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Savin Hill residents question state's vegetation clearing along I-93

Posted by Roy Greene  April 24, 2012 12:47 PM

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MassDot Clearing.jpg

(Terri Ogan photo for boston.com)

The state Department of Transportation has been clearing this area along I-93 in Dorchester of trees, sumac, and other vegetation as part of highway maintenance.

A state program to clear vegetation from alongside Interstate 93 near Morrissey Boulevard has surprised and angered some Savin Hill residents, who say it could have a negative impact on the environment and wildlife.

When warm weather hit Boston in March, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation began clearing areas of trees, sumac, and other vegetation as part of highway maintenance.

Alda Kirsis, who has lived in Savin Hill for 20 years, said she was dumbfounded when she first saw the bare area next to Malibu Beach.

"I think it's outrageous," Kirsis said. "I almost fell out of my car when I drove by and saw it."

The neighborhood should have been warned prior to the clearing, Kirsis said.

Lisa Grebber, a University of Massachusetts Boston doctoral student in environmental earth and ocean sciences, said she makes weekly trips down to Malibu Beach to study the salt marshes on the shoreline.

Greber first noticed the trees and brush were gone when she arrived at the beach several weeks ago.

“I was pretty shocked,” she said.

The trees and vegetation served as a buffer for different wildlife, Greber added, such as herons and other coastal birds.

“Say you’re a shore bird. You might feel comfortable with that buffer," she said. "For wildlife, it’s [the vegetation] protection, for the beach, it’s erosion control.”

Although residents in the community are concerned about long-term effects on wildlife and the environment, officials from MassDot say that those impacts are minimal.

“The area that we’re cutting down, each [is an] individual case,” said MassDot spokesman Mike Verseckes. “They’re not very large swaths of land anyways. …There may be some wildlife in there but it would be very minimal. The impacts would be just as minimal.”

MassDot’s concern, Verseckes added, is that over time the plants’ roots could penetrate the concrete of the highway.

He said the agency also was concerned that litter from the highway might get stuck in the tree branches.

“We have to balance out a of couple things,” Verseckes said. “Certainly the overall cleanliness of the area, but also we want to avoid a situation where limbs or trees are being uprooted in a storm, or something got struck by lightning. … That poses a safety hazard to the driving public.”

State officials have been working with MassDot to reach an agreement on replanting grass or other vegetation.

Like other members of the community, state Representative Martin J. Walsh said he was surprised when he got wind of the clearing.

“At first I was shocked and obviously disturbed when I heard about it,” Walsh said. "MassDot has assured me that they are going to come up with a plan on vegetation along the highway to kind of, hopefully, replace the ‘cleanup’ they call it that they did.” He added that he hoped the plan would develop in the next few weeks.

MassDot will continue their work clearing the trees and brush on the seven to nine mile stretch of land along I-93, but will clear areas away from houses, so as to not disturb residences, Verseckes said. The organization is hoping to replant grass or some kind of vegetation within the next month.

“We want to have the ability to be a little bit more proactive,” he added. “That gives us kind of a new opportunity to start fresh.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.


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