'Crime against nature' in Belmont?

By ecoRI News



Some 20 supporters standing along Acorn Park Drive held signs that read, “Don’t cut our floodplain silver maple trees” and “Stop the cutting before it’s too late.” The arrests follow years of organizing to defend the Silver Maple Forest, an important floodplain for Cambridge, Belmont and Arlington, according to Friends of Alewife Reservation, a major opponent of the proposed development.

O’Neill Properties Group of Pennsylvania, the company behind the development of The Carnegie Abbey Club and Residential Tower in Newport,  has been the major backer of the Silver Maple Forest project, which would include 300 mainly luxury units and 60 affordable units. The town hasn’t yet determined final permitting, and the city of Cambridge continues with hearings concerning the property.

Project opponents wanted to draw attention to the start this week of clear-cutting 8 acres of woodlands in Belmont and Cambridge. Earlier this week, five opponents trespassed to tie pink protection ribbons on many trees, to call attention to tree cutting in the Upper Alewife basin’s only regional floodplain forest. Major cutting was seen on the morning of Oct. 17 and prompted the conscientious acts of civil disobedience, according to Ellen Mass, a local activist who has been drawing attention to the forest for years.

“People are acting out of their own conscience, and many have never before been arrested but consider this a serious environmental crime, especially in this era of climate change,” Mass said.

The Oct. 17 arrests were peaceful and without incident, according to police. Dana Demetrio, Sylvia Gillman, Ben Beckwith and Paula Sharaga were escorted by police out of the forest after refusing to leave when asked to do so. They said final town permitting is “up in the air,” so it’s “nonsensical” to clear-cut before building permits are approved.

Development opponents say the 15-acre floodplain forest provides invaluable services. Local activists have called the idea of clear-cutting in a floodplain that provides a safety net for tens of thousands of people in the Mystic River watershed a “crime against nature.”