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EPA Expresses Concern About Impacts from Proposed Reuse of Weymouth Air Station; Calls for Comprehensive Review of Water Supply, Traffic and Regional Impacts

Release Date: 09/14/2000
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a letter to state officials expressing strong reservations about the size and scope of the proposed redevelopment of the former Weymouth Naval Air Station. The proposal calls for a major entertainment/mall/office complex that would be the first of its kind in New England.

Citing traffic impacts, inadequate water supplies and various other concerns, EPA's New England Regional Administrator Mindy S. Lubber today called on state environmental officials to require a far-reaching environmental impact analysis as part of the state's review of the project slated to be built in Weymouth, Rockland and Abington.

"We remain seriously concerned about various potential impacts related to the proposed redevelopment," Lubber said. "The base redevelopment, viewed both alone and in combination with other major new developments in southeastern Massachusetts, will place huge demands on highways, water supplies, air quality and other natural resources both in the host communities and across the entire region."

"Given the large sums of money this project will require from the Commonwealth for road improvements, it would seem prudent to undertake a no-holds-barred review of whether the public benefits justify the public investment," Lubber added.

Lubber said the Commonwealth's review should include a thorough analysis of the cumulative impacts of the redevelopment and other planned projects on regional water supplies, highway networks and other resources. Additionally, she said, the state's review should include mitigation proposals, smaller-scale base development alternatives and a far-reaching public involvement process, including the possible creation of a Citizens Advisory Committee.

Lubber's concerns were outlined in a letter and an attachment delivered late last week to Massachusetts Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand. Durand's office has until tomorrow to decide on the scope of the environmental review that will be required for the proposed redevelopment and associated transportation improvements.

Situated on 1,450 acres in Weymouth, Abington and Rockland, the former Naval Air Station is targeted for two million square feet of retail development dominated by a "Super" retail/entertainment mall (currently slated to be built by the Mills Corp.), 1.4 million square feet of business/research and development space, 500 to 700 units of senior housing, an 18-hole public golf course, and 100,000 square feet of institutional space. The development would use roughly half of the property, with 738 acres remaining as open space.

Lubber cited various concerns about the size and scope of the project, particularly in terms of potential impacts on traffic, water supplies and air quality. Given those concerns, EPA requested the following specifics in the state's review:

Drinking Water Supplies: Project proponents have no confirmed source of water to support the project which will require (not including the golf course) an estimated 515,000 gallons a day, more than five times the daily demand when the property was used as an air station. (Including the golf course, daily demand in the summer months will approach 815,000 gallons a day.) The lack of water is especially troublesome given that the Town of Weymouth has exceeded the safe yield for its water supplies in the past and is currently under a state consent order requiring it to find a new source for additional water by 2002. "The state's review must explore potential water supply alternatives and clearly demonstrate that realistic solutions to this problem exist," Lubber said.

Traffic Issues: According to the developer, traffic generated by the redevelopment will add 66,000 vehicle trips a day to nearby roads, in particular Routes 3 and 18. Given that those two roads are "already severely congested and overcapacity," Lubber said strong consideration should be given to downsizing the project and making it less auto dependent. She also recommended that the review be accompanied with mitigation proposals that would utilize private financing for expanded mass transportation - both for the project itself and the entire region.

"These traffic increases illustrate the need for an appropriately sized project that is environmentally acceptable, that can be accommodated by a regional infrastructure, and that is not so heavily reliant on automobiles," Lubber said. "The reuse plan of the scale and type currently proposed has great potential to exceed the carrying capacity of the region."

Additionally, Lubber suggested that local communities and regional planning agencies have an important role reviewing the project. She also recommended that the Commonwealth look at other mall projects built by the Mills Corp. to understand the potential impacts of such a project south of Boston.

"The proposed Mills Mall is a project of the sort that has not been seen in New England, but which has been compared based on visitor numbers to nearby casino developments and even Disneyland," she said. "It's not clear that the region can handle those kinds of impacts."

Review Process: Lubber said EPA does not object to the developer's request for a special review procedure for the project, but only as long as it features the following: formation of a Citizens Advisory Committee representing a variety of viewpoints; a well-defined decision-making protocol for approving the project in phases; a guarantee that phasing will not lead to a piece-meal environmental analysis; and an entirely open public process prior to each milestone decision.