Abutters want environmental review of playfield in Mattapan

A group of petitioners has called upon the state’s environmental secretary to initiate a review of the proposed Edward Brooke Charter School turf field on Morton Street in Mattapan, noting that an earlier decision not to review the project did not take into consideration the loss of mature trees.

For its part, the school notes that “the petition neglects to acknowledge the need for the Field Project, as well as the Project Site’s extensive history of review under state and local regulations.”

Attorney R.J. Lyman of Dain Torpy submitted the “fail safe” request for environmental review, known as a MEPA review, on behalf of ten residents who signed the letter, seven of whom live near the proposed field.

In the letter, Lyman claims to have been one of the authors of the MEPA regulations in the 1990s, noting that when he wrote them, they didn’t contemplate how the loss of trees creates “heat island” environmental issues. The field project will “clear cut four acres of mature trees,” according to the petitioners.

“The environmental damage at risk here – the urban heat island effect – was unforeseen when the MEPA regulations were promulgated in 1998 and is unaddressed by the review thresholds,” the petition said.

“Based on these review thresholds, there is no basis for believing that the clearing of a grove of mature trees was foreseen as ‘damage to the environment’ when the MEPA regulations were promulgated,” the petition said. “Yet, in the ensuing years, understanding of the urban heat island effect…makes it evident that the removal of four acres of mature trees can be significant when in the urban environment.”

Aalana Feaster, a Harvard Commons neighbor, has led the opposition against the turf field, and is a signer of the “fail safe” petition. She did not respond to a request from the Reporter for comment.

Rebecca Tepper, the state’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, had previously determined that the turf field project does not meet the threshold for a MEPA review, which can take up to one year to complete. The petitioners have called on her to issue an advisory opinion under the little-used “fail safe” mechanism. Besides tree removal, they cite other problems like questions on the safety of turf fields but conclude that no other meaningful review is possible without the “fail safe.”

“There are many facets to the environmental injustice inherent in the proposed project, extending beyond the loss of the tree grove to the noxious and discredited turf field specifications, which lead to health damage for those who use them, and the auxiliary impacts inevitable from intense use of a recreational facility, including traffic, noise, lights, and other harms to an already overburdened community,” read the letter. “This project is what fail safe review was meant for.”

School officials, who have already gone through a long process with the Boston State Hospital Citizens Advisory Commission (CAC) and will be going through further public reviews at the city level, say the extra review is unnecessary.

They say that the petition “mischaracterizes the Field Project, its associated Agency Actions, and its impacts and potential for environmental damage, and claims that MEPA review is essential and not unduly burdensome in order to conclude that the fail-safe review criteria are satisfied.”

The school argues that a MEPA review of the site was already done for a more impactful urban farm proposal, which was abandoned in 2021 in favor of the turf field. And the school disputes the abutters claim that “clear cutting” trees will be needed. They report there are 75 trees on the site, and 20 have been recommended for removal due to poor condition. Some 25 are in good condition and 25 are classified as “mature.” They point out, too, that the project will result in the planting of 87 new trees on the site of “the same cumulative caliber” of those that need to be removed.

Mark Loring, chief operating officer for Brooke, said that if a MEPA review is required, that would further delay the project and cause it drag into 2025. “It would be a big loss for our students and the community to continue and wait,” he said, adding:

“We would likely also need to go back to DCAMM (state Department of Capital Assets Management and Maintenance) to discuss it given that we currently have a deadline to complete the construction of the field by the end of 2024, which would be put in jeopardy with any delay.”

Because of delays and cost increases on the turf field project, Loring said they already have bid out the field’s lighting as an alternate bid in case they can’t afford it within the current project budget.

“Hopefully MEPA agrees with our assessment because having to undergo MEPA review would further delay the construction of this great resource for our students and community members that have been looking forward to this field,” he said.

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