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Why We Won’t Join “Friends of Breakheart”

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Dear Editor:

  We were recently asked to join the Friends of Breakheart Reservation (FOB). We love Breakheart, which is why we wrote a book (actually, the book) about it. However, we will not join because the group’s president, Peter Rossetti, Jr., is in favor of a plan that would destroy 13 acres of forest that were formerly part of Breakheart. These 13 acres are on an elevated part of a 60-acre parcel that the state MDC (now DCR) transferred to Metro Tech in 1965 to build a school. (If you’re asking why a single school needed 60 acres, you’re asking a good question.)

  The school district built the current Metro Tech on the 30 lower acres, still a generous area for a school. Now that the Metro Tech needs to be rebuilt (few would disagree!), there is plenty of space available within the 30 developed acres. There is no need to destroy a beautiful forest.

  This forest, up to 60 feet above and to the right (facing the entrance) of the existing Metro Tech parking lot, has been a haven for wildlife, native plants, and hikers for over 50 years. It would also provide a wonderful natural classroom for Metro Tech students, many of whom will need training in natural systems as we move into a greener, more environmentally sustainable future.

  Just check out the offerings at award-winning Minuteman Tech in Lexington – their Environmental Science & Technology program is attracting students! At a time when we need to do all we can to protect our air and water resources and address climate change, the decision to build a school in the middle of a forest is incomprehensible. What a horrible message to give our kids.

  It is hard (no, impossible) to understand how someone who considers himself a “Friend of Breakheart” could think that it is okay to destroy the adjoining forest, which is not visually separate from Breakheart. Not only will 13 acres of forest be destroyed, but the downstream wetlands and waterways within Breakheart will become polluted with nitrogen, phosphorus, and chloride (and likely pollutants from vehicle oils, tires, and brakes), which cannot be removed by stormwater filtration systems. The stormwater system will also not be designed to handle 25- year or 100-year storm events, which are expected to occur more frequently. Seeking exemptions from these basic design requirements means that the project proponents accept environmental degradation as the price of development.

  Mr. Rossetti has helped organize many activities that benefit the community, but his position on this school project is the antithesis of FOB’s goal to “preserve and improve” Breakheart Reservation. In addition, it’s curious that Mr. Rossetti supports a project that his own community (Saugus) voted against.

  How did we end up fighting for a forest that many assumed was already protected? The answer is that the elected and appointed officials that ran the process of selecting a site for a new Metro Tech care about getting money from the state, playing fields, and access roads, but not a scintilla about the natural environment. They see our forest as a piece of real estate covered by replaceable trees. They know nothing about the beauty and functions of a forest or the reverence that a mature forest deserves, or the increasing rarity of areas not contaminated by urban development.

  When people voted for the school, did they vote to destroy the forest? Of course, they didn’t, as over 4,300 signatures on an on-line petition demonstrate (available on the “Save the Forest and Build the Voke” Facebook page). The site information was carefully hidden behind the popular question of whether we should build a new school. Now that they have the go-ahead to build the school, they are trying to control the growing protests against its location. Time to line up the contracts and move forward!

  The pre-feasibility study, however, rejected site C-3 (the forest) as too costly and difficult to develop and recommended sites C-2 or C-1, each of which has an area equal to C-3 and is in already developed land. Somewhere along the line, the building committee decided to favor site C-3. (See the strong reaction of Wakefield architect Brian Thomson to this decision on the “Save the Forest and Build the Voke” Facebook page.)

  It appears that the committee kept the change of site close to their vests because they knew there would be resistance to destroying the forest.

  A strategy emerged of keeping protest to a gentle murmur until the public process was over, the votes counted, and they could declare that “it’s too late to complain.” But these “complaints” are actually pleas to listen to reason. Why would we spend millions of additional dollars on a site that is difficult to develop, requires months of blasting and rock-crushing, and that will result in a school with severe accessibility and safety issues (steep and long stairways, high ledges), loss of endangered-species habitat and vernal pools, and potentially destroy Native American sites when there are two alternative sites available?

  The rising costs of blasting and preparing site C-3 alone should give project proponents pause, but apparently not.

  Are we sacrificing a forest so that students will not have to use available temporary playing fields while the new school is being built? Is it too much to wait until the old school is razed and a new playing field built at that location?

  When we have a public process where a bad decision cannot be revisited, we have a fundamentally broken system. In this case, the process is working only for the developers and Town leadership who have their eye on a large pot of money and no interest in environmental protection. If this decision holds, citizens of 12 towns will be paying for this mistake for decades to come.

  So when we were asked whether we would like to join the “Friends of Breakheart,” we cannot do so in good conscience, not as long as its president is in favor of this truly heartbreaking plan.


Alison Simcox and Douglas Heath

Wakefield, MA

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