Monthly Archives: February 2014

Letter to MassDOT on the History of the Brimbal Avenue Interchange

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.

Environmental Issues

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.

The Morning After

A message from Cathy Burack, the morning after the special election. We have all learned over the past months that we are surrounded by GREAT neighbors, who are passionate about community and fair process, and walk the talk.

Dear Friends,

I don’t know about you but I woke up feeling pretty deflated this morning. But I am a long time Red Sox fan so I have learned a thing or two about hope. I want to share a couple of things to feel hopeful about and to talk about some next steps we’ll all be able to take so that we can continue to exert influence and have a voice in our community. First, about hope.

One is that I now know that I am surrounded by 3,744 people who care about a balanced and smart approach to growth in Beverly; an approach that honors the needs and dreams of residents while providing mechanisms for entrepreneurial opportunities that will help sustain the economic infrastructure of the City. And I know I am working on this with 3,744 people who cared enough to vote, worked hard to separate facts from fiction, and who are probably feeling like I am right now.

Second is that we have entered a new era with City Hall. Mayor Cahill has promised, and I believe him, transparency and a commitment to collaboration that we did not see in the last administration. Mayor Cahill knows that the “yes” vote was no landslide. Though we were on the 48% side of the equation, we sent a powerful message that nearly half of the voters on this question consider the swap the less desirable option. That, along with a promised seat at the table and earlier promises to ensure our City’s open space, environmental protection and the integrity of our neighborhoods ensures that we will continue to have a voice in what is to come.

Most importantly, the vote only allows for the swap – it doesn’t require that it happen. The Department of Transportation(DOT) still has to determine what makes the most sense for the area and at what cost to the State (and make no mistake, that means us as taxpayers). And that leads me to think about what we can all do next.

In our many many conversations with various state and local officials we have cultivated relationships with DOT and their engineers, and we will continue to encourage them to support the road option that helps the neighborhoods and is the most economically responsible regarding use of public funds. Know that there will be full DOT Public Hearings once a final plan is in place. We will let you know when those are, and will keep you informed along the way. Your voice in this process will be important.

We are going to grow the North Beverly Neighborhood Association into an organization that can continue to exist as a mechanism that brings people together, provides a way to inform one another and elected officials about the needs, opportunities and interests in the area, and is part of a network of community groups across Beverly. Stay tuned…warm weather’s ahead and we plan to have some fun! Your involvement will be a key part of the group, and more details about how to stay involved will be coming your way.

Finally, shop, have something great to eat at home, and then dine out another night this week. We have terrific existing businesses whom we need to support – just think about the quality and variety of our local markets, stores, businesses and restaurants. A number of you are their owners, managers, and employees and we are committed to your continued success as our current economic engine.

Thanks again for all of your involvement – I know together we will continue to make a positive difference for all of Beverly.

Special Election Results: Yes Has Prevailed

By the slimmest of margins. A difference of 235 votes. The Salem News is reporting that the final vote tally is 3,978 YES votes and 3,743 NO votes. That’s 51.5% YES to 48.5% NO.

Thank you to everyone who voted, and especially thank you to everyone who voted NO! We now have friendships, neighbors and a level of community involvement that we didn’t have six months ago. Beverly is indeed better for what we have done.

Vote NO Today!

Beverly neighbors, the turnout today is strong. We need your help! Please Vote NO today!

Photos of Fightin’ Fivers doing what they do best.

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Most photos in this slideshow are copyright © 2014 Marilyn Humphries or copyright © 2014 David Alden-St. Pierre.

Who We Are, and Why You Should Vote NO

We are not the Old Guard, former Economic and Community Development Council members, current or former politicians. We are not The Establishment. We are your neighbors. The City gave us an unpleasant surprise recently, and we responded, just like you would.

We are all about knowledge and being informed. We find and show you documents the City has not shared with you. We present those documents with our opinions, but we point you to the documents so you can read them and make up your mind for yourself. Believe us, we want you to Vote NO. But even more we want your vote to be informed, no matter how you vote. It is truly a shame that we have had to take on this role.

We do not have deep pockets. We cannot afford to send you form letters by mail, even though mail is the most sure way to reach you. Instead we print flyers and walk them to your door.

If the City ever surprises your neighborhood the way they surprised ours, we will be there to lend a hand, because we know what that is like. Will you help us tomorrow? We need your help!

Remember to Vote NO on February 8!

In Defense of Our Current Mayor

Here is an editorial from Amy Martyn. It describes the long troubled history of the landfill where CEA Group would like to move the connector road, the news from last week and the other side’s failure to update their statements about the special election, and some information that raises concerns about the environmental status of the landfill.

One week ago, Mayor Cahill made a long-awaited statement about the upcoming special election on the rezoning of Brimbal Avenue and the subsequent land swap between CEA Group and the state. He made the statement shortly after a meeting with the Brimbal Ave Advisory Committee, during which meeting the history of the project, its problems, and its shaky future were articulated by the city’s engineer, Rod Emery. It turns out a road, any road, built on the landfill at 140 Brimbal Avenue, is likely to sink.

You don’t have to do very much reading to discover that this information should not have been a surprise to anyone. In fact, the MGL Ch. 21E Report Site Evaluation from 2004, here, provides a long history of the property. (See page 89 and the the conclusions and recommendations that begin on page 96.) In 1971 a feasibility study was conducted to build a Stop & Shop there which concluded that the land “is considered unsuitable for supporting foundations or floor slab” due to its “compressibility.” The engineers who conducted the study recommended geo-piering or excavation, and the supermarket was never built. Five years later, in 1976, another feasibility study was conducted to construct a Registry of Motor Vehicles over the landfill, and settlement of the loosely packed debris was again an issue, particularly for building a parking lot, noting that “total settlements up to a foot could occur.”  In fact, the 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. (At this point you are probably thinking, as I am, “No wonder no one’s built anything there!”) In 1980 there was yet another plan, this time to construct medical buildings on the landfill, and the same settlement issues arose with stronger language. Though it is not the first study to note that any building ought to occur within 100 feet of Brimbal Avenue due to the fill depth, it states unequivocally that, “If any structures are located anywhere other than near Brimbal Avenue…premium costs will be substantially greater.” Furthermore, because the parking area was planned for the center of the site, where the fill was greater than twenty feet deep, the report notes that even when compression measures are taken, settlement “would be expected to occur over a long period of time.” In summary: there is a lot of loosely packed debris in the Brimbal Avenue landfill. Putting a building or a road on the land will require complicated and costly engineering solutions.

I don’t claim to be unbiased—I am writing an opinion piece, after all—and I will be the first one to tell you I was disappointed when, in light of the DOT approaching Mayor Cahill in December about creating an alternate plan because building the road on the landfill just wasn’t a sound idea, the mayor still asked the city for a ‘yes’ vote this Saturday. And though I believe that the land swap is the wrong choice for the city as a whole, I respect the mayor’s position in particular with regards to the relationship City Hall has developed with CEA Group during the Scanlon administration and for the working relationship he has with the city councilors who came out ahead of him in partnership with CEA Group on the Better For Beverly website urging a ‘yes’ vote. So you can imagine my shock and disappointment over the last week when a spate of mailings began arriving in my mailbox and in my neighbors’ mailboxes and letters were published in this newspaper that not only spread misinformation but directly contradicted facts that were presented by the mayor himself and by his advisors.

First, there was the letter from Mr. Cohen that attempted to “correct” public perception about the landfill. Instead of acknowledging the soil analyses that Jacobs Engineering did last summer that found material in the landfill that would likely need disposal as hazardous waste, he claims that assertions that there is hazardous material in the landfill are “totally unfounded.” Citing a letter he received from the DEP in 2009 that granted his application to close the landfill, which is hardly an “exhaustive investigation,” he notes in his column that the DEP found the land to be safe enough for a child care center, but he does not tell us that the land is not safe enough on which to build residences without specialized gas migration controls because of the levels of tetrachloroethylene gas leaking from the landfill. Similarly, he leaves out the part where the DEP notes that Northridge—a residence—appears to be built on the oldest part of that landfill. Interestingly, though he received permission from the DEP to close the landfill, and had three years from December 2009 in which to do it, the landfill remains unchanged. But dismissing the soil borings report performed by the city’s engineers and the environmental assessment done for the city in 2007 is just the beginning. Moving onto the structural and engineering concerns of the landfill, he dismisses out of hand the DOT’s analysis that the land will sink, stating that they do not have “great experience with these specialized issues” deferring instead to his own geotechnical firm of Haley & Aldrich, who, incidentally, performed the feasibility studies I cited above, and based on past analysis of the land, seem inclined to agree with the DOT. But what does the DOT know about building roads? Where Mr. Cohen could have extended graciousness towards the administration that has done so much to advance his development, including adapting the road to fit his site plans (see the email from Rod Emery to Mayor Scanlon from 4/29/13: “The Cohen Project. We are spending a fair amount of time solving their access and traffic issues…I am spending some resources that I feel should be on their dime.”), and could have stood together with Mayor Cahill in favor of the ‘yes’ vote, acknowledging that there are two roadway proposals that need vetting, he claims instead that “relocating the connector road is clearly viewed as the superior, preferred design.” In spite of their apparent agreement over a ‘yes’ vote, Mr. Cohen took his grievances to the op-ed page and publicly positioned himself against his neighbors and our mayor.

One of the most important truths that came out of Mayor Cahill’s statement was the assurance that the city will still receive the $5 million MassWorks grant for building a viable road, regardless of the location. A hotly contested piece of the rezoning debate, Mayor Cahill put to rest the fear that the city would lose the grant money if the ‘no’ vote stopped the land swap. Now explain to me if you can how so many of us in Beverly received a mailing from my neighbor Bruce Nardella just a few days ago stating, “If the rezoning does not pass, the state contributes nothing towards improvements” when our mayor had just a few days earlier said that the opposite is true. What is the agenda of our former City Council President? Is he purposefully misinforming, or simply misinformed? Even Mr. Scanlon, who hasn’t quite left his post, chimed in with his swansong to Exit 19—“no other interchange in the world quite like it”—but could not, in spite of his ‘yes’ vote, come up with a single reason for the land swap, and obscured the message from the new mayor, which is that safety improvements will come with either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote.

Why are people who agree with the mayor on the ‘yes’ vote undermining his message and attempt to create transparent discourse with the public? Why, as a city, are having such growing pains moving into this new style of governance?

Saturday’s election represents the beginning of a new era of in Beverly. In defense of democracy, transparency, and our new mayor, I’m voting ‘no.’

All documents referenced in this letter can be found in the Documents section the website.