To: Melissa Hoffer, Climate Chief
From: Sherri Carlson, Wakefield MA resident
Re: Urgent Plea to Save the NEMT Forest
Date: March 12, 2023
Cc: Maura Healy, Governor, Friends of Wakefield’s Northeast Metro Tech Forest, SAVE the Forest and BUILD the Voke, and Mary Judge, Wakefield MA resident
Dear Climate Chief Hoffer,
I am writing today to ask what can be done to halt the senseless clear cutting of 13.5 acres of rare virgin forest to make way for a new Northeast Vocational High School building in Wakefield, MA, when there are other viable options available that are less costly, far more environmentally friendly, and more considerate of the needs of the disabled. The current site will include over 100 concrete steps to ascend the 60-foot elevation of the hilltop site, with a 735 foot ADA-compliant, yet potentially dangerous and uncovered handicap ramp.
As the Friends of Wakefield’s Northeast Metro Tech Forest (nemtforest.org) so aptly described, the beautiful and pristine NEMT forest, with its unique biodiversity is at risk. “We and our children are facing grave challenges in real time – global warming, loss of forests and native habitats, declining populations of birds, arthropods, and overall biodiversity. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each of us to protect and preserve the forests in our neighborhoods for wildlife, for us, for our children, and for future generations.” The environmental impact of the current site plan for the “Voke,” per Friends of Wakefield’s Northeast Metro Tech Forest, would be as follows:
- Extensive land alteration including deforestation of >2000 trees
- Destructive effects of Construction
- Destruction of Native American Cultural sites
- Destruction of core forest and rare species habitat and native soils
- Impairment of Wetlands and associated Buffer Zones
- Impairment of Water Quality
- Increases in flooding and storm water flows
- Reduction of groundwater levels
The construction plan of the “Voke” involves the partial destruction of the nearby Breakheart-Hill Forest, a cherished 13.5-acre spot known as home to some rare and endangered species with vernal pools and wetlands and a migratory forest for birds. The forest is home to Hentz’s Red-bellied Tiger Beetle and a previously undocumented population of Eastern Whip-poor-will, a nocturnal bird whose habitat is being lost to development. The forested site is property owned by the school district – it was transferred from Breakheart Reservation to serve as a buffer between the Voke grounds and the reservation.
Sources: https://neighborhoodview.org/2023/02/21/the-vote-for-the-voke-has-led-to-a-surprising-twist/?fbclid=IwAR3sNZ_bEj_4MpwZqp35AB-3x10dHjQMfX2Fi7MxweOFDNvvGNWUTfbyp8U and https://www.nemtforest.org/
A SAVE the Forest and BUILD the Voke Facebook entry on February 22, 2023 highlighted that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) noted in their February 11, 2021 meeting minutes (p. 7) that site C2 (baseball/football field location) was acceptable but had been removed from consideration by the Project team (not by the MSBA). It sounds like – although all three drafted designs (options C1, C2, and C3) were designed to accommodate 1600 students in a 383,000 square foot building space – one of the main reasons the Northeast School Building Committee decided on the costlier option to clear cut 13.5 acres of pristine virgin forest was so they would not disrupt the current athletic fields during construction, and to allow for a future hockey rink:
“The location of the new school allows construction to occur with the least amount of disruption to the existing school of any option. The district gains additional athletic fields with this option and maintains the potential of reserving the current football field/track for future development as a hockey rink.” Source: Preferred Schematic Report – 3.3.1 Final Evaluation of Alternatives – Dec 21, 2020.
Thus, even though there is an existing hockey rink ten minutes away from the school, and they could certainly find alternatives on a temporary basis for the loss of athletic fields, the Committee decided that their wants and desires override the needs of rare and endangered species to have a livable habitat, and override the irreplaceable environmental benefits of a virgin forest.
As you most likely know, untouched old-growth forests exhibit a number of important properties that younger, disturbed forests cannot match. It would take approximately 100 years for replanted trees to mature into an old-growth forest again. Meanwhile a native habitat rich in biodiversity, dependent on the unique environmental conditions of a virgin forest will be lost, and the corresponding benefits for humans will be lost as well, including improved mental health and stress relief; air purification, water purification, and flood control; and fighting the greenhouse effect. Although we have minimal and dwindling natural resources left, avoiding clear-cutting a mature, virgin forest was never prioritized by the committee. See my attached letter published in the Wakefield Daily Item on February 21, 2023 for further discussion of this point.
On January 27, 2023 Friends of Wakefield’s Northeast Metro Tech Forest submitted a 26-page Fail Safe petition through 301 CMR 11.04 of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) documenting nine areas of environmental damage (bulleted at the beginning of my letter) that would result if the Voke is built on the Hilltop site. The letter urges the MEPA Director to require a full MEPA review including an Environmental Impact Report, which shockingly has never been done. The letter can be found at nemtforest.org.
As the first-ever climate chief with a “mandate to do nothing less than reshape the state government to focus on climate” per the Boston Globe, I request you include preservation of the NEMT forest in your plans to combat climate change, including:
- Placing a moratorium on this project as suggested by The Massachusetts Sierra Club in their letter to the editor of the Saugus Advocate, February 17, 2023.
o The fencing is already up in the area and I am very concerned the clear cutting will begin shortly. Thus, I request this moratorium be put in place ASAP.
- Pushing through a full MEPA review with an Environmental Impact Report that includes investigation of loss of habitat for rare and endangered species
The above actions would directly contribute to your quest to “make the change that we need to make with climate so that this can be a habitable planet.”