Conservation Commission, Massport Agree on Replanting Details

March 10, 2023

After a detailed and congenial discussion, an agency of Bedford government and the Massachusetts Port Authority have come to an agreement.

However, it has nothing to do with aircraft – at least, not directly.

The Conservation Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a plan for Massport to replace vegetation that was damaged during tree removal and topping operations in the Jordan Conservation Area last summer.

Work is expected to take place in the fall. A representative of the Massport piece said, “We really are looking forward to this being a collaborative effort.”

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The specific areas and suggested species were provided several weeks ago by Dan Cathcart, the commission’s consulting arborist. Massport made some revisions, replacing bushes that might attract birds.     

Massport and the town came to an agreement several years ago allowing periodic vegetation management in the Jordan area to comply with federal standards along runway approaches. The Jordan area, contiguous to Hartwell Town Forest, is accessible from Hartwell Road east of the former Navy hangar.

The recent damage resulted from heavy equipment accessing the conservation area, which was supposed to take place along an existing track. Residents along Hartwell Road reported that, as a result of the damaged vegetation, they now are exposed to more light and noise from the nearby airfield.

In answer to a question from commission member Stephanie Kane, Cathcart confirmed that mitigation of the infusion of light and noise was “one of the reasons we chose the species and laid out the plans that we did.” 

Gregg Cohen, an environmental consultant with the firm Stantec, reported on behalf of the port authority that “some of the species that had been proposed for replanting related to potential animal and bird attractants, such as some berry-reducing plants.” 

Based on advisories from the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture biologists, he said, “We requested that they be substituted with plants that were not considered bird attractants. Dan agreed to revisit the plan and basically added some more, and took out the winterberry and highbush blueberry.”

Cathcart said he agreed to replace three species of shrubs, and “as far as the plant count, we didn’t lose anything. We reallocated what we were using.” 

He added that one rapid-growing tree species was also replaced. Chen noted that trees topped or removed on the flight path were mostly white pine, red maple, poplar, and cottonwood.

Cohen said fencing will be installed around the area of the replacement plantings to deter exposure to deer. “Massport basically agreed to install and maintain the fence, through its useful life, likely three years, and take it out when once it has been determined that it’s no longer needed.”

“We are using Dan’s species as the baseline as it goes out to bid,” Cohen said. “As the project evolves, everything will be jointly reviewed by Massport and the town,” including actual purchases. Each party “will have the ability to say whether a specific plant or group should be rejected based on health at the time of planting.”

“We are still working with the town on access,” Cohen added. “We are going to schedule a site visit as soon as conditions are appropriate. We want to get a draft set of specifications together.” 

Jeff Summers, Bedford conservation administrator, said “how to get materials in with the least disturbance” remains to be determined, as do the specific planting locations. “We wll pick the locations out there in the fall,” said Sarah Dennechuk, a Massport senior project manager. 

Cohen concurred, saying, “The general area is laid out, but we are not geolocating them ahead of time.” Specific placements will be “field decisions.” Cathcart added, “We aren’t putting any hedgerows in. It’s a nice staggered planting.”

The only pushback came from member Frank Richichi, who pointed out that “some of us were hoping to diversify the habitat.” Since the berry-bearing shrubs don’t bloom in the same season, he said, “it seems a mix of these would not attract flocks of starlings. Diversity would be a better plan than something that tries to minimize diversity in a small area, surrounded by lots of things that attract birds.”

Cohen pointed out, “I wouldn’t say we’re minimizing because we’re not extracting anything already there. We’re just not contributing to the artificial propagation of it.” He acknowledged that there are already berry bushes in the area.

“You’re doing the best you can, I guess, given the circumstances,” said Richichi, who joined fellow members in affirming the plan.

In answer to a question from member Deb Edinger, Cohen said the FAA standards discourage bird habitat within a flight path. “It’s very general,” he said. “We don’t want to provide food for attracting wildlife even though it’s there naturally.”

“In general, I think it’s a great plan,” said Edinger. “The fence is a big commitment. I’m very pleased you decided to do that.” Cathcart said, “It’s a big project. We don’t want to see it fail for lack of effort.” Commission Chair Steve Hagan told all parties, “We greatly appreciate your time and your massive effort.”

Dennechuk said, “This could be a good story for a local nursery to actually do this work. It could have a nice local flavor to it – at least that’s what we’re hoping.”

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