On Friday, February 21, the white paper shown below was sent to several officials at MassDOT: Gautam Sen, the engineer on the project; Ulysses Jacks, the general counsel; Paul Stedman, Acting Head for Area 4; and Patricia Leavenworth, District Manager for Area. It was also sent to Mayor Cahill and his Chief of Staff, Kevin Harutunian.
Because of the special election result, the decision to move the connector road or not will be determined by negotiations between MassDOT and CEA Group, the developer promoting the land swap. A recent Boston Globe article made us concerned that the real facts about the land Beverly will receive from CEA Group, if the swap goes forward, would not be presented to MassDOT or would be misrepresented by parties that favor the swap. So the white paper below is NBNA’s attempt to make MassDOT aware of this parcel’s long and troubled history, and is part of the due diligence that should be undertaken before purchasing or swapping for the land.
You will see that, all along, since as early as 1971, there has been interest in developing this land but development has not occurred because of the poor soil conditions; and that from then until 2013, the ability to develop the land has been consistently predicated on removing the landfill and replacing it with granular soil, or keeping buildings at the roadway edge of the land where the landfill is most shallow. Furthermore, environmental concerns about the site are justified by studies conducted in 2013, despite the waiver provided by MEPA, which was granted under the assumption that the landfill would be removed. Finally, we are concerned about how the developer presents information, in a manner that creates confusion, and that this strategy will be used with MassDOT.
A NBNA White Paper: History of Settlement Issues and Engineering Responses, 140 Brimbal Ave., No. 1, February 2014
By Amy Martyn on behalf of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association
This White Paper has been prepared to inform our recommendation that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) stop the landswap between the Commonwealth and CEA Group. We have information about the environmental and settlement issues relating to the land in question, as well as deep concern about the developer’s opposition to the findings of the city’s engineers.
It has come to our recent attention that Mr. Cohen, of CEA Group, has retained no fewer than five independent engineering and architectural firms to refute the findings of Jacobs Engineering (employed by the City of Beverly) and MassDOT with regards to the compressibility of the landfill material at 140 Brimbal Avenue, which is the primary determinant of the feasibility of locating a connector road on that property. In a February 16, 2014 Boston Globe article “New Team Hired to Redesign Road,” in response to DOT’s Acting District Highway Director Paul Stedman’s assertion that the only viable option is the complete excavation and removal of all the landfill material, Mr. Cohen states that “excavating all of the landfill is not one of those options [that he is exploring].” Furthermore, Mr. Cohen is clear in his stance that it is his cost alone that drives his position, since excavation is projected to cost up to $5 million and he is willing to offer only $700K towards readying the land he owns for the new connector road. Cohen seems convinced that of the team of engineers he has assembled, one of them will find an engineering solution that will minimize his own financial responsibility for remediating land he has owned for ten years, and on which he has never built anything. We are concerned that in an effort to make a timely decision about the location of the connector road, valuable historical information about the landfill may be overlooked. This letter is a history of the documented [i] issues with the site and its capacity to support a connector road.
Land Settlement Issues
In 2004, the Archdiocese of Boston conducted a 21E on the property prior to its sale to Cohen/CEA Group. The 21E indicated that there was significant concern over the compressibility of the landfill in three different feasibility studies: a proposed Stop & Shop (1971), a Registry of Motor Vehicles building (1976), and a medical/office facility (1980). Each study cites issues with building foundations and paved areas (parking lots and access roads). In the 1971 Stop & Shop study, the land was “considered unsuitable for supporting foundations or floor slabs” and recommended the use of deep footing with piers or total excavation and replacement with fill material. The 1976 Motor Vehicles building study was conducted by Haley & Aldrich (who were, coincidentally, also Mr. Cohen’s engineers prior to his retention of several other firms). At that time, Haley & Aldrich believed that construction of the building was “technically feasible” as long as it was constructed within one hundred feet of Brimbal Avenue (emphasis added), and that building could be accomplished without premium foundation costs because in that area of the parcel the rubbish fill is only between two to six feet deep, whereas the fill increases to greater than twenty feet in the southwest portion. This study concurs with the earlier Stop & Shop study, that the land is “not suitable for support of the proposed building superstructure or floor slab” and that because the thickness of the fill varies across the parcel, it would be best to locate the building as close as possible to Brimbal Ave, and that even if this location was chosen for the building, settlement would remain an issue for the parking lot. In fact, Haley & Aldrich’s recommendation was to provide a gravel lot, because a paved parking lot would require “a continual maintenance program” and frequent repair due to the cracking from settlement. Again, this study suggests excavating the fill, replacing it with granular fill, and constructing individual slab footings. Haley & Aldrich went on to conduct yet another study in 1980, this time for a medical/office building, whose primary problem was the parking lot that was designed above the deepest part of the landfill and settlement of up to a foot was anticipated. Based on these studies, it is clear that any commercial endeavor at 140 Brimbal Avenue will require extensive and expensive geotechnical work, which Mr. Cohen surely knows, as the Mayor’s office obtained the 21E from him directly when it was requested by the Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee in January of 2014.
Though the 21E does not report significant contamination or environmental concerns, the 2007 Environmental Assessment Services report reads more skeptically regarding these issues. Shortly after CEA Group acquired the landfill from the Archdiocese, the City of Beverly contracted with LFR Environmental Consulting to provide an Environmental Assessment Services report in preparation for the reconstruction of the 128 interchange at Exit 19, at that time one large project that has since become Phase 1 (the new connector road) and Phase 2 (the overpass) due to lack of funding for one large standalone project. LFR conducted preliminary assessments on all the properties over 193 acres impacted by the project, including the property at 140 Brimbal Avenue . Because of its past use as a municipal landfill, LFR identified the property as a “site of concern” and went on to perform a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). The purpose of the ESA was to identify recognized environmental conditions (RECs) which are defined as “the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products on a property under conditions that indicate an existing release, a past release, or the material threat of a release of any hazardous substances or petroleum products into structures on the property or into the ground, groundwater, or surface water of the property.” LFR found that the presence of contaminants at low levels and historic reports of drums on the property (an aerial photograph from 1955 shows drums stockpiled within the area of the former landfill, which a 1989 letter from DEQE confirms) constituted a threat to groundwater and soil quality on the 140 Brimbal Ave property owned by CEA Group. Most concerning was the lack of information available about the property, and this absence of hard data alongside the history of the property, was noted by the report as a cause for serious concern. Though it was not noted in this report, it is important to acknowledge that the landfill, prior to its purchase by the Archdiocese in 1967, was owned by Varian, whose disposal practices from 1950‐1995, including industrial solvents and degreasers contaminated soil, groundwater, and surface water at 150 Sohier Road is within 1⁄2 mile from this property. Clean‐up at that site is ongoing.
The EAS report also notes that Mr. Cohen was planning development on the landfill as early as 2008, and by his own admission was ready to do so when then Mayor Scanlon approached him about the land‐swap in early 2013. In July 2013, anticipating relocating the connector road from its current location, the city’s engineers (Jacobs) took borings samples of the soil at the proposed new location on Cohen’s property and analyzed them. Several of the soil samples indicated the presence of contaminants that would likely require disposal as hazardous waste. The lead levels at boring site HB‐5, PCBs and VOCs at boring site HB‐6, and VOCs, lead and benzene at boring site HB‐7, and lead at SSB‐4B would all trigger a Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) analysis to determine disposal of the soil as hazardous waste. Subsequently when Jacobs submitted its storm water drainage plan to the Beverly Conservation Commission in November 2013, the engineers acknowledged that 15,000 cubic yards of soil would have to be removed from the landfill just to install the new drainage system. Furthermore, in the MEPA waiver request that the city completed in order to avoid conducting a costly and time‐consuming Environmental Impact Report, in response to concerns about settlement, the city’s engineers assured MEPA that the landfill would be excavated to the bedrock level, and the waiver was granted in late August 2013.
CEA’s Misleading Communications
Clearly, relocating the connector road is a massive and costly undertaking, with no apparent limit to time and expense. As Beverly residents and taxpayers, we do not want to be on the hook for that kind of uncertainty. Tax revenue and economic development will happen without the landswap. Beverly gets state funded road improvements without exceeding the $5 million MassWorks grant and Mr. Cohen is free to develop his current parcel. Everybody could win, though CEA’s public communication has been misleading with regard to this shared outcome.
As questions and documents like the ones referenced above surfaced about the contamination of the landfill and its structural integrity, and as the rezoning of the access road made its way toward a contentious special election, Mr. Cohen rebutted every statement from City Hall with misinformation and confabulation, which served to confuse and mislead the public. For example, in September 2013, at one of the City Council and Planning Board’s public hearings about the rezoning that would trigger the landswap, residents arrived to find anonymous flyers that the then Beverly City Planner acknowledged as coming from CEA Group. The flyer argued in favor of rezoning, stating that Whole Foods and its attendant traffic would occur regardless of the zoning decision and that the rezoning was only necessary to secure the funding for the road improvements. Further, the flyer stated outright that without the rezoning the city would lose state money for the improvement of the interchange at Exit 19, though at that time the city had not even submitted its application to MassWorks. This misinformation was compelling enough at the time that then members of the City Council cited those reasons when voting in favor of rezoning. Those “real facts” cited by the flyer turned out to be false.
To further confuse the issue, in January 2014 as the movement against the City Council’s vote to rezone gained traction , Mr. Cohen wrote a letter to the editor of the Salem News (“Brimbal Avenue project is better for Beverly”, January 17, 2014) reversing his earlier statement and said that if the rezoning didn’t pass, “Whole Foods will no longer be part of the CEA development” in spite of having already signed a lease with Whole Foods months before, and in the same week a citizen petition challenging the City Council vote to rezone the state property was submitted to the Beverly City Clerk. If Mr. Cohen was truthful in his most recent statement that Whole Foods would not be built without the swap, then he stands more to lose than the city does should the land swap not occur.
In the same January Salem News letter Cohen argues that his motives are environmental and that it was this “‘green’ agenda that motivated CEA to purchase and develop this site in the first place” despite the fact that he received permission from DEP to close the landfill in 2009 and never acted on it. And in direct contradiction of Beverly’s engineers, Cohen states “under no circumstances will any landfill material be removed from this site.” Around the time Cohen wrote that letter, an organization called Better For Beverly formed, to promote the “yes” vote in the special election that challenged the City Council’s vote to rezone. Cohen placed two large orange signs on either side of his landfill urging voters to “Let the STATE FIX THIS ROAD” and to “Vote Yes” on February 8, the date of the special election, again suggesting that voting against the swap would disallow the use of MassWorks money for necessary road improvements. The Steering Committee for Better For Beverly is comprised of city councilors, former city officials, residents, and most notably, Tom Alexander, the attorney for CEA Group. A week after Mayor Cahill announced publicly that the MassWorks money could still be used to build a new connector road without the landswap, the Better For Beverly group continued to send out mailings and take out advertisements “informing” voters that the city would lose the MassWorks money if they voted against the rezoning/landswap. They did not take down the misleading “Let the STATE FIX THIS ROAD” signs; in fact, one of them is still there today. A week before the special election, as MassDOT’s concerns about the landfill became public, Mr. Cohen wrote another letter to the editor of the Salem News (“Answering environmental information”, February 1, 2014) explaining that CEA is bringing in their own experts because “the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) does not have great experience with these specialized issues” and says that even though MassDOT requested an alternative design using the existing footprint, “there is no question among the project engineers that this would be an inferior design.” For some years now, we have viewed CEA as a potential neighbor with whom we would collaborate to ensure both the economic success of his development and the thriving of our close‐knit neighborhoods. However, it begins to look as if Cohen’s approach, rather than to collaborate, is to use threats and innuendo to steamroll the residents and city government that have worked so hard to accommodate his interests. After doing research, we find we have reason to feel unsettled [ii]. Cohen is using a repertoire of messaging and funding strategies that he used to block a Roxbury neighborhood project in pursuing this one.
The city and taxpayers of Beverly have little to gain by granting Mr. Cohen the latitude he asks for in relocating the access road to his polluted land. Over and over again he has stated that he can cut corners, spend a minimal amount of money, and that MassDOT will approve his plan, leaving him with clean land to develop and the city with a sinking road. Let us build our new road in its current location, stay under budget, and enjoy the economic growth allowed by Mr. Cohen’s development on his current parcel with a newer, safer road.
i Data and findings referenced here are from the 2004 21E, a 2007 EAS, and the borings sample analysis from 2013.
ii “David Project opposition emails released”, Karin Friedemann, World View News Service, see also this related document and this one; Massachusetts Superior Court Civil Action No 05‐4637‐F.