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July '06 letter to State Rep John Keenan

Following is a copy of an email sent to State Rep. John Keenan with regard to the proposed Salem State baseball field. As in all past correspondence, I stress the need for a mulit- jurisdictional, multi-city regional review that takes into account all the recent and proposed projects along the Forest River Watershed, which individual towns and Conservation Commissions are ill-prepared to do. 

Those hearing our concerns keep bouncing us from one jurisdiction to another, which ensures a continuation of the status quo: unrelenting sprawl along the watershed and further encroachment upon the 10% or so remaining marsh and wetlands. If any among you have any contacts or influence to spark such a regional review, we encourage you to participate. John's original text is at bottom.  See how you can help at the state level.



Hi John:

Yes--I have also spoken with Frank in great detail. In the first meeting, he seemed to many of us to be an unabashed cheerleader for the project, which shocked the conscience of nearly all present (except for college personnell). When I spoke with him afterward, he seemed to us to move from cheerleading to a position that there wasn't anything they could do. I think your impression is technically accurate; the problem is that their construction of their own  jurisdiction is among the narrowest I have come across. Barnstable once spent something like $100,000 to prove that a river was a river. 

I realize Salem has no such resources, but neither do members have to admit publicly that one of their top concerns is to avoid being sued by developers, as one member said to my wife at the same meeting. It is true that their decisions might always be actionable (in fact, we were about to say the same thing)--but it's a two way street--hardly seems balanced to use their apparent fear of developers as a defense to angry citizens (who could also sue if we had the money, of  course). 

I continue to think that a good lawyer (or a more activist ConsCom) could invalidate the whole sorry project with an hour's diligent work. In fact, most people I've spoken with--including most  Councilors--seem to share this defeatist attitude: dead-set against the project, but powerless to stop it. A really bad chain of events.

Of greater concern is the jurisdictional issue itself; nearly every concern raised is bound to be outside someone's jurisdiction or beyond someone's power. Nancy H probably feels I'm out to get the college, which is absurd. What is really needed is some sort of cross-jurisdictional review--and perhaps a moratorium--by MEPA, the EPA, DEP--whoever--that takes into account all the recent and new construction along the watershed, from the 40B project downstream to  the dorms to the baseball field to the parking lots to the tennis courts to the YMCA, new housing and on and on--all additional building in the aftermath of a Salem Sound study warning against  further land use impacts along the Forest River. I've already done the research and sent along maps showing that the Forest River Marsh complex is almost 90% destroyed from its historical reach; to those who would call it alarmist I would say that it is far too late to be sounding this alarm. 

Besides, we have a pivotal moment, with all we now know about climate change, to actually make a difference about building practices along these extremely sensitive areas. Instead,  Tierney's office refers us to the Mayor, who refers us to the ConsCom, who refers us to the legislature, saying that the college is exempt from any additional restrictions they might impose (if they were ever inclined to do so). In the meantime, projects are approved in isolation, one by one, as if in a vacuum, until....? I think the rest goes without saying. This fight has already cost us thousands of dollars: Julia and I can ill afford to "take our eye off the ball" for even a moment, given the nature of our work. But we have been so wrapped up in this struggle that we have had to forego a major spring fundraiser and put several other important revenue projects on the back burner. 

It's an insidious, nationwide phenomenon, and I don't  see many solutions on the horizon. This is inevitable, and developers count on it to exhaust opposition over the long haul. The more  spurious the assertion, the more energy it saps from the opposition:  a WalMart in Talahasse actually contended that building a new  superstore would reduce traffic. What the hell, their consultants get  paid either way.... On that note, I'll stop rambling and go check my  pumps. It looks like it may be another long night. Thanks for  listening/reading. Danny 

John wrote:

Dan: I've been following this through Frank in the ConCom who seems to be  on top of it. I've also talked with Mike Blier on the Con Com and he  says they're going to get an independent review also. Seems that  they're trying to review as thoroughly as possible within their  jurisdiction. I'll keep you posted with updates I get. Hope all else is well. 


Hi John: 

Thanks again for stopping by. I sent a note but it was returned, so I  re-sent to the office address. We're staying above water for now--a  great accomplishment. As far as SSC, I'm not sure where the permit  stands at this point. ...