Letters Express Concern Over Environmental Impact of Harvard in Allston

As Harvard plans for development in Allston, some say that climate change and Hurricane Sandy-like storms could one day flood the neighborhood.

Letters to the Boston Redevelopment Authority about Harvard’s Institutional Master Plan Notification Form (IMPNF)—a rough draft of the University’s plans for Allston—ask Harvard to look for ways to protect the area against floods and rising sea levels.

Both the Charles River Watershed Association and two alumni—brothers Arthur L. Boright ’61 and Charles “Al” Boright ’68—took advantage of the 30-day public comment period required by Boston zoning laws to criticize the University’s IMPNF, which was released on Oct. 18.

The BRA will consider several letters before it releases its scoping determination, a public document that will ask Harvard to clarify its plans.

The Watershed Association, an organization whose mission is to use science and law to protect the Charles River Basin, emphasized in its letter that Harvard’s planning needed to include an open space between Allston’s residential areas and the river and to take into account stormwater management so that the area maintains its ability to sustain flood waters.

“[Harvard should] make sure we not only are making the right moves for infrastructure redevelopment, but also making the neighborhood more resilient to climate change and other infrastructure issues that arise in the future,” said Pallavi K. Mande, director of the association’s Blue Cities program, which helps plan environmentally friendly retrofitting projects.

The Borights’ letter argues that Harvard should suspend its project to develop a campus in Allston until Cambridge creates a comprehensive plan to combat rising water levels and to provide an outlet for storm surges from the Charles River Basin. Arthur worked as a weather officer for the Air Force and an atmospheric and space physicist for Boeing for most of his career. His brother worked as a lawyer on environmental and energy issues for Vermont’s legislative council.

Harvard ignored the troubling implications of global warming when formulating its project, Arthur Boright said in an interview. He described Harvard’s current proposal for development in Allston as “rosy-cheeked.”

Boright said that as polar ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland continue to melt, sea levels will keep rising. Coupled with increasingly frequent storms, water could wreak damage on the outdated infrastructure that currently protects the Charles River Basin from flooding.

“The Charles River Dam...no long provides long-term credible protection for the Charles estuary where Harvard and others have substantial investment and where Harvard now proposes further development,” Arthur Boright said.

A storm with approximately the same magnitude as Hurricane Sandy would send surges that could pour over the top of the current dam and send water through residential neighborhoods around Harvard’s campus, Boright said. A study quoted in the Borights’ letter said that sea water would flood most of Kendall Square, the MIT campus, and southern parts of Harvard Square.

Boright said that Harvard should plan as if its buildings would stand for hundreds of years, using his freshman dorm Hollis Hall—which has survived lightning bolts, fires, and 67 pounds’ worth of Revolutionary militia damage—as an example.

Harvard originally filed plans for Allston development in 2007, proposing, among other projects, a $1 billion science complex and renovation of Barry’s Corner. Those plans were put on hold in 2009 because of financial pressures, angering Allston residents. Last year, the University announced that it would resume development planning for the area.

—Jacob D. H. Feldman contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Laura K. Reston can be reached at laurareston@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

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