North & South Rivers Watershed Association

Scituate Zoning Board to Review Housing Project on Herring Brook Meadow

Here’s some irony! As we prepare for coastal flooding tomorrow…the Scituate ZBA will be reviewing a 40B residential development project that is being allowed to be built in the coastal floodplain next to the Herring River! We are supportive of affordable housing and the intent of 40B, however we have concerns about the health of our river from this project. The NSRWA submitted this comment letter to the ZBA for tonight’s hearing. Please attend and make your voice heard.

February 28, 2018

Chairman John Hallin
Scituate Zoning Board of Appeals
600 Chief Justice Cushing Highway
Scituate MA  02066

RE: Modification to the Comprehensive Permit Herring Brook Meadow

Dear Chairman Hallin and members of the Zoning Board of Appeals,

The North and South Rivers Watershed Association (NSRWA) would like to take this opportunity to provide comments on the proposed modifications to the Comprehensive permit for the Herring Brook Meadow project.  The North and South Rivers Watershed Association is a 48-year old nonprofit environmental organization, with a membership of 1,400 whose purpose is to protect our waters through education and engagement programs that result in healthy rivers.

The NSRWA has concerns about the size and scope of the proposed project at this environmentally sensitive site.  The site abuts the Herring River – a major tributary to the North River.  The Herring and North Rivers are classified by the State as Outstanding Resource Waters and contain shellfish beds and anadromous fish runs.  Neither the North nor Herring Rivers meet their water quality standards due to bacterial contamination after rain events from untreated stormwater runoff.  The NSRWA and the MA Department of Marine Fisheries, as well as the Town of Scituate, have been working together for years to improve and restore water quality to meet shellfishing bacterial standards.  At this point these efforts have been successful in opening the shellfishing beds part of the year (November – May).  In addition, the site is adjacent to mapped priority habitat for endangered species and lies within the Zone II to the Town of Scituate’s drinking water wells.  The North River and this part of the Herring River have unique protection in that they are designated as the only Scenic Protected River in the State of Massachusetts.

The project has changed substantially along with the rules and regulations governing the site that deal with protecting our water and particularly our river.  Because of that we believe the new proposal requires going through the local permitting review process again and that the older permits and the current proposal do not protect the water quality of the adjacent river.

The new FEMA floodplain areas have been remapped and put almost the entire site within the coastal floodplain. To avoid having the entire project inundated during coastal storm events, the current project proposes to fill in 13,500 cubic yards of floodplain–more than twice the amount that was previously proposed to be filled because of the changes made to the floodplain maps since the comprehensive permit was issued.  In addition to the new FEMA maps, a new Stormwater Bylaw and Regulations was enacted and Water Resource Protection district requirements were changed in Scituate since the project was permitted.

From what we understand, the new proposal includes a garage below flood elevation where the cars and most likely other things that people store in garages such oil, gas, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other potentially toxic materials will be underwater at astronomical high tides and storm events.  This seems like a disaster waiting to happen. We believe the garages should not be in located within the flood zone due to the risk of contamination of water that will recede back into the river. It is impossible to guarantee the cars will be removed prior to storm events (as proposed) and the storage of items will be policed to ensure that the risk from contamination would be avoided. As we write this comment letter, a coastal flood watch is in effect for Friday and Saturday with tides predicted to be close to 15 feet at this site because of a northeaster coupled with astronomical high tides – the second time this year that this type of flooding has threatened Scituate.

In addition to the coastal flooding posing a risk to the adjacent salt marsh and Herring River, we are concerned that the proposed stormwater treatment system does not treat specifically for bacteria from stormwater runoff and that the discharge for all stormwater generated onsite is directed towards the salt marsh. As stated earlier, the Herring River and the North River do not meet state Water Quality Standards for shellfishing and we believe that it is required that Stormwater Best Management Practices used remove bacteria prior to discharge.  The proposed best management practices do not treat for or there is insufficient data on their bacterial removal efficiency. As far as providing recharge of stormwater the grassed swale provides negligible recharge according the Massachusetts Stormwater handbook.

The North River and its associated tributaries, namely the Herring River, are invaluable resources to the town of Scituate, the region and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its residents and is cherished by many.  We are concerned that without proper protection these resources will become degraded.  We are certain that some development can be tolerated at this site however we are concerned that the proposed projects’ size and scope is more than the site can withstand.  We are cognizant of the allowance to build in the coastal floodplain however with sea level rise and coastal flood surges on the increase we believe this makes little sense and will endanger people and the environment.

We urge the ZBA to review this project under the current regulations that have been enacted since the permit for this project was issued and we ask that you require and ensure that the proposed development addresses, with more certainty other than asking residents to move their cars, removing the risk of contamination to the rivers and our water from the proposed garage in an area subject to coastal and storm flooding. We also ask that you require the proponent to treat the stormwater runoff for bacteria so as not to further degrade the adjacent river’s water quality.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.

Samantha Woods

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