Community Advocates for Fair Tree Removal in Phase Two of Muddy River Restoration Project

The Muddy River Restoration Project Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee (MMOC) held a virtual public meeting on June 30, where they provided information to the public about Phase Two of construction for the Muddy River Restoration Project.

Phase One of the project included the daylighting of the Muddy River in the area near Emmanuel College. Phase Two consists of work in the area between Leverett Pond to Boylston Street in both Boston and Brookline, and includes dredging, excavation of the sandbar and island at Leverett Pond, removal of phragmites, and restoration of the shoreline.

A portion of Phase Two includes the removal of 123 trees over the more than three mile long stretch of land that makes up the project area, US Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Jennifer Flanagan said at the public meeting. This news has left Caroline Reeves of the Muddy Water Initiative, along with several other residents, upset, as they believe the tree canopy should be preserved.

“A critical element of the work is the protection of the existing trees and the landscape along the river,” Flanagan said. “In the four plus years of design for the Phase Two project, the Corps has worked extensively with the project sponsors and our landscape architect to determine the specific trees for removal and also the protection during construction.”

She said the primary goal for the tree portion is to protect as many trees as possible using wood chips and matting to protect trees against soil compaction and trunk damage from heavy equipment. 

“Careful consideration and deliberate thought was put into the design to minimize removal of the trees,” Flanagan said, “however, some of the trees slated for removal are either in the direct path of the flood risk management channel slope or in a location where access must be provided in order to get equipment in to dredge the river.”

She said that in areas where equipment access “requires tree removal,” trees that are diseased, damaged, or non-native have been chosen “to minimize overall…impact.”

Caroline Reeves said in a statement that all 123 trees were initially slated to be cut down at once beginning on July 1, “although the work will not be commencing in many of the work areas for more than two years,” she said. “The destruction of Canopy, the destruction of wildlife habitat, the noise and harm to the local communities are all unacceptable, when what might happen in the future to the project, to the plans might all change due to unforeseen circumstances,” she wrote.

Reeves told the Sun that “many trees were removed” in Phase One, which she believes caused damage to the ecosystems of local wildlife.

“From my point of view, I noticed because the magnificent birds of prey—hawks, falcons, and owls—that lived in those trees were displaced to the Back Bay because their habitat had been completely destroyed.”

She said that that is why she and several others “decided we needed to watch out for the trees” during Phase Two of the project. She said that while she did not expect every tree to be saved during construction, she wanted to make sure that the process was carefully thought out. Reeves said that the Charlesgate Alliance, Speak for the Trees, and Gas Leaks Alliance have been working with her to get more information about the tree removal process and its effect on public health and climate resilience.

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy has also been a big proponent of the Muddy River Restoration project and protecting tree canopy.

¡°The Emerald Necklace Conservancy supports the very important work of the Muddy River Restoration, which has been greatly needed for over 20 years to prevent repeat of the devastating flooding in 1996,” President Karen Mauney-Brodek said. “This flood management project is essential for Boston and Brookline, and we will continue to listen, advocate and communicate for the needs of the park and the park users in the coming months and years.¡±

Reeves said that the project team said at previous public meetings that they would replace trees that were cut down, but “planting trees is risky at best,” she said. Doing so would not immediately replace the tree canopy or habitats for wildlife, she added. There is also a chance that many young trees would not survive.

Reeves said that the MMOC held a meeting “that’s supposed to be open to the public” on May 13, but she said the public was “muted” during the online meeting when they tried to bring up the issue of the trees. She also said she believes the MMOC did not “communicate our concerns to the right people.” The MMOC did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

After the public meeting on June 30, Reeves said she began writing letters the next day stating that she did not want to see all the trees cut down at once, and received a call back from the US Army Corps of Engineers saying that they heard what she had to say.

“Since we’ve been able to communicate with the Army Corps directly,” Reeves said, “they’ve been receptive and we’ve been given information.” She said that while trees were cut down that morning, it was only in one particular area, and the other areas will follow later, rather than cutting all 123 trees down at the same time.

She said she would like to see the trees to be cut down “on an as-needed basis. We’re not unreasonable,” she said. “Don’t cut them down before you need to.”

The project page on The US Army Corps of Engineers website offers information on construction activity for the next 90 days.

“The removal of existing trees greater than 4” caliper identified to be removed will begin in early July for Work Areas #7-#11 as the contractor starts installing site fencing,” a document on the website states. “Trees identified for removal in other work areas will take place as the contractor mobilizes in each work area in preparation of channel excavation.” More information, including a project map showing the work areas, can be found on the website.

“We are grateful and we are impressed with the US Army Corps of Engineers’ willingness at this late date to hear us and to work with us,” Reeves said.  She added that she and others will still continue to “push them for an assurance that they might push those dates for the staging even further into the future.”

Reeves said she has worked with Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods and City Councilor Kenzie Bok on this issue and will continue to do so. She said she is “grateful that [the US Army Corps of Engineers] are willing to dialogue with us,” and is “grateful for our city officials who are backing us up.”

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