LEGISLATORS TELL PATRICK WETLANDS LAW EXEMPTION BILL A NON-STARTER
By Jim O’Sullivan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 7, 2007….Gov. Deval Patrick heard from Cambridge and Somerville lawmakers Wednesday stacked in opposition to legislation he’s filed to facilitate a 48-acre Cambridge development project that two of his top aides helped shape during their private-sector careers.
The bill, which would allow projects in filled, landlocked tidelands to sidestep state environmental protection laws, would likely not clear the Legislature, said lawmakers who sat in the meeting. Patrick’s proposal would strip one key lever from community groups seeking mitigation from developers, they said. One legislator said Patrick heard the message of resistance to the bill “loud and clear.”
“I don’t think the bill will pass in its current form, and I think the governor understands there is very strong opposition to the bill in its current form from the Cambridge and Somerville delegations,” said Rep. Marty Walz (D-Boston).
Cambridge and Somerville were two of Patrick’s earliest wells of support during the campaign, progressive redoubts that helped him build momentum. Locals won a case with the Supreme Judicial Court in which the court ruled the state Department of Environmental Protection had improperly granted the project an exemption from a state wetlands-protection law.
Patrick last week filed legislation that would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to exempt landlocked tidelands from Chapter 91, essentially circumventing the SJC ruling.
At the same time, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Dan O’Connell and permitting chief Gregory Bialecki both announced they had recused themselves from the project; O’Connell was a high-ranking official at the real estate firm that managed the development and Bialecki was the project’s lead counsel. Today, legislators let Patrick know his bill has curried little support.
At least eight members representing Cambridge and Somerville met with the governor and his staff.
“It was a very frank and open discussion, which was good,” said Rep. Timothy Toomey, the Democrat who represents East Cambridge. I’d have to say that I think he heard what we had to say.”
Legislators said the bill would need refinement, Toomey saying, “in terms of taking away the public process, the public input of what benefits the developers should provide to certain communities – it seems that his bill might prevent that.”
Patrick spokeswoman Cyndi Roy said, “The governor and the secretary invited the delegation in understanding that they have concerns and they had a very productive meeting, and they look forward to continuing discussions.”
Toomey said, “It’s fair to say it’s going to take another sit-down with his people.”
The NorthPoint site, where construction is underway to construct a transit-oriented, multi-use “city within a city,” features 13 acres of wetlands filled in decades ago for railroad yard use. Plaintiffs in the case have lobbied for a five-acre park in the middle of the facility, linked to the Charles River.
State officials exempted NorthPoint from Chapter 91 four years ago.
Rep. Rachel Kaprielian (D-Watertown) said after the meeting that lawmakers explained to Patrick the Chapter 91 exemptions amounted to “almost like a home-rule petition,” in which projects with sharp local salience are often worked out in micro-level negotiations. Kaprielian said new governors often need to be educated on the full histories of local projects.
Sens. Steven Tolman (D-Brighton) and Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), and Reps. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford), Byron Rushing (D-South End), and William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) also attended the session.
Not in attendance were Senate President Robert Travaglini, whose district includes the site but who has been publicly quiet on the deliberations, and Sen. Jarrett Barrios, the Cambridge Democrat. Barrios represents a different part of Cambridge but has to steer clear of the project’s business before the state because he works for the law firm, DLA Piper Rudnick, that represents the developers.
For more information on the NorthPoint project, see Community-Guided Development