Alewife Study Group > government > Jan. 29 2001, Arlington Conservation Commission community feedback Search 

Mugar Development in East Arlington

comments by a member of the Alewife Study Group

Date: Jan. 29, 2001
To: Arlington Conservation Commission
Re: Mugar parcel, Rt. 2: Jan. 5, 2001 BSC memo re 100-year flood elevation
From: Aram Hollman
[number omitted] Whittemore St., Arlington, MA 02474-6602
[home phone number omitted]
[work address and email omitted]

Enclosed are my comments on the BSC Group's memo and on the hearing at which Mr. David Albrecht of Rizzo Associates requested that that the Conservation Commission delineate the Mugar parcel's 100-year flood elevation as 8.0 feet.

My comments concern both the content of the hearing and the decisions made as to how to proceed. I am aware that the hearing has been closed; indeed, my comments concern just that.


The BSC memo contains two sets of comments. The first set has comments numbered 1 to 6. The second set has comments numbered 1 to 5.

With regard to the first set of comments, numbered 1 to 6:

1. Based on a single photograph, the comment first suggests that the 1996 flood was a 100-year flood with elevation 6.8, then immediately and hastily withdraws such a suggestion, saying that the "data is provided as comparison information only and we have treated it as such."

Both the memo and the subsequent discussion asserted but failed to substantiate the following claims: That there was a precise definition of a 100-year flood, that the 1996 flood fit that definition, that the time and date of the photograph were known with sufficient precision to allow inferences as to the elevation of the flood, and that the flood peaked at 6.8 feet.

Given the withdrawal of such unsubstantiated assertions, why were they even made? Was it to imply, without explicitly saying so, that peak flood elevation is something less than 8.2 feet? Or is there some other relevant reason?

2. The comment, based on the 1982 topographic plan, suggests that the lowering of the railroad bed to create a bike path created a path by which water downstream of Rt. 2 could back up across across the bike path and across Thorndike Field to reach the Mugar parcel.

Again, the claim is not substantiated. The new path for floodwater is "potential", not proven. In contrast, the FEMA map shows no such connection; indeed it indicates that Thorndike Field is not in the 100-year floodplain, but the 500-year floodplain. "BSC has not seen definitive data regarding . . . the probability that Alewife Brook floodwaters will top the bike path in a 100-year storm."

BSC's comment fails to provide any clear evidence whatsoever regarding actual 100-year flood elevation.

More important, Mr. Albrecht overloked an important issue in asserting this new flood path. If the alleged flood path did indeed exist, then, with either the railroad bed or the bike path in place, water slightly more upstream, where the Rt. 2 exit to Alewife T now crosses over Alewife Brook, would likewise overtop its banks, back up where the bike path or railroad bed went under Rt. 2, and from there cross Thorndike Field to the Mugar site.

However, Mr. Albrecht makes no such assertion and there is no record of such flooding. This suggests that the suggested new path does not exist.

3. This comment suggests that if the previous comment were true, ". . . the pipe connections across Rt. 2 . . . would not be a factor in determining the 100-year flood elevation ..." (emphasis added).

The previous comment has not been proven true, so the assertion about the pipes cannot follow from it. However, it is correct, for a different reason: During both the 1996 and 1998 storms, flooding overtopped a far higher point, the low point of Rt. 2 near the Arthur D. Little complex.

4. The comment mentions two other maps that indicate 100-year flood elevations of 8.1 or 8.0, respectively, then mentions two other sources, including the FEMA map, which state 100-year flood elevation to be 8.2, such that "... 8.2 is the default floodplain elevation" per the Wetlands Protection Act, which the Commission is charged with enforcing.

Again, the BSC memo finds more evidence to support a 100-year flood elevation of 8.2 than to refute it.

5. Assuming a) no change in topography and b) that removal of railroad bed ballast created a new path for water to drain to Alewife, "there exists sufficient evidence to assume the 100-year flood elevation on the Mugar parcel is less than 8.0."

This is an amazing development in the history of logic. From two assumptions follow "sufficient evidence" which allows a third assumption! Never mind that the second assumption is questionable. The only thing that can follow from making assumptions is a conclusion. Neither evidence nor further assumptions can follow from earlier assumptions.

In making decisions, the Commission is required to draw conclusions from sufficient evidence, not to draw assumptions from earlier assumptions.

The memo, perhaps recognizing this, next suggests negotiation. Given an earlier "assumption" of an elevation less than 8.0, but lacking new Flood Study, the memo now suggests that the Commission conclude that the elevation is 8.0, pending a new study.

6. This comment recommends a new flood study. However, during the hearing, when I suggested that the need for a new floodplain map was one of the few things that everyone present could agree on, Mr. Albrecht disagreed. Given that disagreement, perhaps his client would like to abide by the stated FEMA floodplain elevation for his site, 8.2.

The memo then states, "In summary, BSC considers Rizzo Associates' approach in requesting that the 100-year floodplain be established at elevation 8.0 to be valid."

Given that the 6 points reviewed either fail to substantiate that claim or present a preponderance of evidence against it, how can BSC possibly endorse an elevation of 8.0?

I urge the Commission to delineate the 100-year floodplain on the Mugar site at 8.2.

Process issues:

There are a number of process issues, regarding what occured at the end of the hearing, that concern me.

I'm concerned that the Commission appeared uncertain as to how to proceed and relied excessively upon Ms. Hegemann to advise them. Knowing (as I'm sure the Commission does) that Ms. Hegemann was the Chair of the Cambridge Conservation Commission, I'm sure she well knows the rules under which Conservation Commissions deliberate. However, I believe Ms. Hegemann was hired to advise the Commission on technical matters, not procedural ones.

I'm concerned that Ms. Hegemann, who I understand was hired by the Conservation Commission, appeared to be actively working on behalf of the proponent.

During the hearing, when the Commission was debating how to proceed, I suggested that continuing the hearing would allow the Commission time to determine how to proceed, allow Mr. Albrecht time to gather additional evidence that he had not gathered, and allow members of the public to submit written comments.

I was extremely disappointed by the response. Ms. Hegemann suggested that the hearing could be closed, with a vote to follow at the next meeting, and the Commission voted to follow her advice. Apart from the impropriety of Ms. Hegemann's advice, with 2 weeks more until the next meeting, the Commission gave the impression that it was more interested in preventing further public input than in anything else.

Immediately after Commission vote to close the hearing, member Beckwith then expressed concern that in doing so, she would be unable to speak with Alan McClennan about the issue, and suggested that the hearing be reopened to allow that. Ms. Hegemann assured Ms. Beckwith that she could speak to Mr. McClennan without having to open the hearing. This further reinforced my impression that the Commission was excessively selective regarding from whom it wanted to hear. The commission also granted Mr. Albrecht leeway to gather his additional evidence.


Aram Hollman

Contact the Alewife Study Group, North Cambridge Massachusetts, by email at