the Charles River for an estimated period of up to 10 years.

Based on information currently available to us, locating the road in the Charles River would significantly disrupt the river and those who use it for nearly a decade, if not longer. Nothing we have seen so far suggests that MassDOT has sufficiently planned to mitigate impacts like storm water runoff, increased contamination levels, or habitat and sediment disturbance. This is especially troubling at a time when the Charles is already seeing increases in toxic algae blooms, triggering public health alerts and warnings for people and pets to stay away from the water.

The rowing and boating community’s ability to use the river is also at stake. Contrary to Mr. O’Dowd’s reported statements, as a river user community, we have not indicated support for the proposed plans. We are still gathering information and assessing the road’s impacts on our use of an already constrained watersheet throughout the construction period. At present, we believe those impacts are likely to be significant.

All of this is why our organizations and other advocates wrote to MassDOT and the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board in September to express our “deep concerns” about the proposal to locate Soldiers Field Road in the river for an estimated period of up to 10 years, which we found “alarming.”

We urged MassDOT to avoid river impacts, conduct a thorough alternatives analysis, and minimize impacts if it was ultimately determined that some impacts could not be avoided. We also urged the project team to do all of this in an open, collaborative setting with the project task force and state permitting agencies like the Departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Recreation. To date, none of this has happened.

To suggest that Charles River advocates and enthusiasts are on board with a road being located in the river for a decade or more is a gross mischaracterization of our position and ignores our ongoing efforts to raise concerns about the serious harm this would cause to the river and river users. We will continue to voice these concerns, because the future of the Charles depends on it.

Emily Norton is executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, Laura Jasinski is executive director of the Charles River Conservancy, and Kane Larin is in charge of special projects for Community Rowing Inc.

Read article online