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Please Help! We are trying to save a stretch of wetlands behind our school — the Greenhouse School in Salem, Massachusetts. Politicians always need support to take strong stands, especially when powerful interests are involved; we provide a list of officials you can contact. We also provide a petition you can download, print, and use to collect signatures. Right-click on the graphic to download the pdf file; or right-click here to download the Word doc version. Big developers won't listen unless we can get our elected officials to stand up for us and get others involved. Obviously, the more people we reach, the better. Thank you!  

This is gray-green clay dug out of the area in question [click on image for large view]. Not great photos, but they make the point. It is typical of the washed-out clays found in this type of situation: close to the surface and near-impermeable, it may signify both the top of a permanent high water table as well as low permeability for surface runoff. It stays waterlogged most of the time, and hints that the whole area was once underwater. One of the reasons we don't think a project that is essentially paving over the area is a great idea.

NEW:  Click on this popup link to get  information about the dangers of Beryllium.

Below is a letter we sent to councilor O'Keefe, followed by a parent's letter to State Rep John Keenan.

the greenhouse school

patricia jennings-welch, executive director
145 loring avenue * salem, massachusetts 01970
tel. 978-745-4549

November 29, 2005

Councilor Joseph A. O'Keefe, Sr.
28 Surrey Road
Salem, MA 01970

Dear Councilor O'Keefe:

Thanks so much for your attendance and supportive comments at the meeting last week to discuss more expansion plans for Salem State College. I wanted to write you as soon as possible to reiterate our concerns. We should continue to use every means to slow down development along the Forest River watershed and to make sure the college's expansion is always interwoven with the long term good of the community.

The long range concern, of course, is for the preservation of the neighborhood and quality of life along Loring Avenue. Also of note are the environmental impacts on the increased load all along the Forest River watershed, as well as the flood control and groundwater recharging properties that go hand in hand with the open space issues we have discussed in the past. 

Environmental Concerns
I realize you have a copy of the maps distributed by college personnel, but I include them for reference anyway. The topo lines you noticed do indeed seem to indicate an alarming rise in the surface level where the baseball field ball field is suggested; neighbors along that border will justifiably be concerned. Along our border, the enormous increase in impermeable space cannot help but exacerbate our flooding concerns which have already worsened since the recent construction on the old Sylvania site. You will recall the argument placed before the Conservation Commission (prior to the construction of the dorms) that the project would result in increased permeable area, which would therefore be a good thing.

The abandonment of this and other assurances points to the larger picture of unrestrained development along the historically abused Forest River Watershed — a sprawl issue with which residents of neighborhoods are struggling nationwide. [wide view of proposed SSC expansion] It is extremely short-sighted to see each project in its own individual bubble. Along the last stretch of open land in South Salem, we are looking at no less than five potential massive developments: The YMCA at Leggs Hill; some sort of residential development at same; the recently built dorms and the huge attendant increase in activity there; the nursing home or other development at Lead Mills; and these newest proposals. 

Pickman river While the college enjoys taking exaggerated credit for its legally mandated (and years-delayed) stewardship of the marsh, here again the broader impact is ignored for the sake of individual projects. The entire region is sitting on filled marsh and the remnants of the Pickman and Forest Rivers: the remaining salt marsh is the tiniest heel off this large loaf, less than ten percent of its historic Bache's survey area according to Bache's survey (I have sent you these maps in the past). Incidentally, Bache's and other surveys contradict the conveniently drawn 100-year flood line as shown on the college study: the line actually curves all the way up to the corner of our basketball court—unless you believe that floods follow straight lines! GTE flood line It is not merely a question of quarantining the marsh in as small an area as is legally permissible and developing the rest to our hearts' content. All self-respecting environmentalists recognize the importance of increased land use impacts: the destruction of border lands, buffers and the necessary contiguous space that sustains any wildlife area has already made a noticeable difference in just the last two years. The wildlife that inhabited the space behind us is palpably decreased, a trend that can only continue given increased unrestrained development of the area.

Growth and quality of life not always compatible
tennis court Increased activity and new development go hand in hand, and it is not simply a matter of the annoyance of more wind, noise, traffic, or even golf balls through our back windows. [proposed tennis courts] I have already touched on environmental concerns, but the others are even more threatening to the neighborhood and the city. I spoke at the meeting about the very real problem that potential admits to our school are sometimes deterred by the traffic problem on Loring Ave. This is hardly some idle or frivolous NIMBY chatter. The almost weekly accidents at the corner of Monroe and Loring have increased in frequency and intensity, with one car flipping completely over in an incident earlier this year. Growth is not always a universal good, and gridlock doesn't advance many interests. 

It is time for the city and the residents of South Salem—along with as many allies as we can muster—to say enough is enough. While the college may be an academic institution, it is an institution nonetheless, and despite the professed goodwill of its advocates, must follow the logic of institutions: self-preservation, self-justification, and, yes, expansion. My family's connections to Salem State are deep and longstanding—we have had some sort of ties that reach back for the better part of a century. I welcome some—but by no means all—of the consequences of being a college town. But enough is enough, Joe: It is becoming clear that the college is an increasingly well-funded juggernaut, a status of which they are quite publicly proud. And while it may pay lip service to community concerns, any institution will, in the end, follow its own priorities. 

Past Promises—Once Burned, Twice Shy
A sobering reminder of this behavior is how the college vowed to build the dorms, completely unfazed by your pledge that they would do so over your dead body if necessary. By the way, I'm glad to see you are still living, breathing and fighting the good fight. An even more alarming insight can be gleaned from the College President's response (I'm sure you remember this) to the neighborhood reminding her that she had promised not to build dorms on the property. The lesson learned, astonishingly, is not that such promises might play a vital role in soothing the friction between institution and community—it was that she shouldn't make such promises! 

If this isn't a red flag, I don't know what is. They say they won't put in lights, but promises obviously aren't promises: odds are they will eventually appear, if not in this project, then in conjunction with one down the road. What's more, the college may eventually push to punch through to Monroe road and open up a corridor on the south end of the property—again, if not now, then at some point. Or there will be other, more negative impacts we don't yet know about, unless of course we put up sufficient resistance. Institutional logic is unswerving: the Pickman Park neighborhood is simply in the way, and will always stand, on some level, between the college and its plans. Rather than accept life within these limits, the institution will continue to push, creating facts on the ground that argue for the inevitability of future expansion. Apart from the few surface concerns that are easily managed, the college has, like any institutional developer, vigorously pursued its development plans in every case despite local objections, and has in fact often trumpeted the privilege of being above local control. Consequently, objections should be pursued just as vigorously, despite the fact that we have far fewer resources at our disposal.

Fortunately, like any institutional developer, they are still constrained by some tools that cities and neighborhoods can and should use to oppose unrestrained growth unaccountable to local control and the electoral process. We don't always have the funding or the connections, but we still live here, dammit. Easements, planned streets and other city controls are important arrows in a fast-depleting quiver available to local officials. I urge you and your colleagues to use them to the extent we can to ensure the vitality and quality of life in our city, and by extension and by example, around the country. Thanks for your attention, and best wishes from both Julia and me for a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season.


Daniel P. Welch, Administrative Director
The Greenhouse School
The little school with a global reach

Cc: elected officials, neighbors & neighborhood associations

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A parent's letter to State Rep John Keenan

John,  [State Rep, John Keenan; cc'd to councilor O'Keefe]

Dan Welch asked me to contact you before your meeting with Salem State and I hope this gets to you in time. I'm a parent at the Greenhouse school and I've been helping Dan with this wetland issue for six years now. I've also done monitoring of the adjoining salt marsh with Salem Sound Coastwatch and I've researched the GTE landfill on the site.

Our primary concern at this time is the freshwater wetland (wet meadow) that extends along Monroe Road. I am not qualified to say exactly how far the boundary of this wetland extends, but there are two depressions that have standing water in them for most of the year, and a large surrounding area that is saturated with water for a significant portions of the growing season. We know from our work around the school that the soil in this area has a thick layer of clay and an extremely high water table (within a foot or two of the surface) so we feel confident in out claim that this is a natural wetland that we've been able to locate on maps dating back to 1855 (including a USGS topographical map from 1946) and in old photographs. I think it is also important to stress that this freshwater wetland extents to the edge of the salt marsh and is it's last remaining natural buffer zone.

The proposed tennis courts extend right into the wetlands and within 25 feet of the most saturated areas. Another problem is that the college has already started work on this project, filling in large areas with gravel and construction debris, again extending within a short distance of the wettest areas. They have also been working to locate a possible underground storage tank digging up large areas along Monroe Road. As far as I can tell, this work has been done without posting a file number or flagging the wetland boundary.

The college will probably claim that they are using the boundary flagged in 2002 for the dormitory, but we contested that portion of the boundary during a site visit with the Conservation Commission in March 2003 and the commission members decided that it was not an issue at the time because the edge of the construction site and the construction fence did not extend close enough to Monroe Road to be an issue. We contested the flagged boundary for two reasons. One was that it was only intended to mark the boundary of the salt marsh vegetation and ignored the freshwater wetland on the site. The second reason was that the "boundary" went right on top of a large pile of fill at the edge of the salt marsh (located just inside the gate of the fence that runs along Monroe Road.) This filling was done after the College bought the property because it was placed on top of a tarp that was installed in 1996 to control the the invasive Phragmites species as part of the Restoration/Revegetation Plan for the GTE landfill. The tarp was supposed to have been removed after one growing season and replanted with salt marsh grasses, but by then the college had bought the property and the work was never completed.

The college likes to take credit for the "restoration" of the salt marsh, but the fact is that they were obligated to continue the monitoring of the landfill and restoration /revegetation of the 
salt marsh and the cost of that was built into the deal when they acquired the property. They have in fact done far less than they were required to and have profited from the cost savings.

Thanks for your concern and feel free to call me if you have any questions.

Brian King

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You can help us save these wetlands; please contact these officials. Thank you!

Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. Some of his articles have been broadcast on radio, and translations are available in up to 20 languages. Links to the website are appreciated at danielpwelch.com.