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Changing the Tide on the Allston Drain Pipe Expansion

By Zing Gee
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Earlier this month, the Charles River Watershed Association held a forum discussing the potential environmental repercussions of Harvard’s new Enterprise Research Campus on Allston and the Charles River. While the ERC itself earned high marks for its comprehensive, “above and beyond” approach to flood reduction, a newer Harvard investment on the Allston side of the river didn’t fare quite as well: Some Allston residents remain unconvinced by the North Allston Storm Drain Expansion Project.

We heartily support the project’s ambitions — it is a smart, timely investment that will help keep Allston safe and dry. The $50 million radical infrastructure revamp would be fully financed by Harvard and owned and operated by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. It promises to slice flood volume by more than half, installing a new “trunk drain system” and expanding the diameter of the current pipe. It’s a chance to safeguard our community from the impacts of increasingly aggressive weather patterns caused by climate change: Much of North Allston lies in a future flood zone.

The NASDEP is a generous offer, especially because it is not clearly Harvard’s responsibility to fund infrastructure projects that keep Allston above water.

Together with Harvard’s impressive investments in sustainability with the ERC and Science and Engineering Complex, the NASDEP represents an auspicious new chapter in our University’s climate policy. We’ve already lauded the University’s quietly announced decision to divest from fossil fuels, and are excited to see our institution continue to materialize its stated climate ambitions.

Yet the storm drain expansion project’s future remains uncertain, and its execution, particularly when it comes to local outreach, has been remarkably unimpressive.

In fact, despite the project’s commendable goals, and despite our own desire to keep our campus safely above the Charles, we sympathize with Allston residents’ misgivings. Our administration has crafted an unnecessarily rough path to the regulatory green light. The entire project is contingent on the approval of the same local legislators who believe their constituents have been ignored by our institution. Some, like State Representative Michael J. Moran and State Senator Sal N. DiDomenico, have already refused to even consider endorsing the new drainage systems until Harvard remedies its lackluster outreach regarding the drain pipe expansion. Substantive engagement with the community we aim to literally uproot (if only to expand drain pipes) is the mark of a good steward; its absence is understandably upsetting.

Still, it would be regrettable if poor communication tanked an otherwise worthwhile enterprise. From both a climate and a good-neighborly perspective, Harvard and its critics must find middle ground: The Allston pipeline should be expanded, but not without community input. With massive Harvard-sized funding comes massive Harvard-specific responsibility.

Harvard should make sure to host multiple information sessions and forums for Allston’s community members, delineating the construction plan for the project and articulating why the pipe expansion is necessary in the first place. The information dissemination surrounding the SEC offers a good template to follow; the fact that the development consists of more pure infrastructure and fewer human spaces (like the SEC’s cafe or Micromarket) doesn’t mean social input isn’t vital.

Such sessions would allow the University to inform Allston’s residents about the new buildings’ environmental foot print while clarifying why additional construction is needed and getting invaluable local insight. Anyone impacted by the new construction, regardless of their specific association to the Charles River or Allston, should be invited to attend. That way, many community members, from those fearful of the environmental side-effects to those who believe the pipeline expansion plan has not gone far enough, would be given a chance to express their concerns.

We are confident that, after such engagement, Harvard will earn the necessary bureaucratic approval from State Rep. Michael J. Moran and State Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico. After all, the expansion is a remarkable example of our institutional willingness to take initiative when it comes to mitigating climate change.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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