March 2, 2007
Patrick Rebuffs Citizens, Tilts toward Developers
(Special report to MCHC from Michael Brandon)
Abandoning his call for “active civic engagement and community-based participation,” Governor Deval Patrick yesterday staged a private press conference in Cambridge to announce his intention to promote waterfront development, short-circuit environmental reviews, and overturn a citizen legal victory that preserved the public’s role in environmental permitting.
The new governor’s initiative may come as a surprise to Massachusetts voters accustomed to hearing Patrick champion “opportunities for community groups and individual citizens to take action in shaping their government.”
On short notice, more than a dozen citizen advocates and environmentalists from Cambridge and Arlington converged on the lobby of the Genzyme headquarters in Kendall Square to hear the green governor and his advisers describe programs aimed at cutting red tape — and the public — out of state environmental permitting processes.
Despite a brief opportunity to confront Patrick face to face with concerns about lost tideland benefits at NorthPoint and sewage pollution, flooding, and deforestation at Alewife, the group was unable to shake the governor’s allegiance to the development community. Later in the day, his staff quietly released emergency legislation that will
trump the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision upholding the public’s interest in natural resources at NorthPoint, a vast coastal development project under way in East Cambridge.
If adopted by the Legislature, Patrick’s landmark bill – dubbed the Omnibus Tidelands Privatization Act of 2007 by opponents – would allow state bureaucrats to continue their practice of waiving Chapter 91 permit processes that provide for citizen input and generate community benefits such as parks and public promenades when private developers build near water resources. The measure would retroactively legalize the
improper waivers issued by the Department of Environmental Protection to NorthPoint and similar enterprises elsewhere in the state.
The Patrick administration includes several high-level officials with direct ties to the NorthPoint project. Patrick’s permitting czar, attorney Gregory Bialecki, is the hired gun the developers called in to fight the grass-roots lawsuit that successfully challenged a DEP
regulation exempting projects like NorthPoint from public permitting requirements. Daniel O'Connell, a former honcho at the real estate firm Spaulding and Slye Colliers – the chief NorthPoint development partner – is now Patrick’s secretary of housing and economic development.
In a press release, Patrick described his “streamlining” of the permitting process as “regulation at the speed of business” to attract investment and boost the Massachusetts economy. But community advocates have another name for it: “selling out the public lickety-split” to attract campaign contributions and boost the bottom line for corporate
friends of the State House infiltrators who now oversee Massachusetts environmental policy.
For more information and news articles on the NorthPoint project and tidelands, see Community-Guided Development.