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Allston Residents, Environmentalists Convene to Discuss Impacts of Harvard Development

At a meeting Monday, environmental advocates discussed the effects of Harvard's development in Allston on the environment.
At a meeting Monday, environmental advocates discussed the effects of Harvard's development in Allston on the environment. By Zing Gee

Environmental advocates from the Charles River Watershed Association held a forum Monday focusing on the impact of Harvard’s Enterprise Research Campus on the Charles River and the region’s environment more broadly.

An outstanding issue the group discussed was “river runoff,” a term for excess water that enters a water system. The group is concerned that the less absorbent ground surfaces in a developed Allston will allow more pollution to run into local water bodies.

Janet Moonan, CRWA stormwater program director, discussed the ERC’s on-site stormwater management systems, which include measures like multiple water storage methods and absorbent gardens and vegetation that can hold stormwater, filter out pollutants, and let the clean water gradually seep into the ground. The site will be able to handle more than twice the amount of stormwater that city regulations require it to, she said.

“That's over the precipitation amount that's required, and that will help with reducing flooding in the area; it will help reduce peak discharges of runoff to the river,” Moonan said.

Moonan went on to say that the ERC development is going “above and beyond” by using “high solar reflectance material,” proposing a “bioretention outdoor classroom,” which would make use of the plants in the absorbent gardens, and complying with the new Massachusetts stormwater regulations.

The CRWA, however, still had questions about flooding mitigation during storms, green space, the protection of water quality, and the impact of construction for the Charles.

Moonan also outlined the Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s proposed solution to the Allston drainage system’s water capacity issues: the North Allston Storm Drain Expansion Project.

Fully funded by Harvard, this project drew political controversy in March. State Rep. Michael J. Moran and State Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico — who need to approve legislation for the project to proceed — said they would not consider the expansion until the BWSC and Harvard engaged in what they argued should be more meaningful stakeholder engagement.

Local resident and Harvard Allston Task Force Member Edward A. “Ed” Kotomori said at the meeting he is concerned that the information Harvard is sharing about the proposed NASDEP is incomplete.

“How do you expect us to understand the whole, if you’ve just given us pieces?” he said. “I would not approve this pipe, if you’re not going to tell us the whole story.”

Mark Handley, director of community relations for Harvard, thanked the local residents who attended and affirmed that Harvard is receptive to their input.

“I just want to tell people that Harvard is here, and we’re listening,” he said.

University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke added in an emailed statement that Harvard aims to create a “healthier campus and a more sustainable world” through its Allston developments.

She wrote the NASDEP would “improve the quality and cleanliness” of river runoff at “no cost to taxpayers.”

O’Rourke also wrote if “legislators” do not act, disaster could strike Allston if the area is hit by a significant storm that leads to flooding.

“The existing, undersized storm drain that serves much of the North Allston neighborhood will continue to exacerbate a serious and longstanding resilience infrastructure deficit in North Allston that impacts both Harvard and the surrounding residential community, and could needlessly continue to risk major property damage and disruption,” she wrote.

—Staff writer James R. Jolin can be reached at james.jolin@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Maribel Cervantes can be reached at maribel.cervantes@thecrimson.com.

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