MEPA requires that state agencies study the environmental consequences of their actions, including permitting and financial assistance. It also requires them to take all feasible measures to AVOID, minimize, and mitigate damage to the environment.
MEPA further requires that state agencies “use all practicable means and measures to minimize damage to the environment,” by studying alternatives to the proposed project, and developing enforceable mitigation commitments, which will become conditions for the project if and when they are permitted.
As a community, we’d like MEPA to know that state agencies need to PROVE that these transmission lines are necessary. And then, if so, the in street options and the NGRID option cause no environmental harm and solve the same “problem”. The letter, though long, will explain what we are asking of MEPA. They do not have the authority to permit the project, only to say what needs investigation. We need to help them see that there is a LOT that needs investigation in this process.
Please write to the MEPA official and let her know this project needs to be scrutinized. They will accept comments until July 4th. Here is a template you can use. Please make sure to sign it with you own name! Copy and paste the text below into your own email or edit, print and mail the letter you can access via the MEPA Community Letter template link.
June 21, 2017
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Attn: MEPA Office
Page Czepiga, EEA No. 15703
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston MA 02114
In the matter of the Eversource Sudbury-Hudson transmission line project, to date, Eversource has only filed an ENF for the “preferred” option, i.e. the MBTA ROW underground transmission line. However, there are two other options listed in the filing to the EFSB, the aboveground MBTA ROW route, and an under-street route. Both of these routes should also be subject to the filing of an ENF and EIR.
No engineering plans for the route have been presented to date for an underground route with multiple complications including changing elevations of +/- 15 feet or more, considerable amounts of bedrock, and wetlands. These complications could lead the EFSB to reconsider the aboveground line with its additional associated environmental impacts. Because the above ground option has not been ruled out either by Eversource or the EFSB, Eversource should be required to file an ENF and EIR for it. Without ENFs for all three proposed options, there is no way that the state agencies can effectively assess environmental impact.
By Eversource’s own assessment in the EFSB filing, the under-street route has virtually no environmental impact, and evaluation of the current filing should take that into consideration. In the absence of an ENF for the under-street route, there would be no formal statement of its impact, and therefore state agencies would be unable to effectively compare each route in the existing filing. As MEPA requires state agencies to take all feasible measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate damage to the environment, MEPA should require an ENF for all three routes. This would allow state agencies fully scrutinize the impacts of all three routes and understand that the in- street option avoids and minimizes the enormous environmental impacts of both MBTA routes with likely no mitigation required.
Of particular concern is how transmission lines will be constructed through water crossings, as there is major potential for harm to species and disruption of wetlands and waterways. The MEPA scoping site visit looked at a very small section of the MBTA route, thus underplaying the significant impact of the project. MEPA should require all state agencies involved to conduct a more thorough examination of the entire route, accompanied by the Sudbury and Hudson Conservation Commissions as they are intimately familiar with the area and can best provide information that others would miss.
Given that there are multiple viable under-street options with virtually NO environmental impacts as well as an existing solution from NGRID which simply upgrades existing infrastructure, MEPA needs to conduct careful analysis of route selection methodology and the MBTA routes should both be rejected outright. This would be in keeping with the Commonwealth’s Sustainable Development “Smart Growth” Principles that discourage new construction and disturbance within natural areas.
Dozens of environmental organizations, including Mass. Audubon, Mass. Chapter of the Sierra Club, Sudbury Valley Trustees, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Clean Water Action, US Dept. of the Interior Fish and Wildlife, and others have expressed alarm at the MBTA routes – both overhead and below ground.
MEPA needs to ensure that all agencies are FULLY cognizant of the concerns from these es- teemed environmental groups and the environmental consequences of both the aboveground and below ground along the MBTA right of way:
1) Wildlife habitat fragmentation of one of the region’s largest natural areas, including five different conservation lands, including Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, Marlboro- Sudbury State Forest, Sudbury Valley Trustees Memorial Forest, and Hop Brook Marsh Conservation Land and Marlborough Desert Natural Area. The majority of the ar- eas are part of NHESP priority habitat (PH 687). These areas harbor diverse wildlife with several different habitat types and are home to several threatened and endangered species of plants and animals. (USFWS, Audubon, Marlborough Con Comm)
Among the species and habitats at risk are Eastern Brook Trout, a great blue heron rook- ery, salamanders, Blanding’s turtles, wood turtles, Eastern Box Turtle, and the recently state-listed whip-poor-will.
There are sensitive habits within the above: wetlands, vernal pools, turtle nesting sites, and cold water streams and the MBTA right of way routes put these at risk and:
- Create conditions unsuitable for certain wildlife species including impacts to isolated populations, altered wildlife behaviors, decline of resident species, disruption of movement corridors, increase in habitat fragmentation
- Allows entry of invasive species and a pathway for predators (USFWS, SVT)
- Large, interconnected areas of forestland and wetlands are vital for ecological health and integrity, and the MBTA routes bisect these connected spaces.
- Destruction of unusual plant populations
- Disturbance and alteration of breeding habitat of recently state-listed whip-poor-will.
2) Large-scale permanent destruction of conservation lands (ELM, SVT)
- Irreparable immediate and ongoing damage by construction and maintenance (ELM, SVT)
3) Negative impacts from use of herbicides to environmentally sensitive areas (USFWS, SVT)
4) Potential for ground-water pollution from toxic chemical cocktails of herbicides
- Although both the state and US EPA have approved glyphosate and other herbicides for use, there is growing evidence for both human impact in the form of cancer by international bodies and the World Health Organization. We can’t risk taking a chance with the health of the population of the impacted towns.
- There is also considerable research on the impacts of glyphosate on threatened and endangered species, particularly amphibians such as the salamanders found all along the route.
- The proposed route is in close proximity to five certified (and an additional five with certified data collected) vernal pools containing the species in question
5) Likely increase of unauthorized uses of ATVs and dirt bikes which cause significant damage to natural resources (USFWS, SVT)
6) Destruction and/or contamination of highly important water resources important to humans and wildlife (CWA,OARS)
- Impact on threatened and vulnerable Eastern brook trout habitat in the Sudbury River tributaries by diminishing shade cover, warming of river temperatures and potential pollution from construction activities and herbicide usage.
- The proposed transmission line crosses over Zone II areas in Sudbury and the Cranberry Bog Well in Hudson. Potential pollution by any herbicides or other runoff from construction activities in these areas is unacceptable. As stated above, recent research has shown that run off of glyphosate into water resource areas can and does happen. Sudbury’s wells are located in an aquifer with a high vulnerability to contamination due to the absence of hydrological barriers that can prevent contaminant migration.
- Disruption of existing contaminants from previous rail line use is likely to impact these water resources. It is not uncommon to find arsenic, creosote and other hazardous chemicals in old rail beds. Flattening the rail bed and removing old rail- road ties for clear-cutting will disturb these contaminants and has a high risk of dispersing them into the surrounding water resources.
7) Mitigation of these impacts is not feasible. (Audubon) Eversource’s mitigation measures such as “financial contribution toward land acquisition” cannot mitigate for permanent loss of wildlife habitat and loss of life.
Given the scale and severity of these impacts, permitting for this project should be denied, but at the very least, an EIR should be required to address all of the above concerns. In addition, all items marked TBD in the ENF need to be presented with details.
Quotes below, from letters of support here: http://www.protectsudbury.org/official-support/):
George Bachrach, Environmental League of Mass.
Lisa Vernegaard, Sudbury Valley Trustees
“Routing this utility line along the right-of-way would undo much of the significant investment that the Commonwealth, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Town of Sudbury, the City of Marlborough, private foundations, and individual donors have already made in protecting and caring for one of the metrowest region’s most important natural areas. Eversource did not accurately consider the environmental impacts of its Preferred Routes when evaluating the three options and the Environmental League of Massachusetts believes that the permanent damage to topography, wildlife, and vegetation in this unique area cannot be understated.”
Ms. Vernegaard adds:
“This impact is forever. The impacts of street-based route (none of which are environmental), while real, are temporary and can be addressed in the foreseeable future.
Becky Smith, Clean Water Action
“Our environment is already overburdened by toxic chemicals. Increased use of herbicides to maintain vegetation along the transmission right of way will worsen this problem and bears particular concerns for vernal pools and wetlands. Worse, the use of herbicides, with their potential carcinogens, poses a threat to human health by potential contamination of area wells and aquifers providing drinking water for 18,000 Sudbury residents.”
Emily Norton, Massachusetts Sierra Club
“As wild lands, wildlife, recreation areas, and historic districts are increasingly at risk in our country, our obligation to current and future citizens is to do everything in our power to ensure that we preserve every precious natural resource that we currently enjoy. We understand that Eversource is putting forth the above-ground line as a “lowest” cost proposal. We believe, to the contrary, that it and any other route through conservation lands represents the highest-cost proposal and should be discarded. We cannot afford to dismiss the consequences of failing to ignore the value to humankind of unbroken forest and wetlands, wildlife and clean water.”
John Clarke, Mass. Audubon
“In calculating the costs of constructing lines through and adjacent to protected lands, the full costs and availability (or lack thereof) of mitigation lands of equivalent natural resource value must also be considered. The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ policy on disposition of lands protected under Article 97 of the state Constitution requires not merely consideration of the market value of the impacted lands but also the natural resource value. In rapidly developing suburbs such as Sudbury and Hudson, land available for replacement conservation is limited, and it is not feasible to fully mitigate for the fragmentation effects on large blocks of woodland.”