BEVERLY — Over the objections of two local environmental groups, the state’s top environmental official has tentatively ruled that the first phase of the Brimbal Avenue project can proceed without a new study.
Richard Sullivan, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said in an Aug. 2 decision that the project will not result in “significant environmental impacts.”
Sullivan said that requiring an environmental impact report would cause the city of Beverly “undue hardship” because it would likely lose $5 million in state funding if the project does not start by the end of the year.
But the Norwood Pond Coalition and the Ipswich River Watershed Association say the project could have major environmental impacts, including releasing hazardous wastes from a former landfill, damaging wetlands, and increasing noise from construction and traffic.
In a letter to Sullivan, an attorney for the Norwood Pond group said Sullivan should not allow the city and state to hold the environmental study “hostage to the vagaries of alleged transportation funding.”
“(T)heir lack of planning should not mean that the Secretary should waive the responsibility of requiring that the mandatory (environmental study) be completed for the entire project,” attorney Margaret Stolfa wrote.
The first phase of the project involves moving the connector road between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue about 500 feet to give cars more room to “stack up” during peak traffic hours and prevent them from backing up onto Route 128 at Exit 19. That move will open up land for the development of a $20 million shopping plaza where the connector road now lies.
Plans also call for the construction of “roundabouts” at the connector road intersections with Brimbal Avenue and Sohier Road and traffic lights at the corner of Herrick Street Extension and Brimbal Avenue, as well as new sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
State law requires that the city and state transportation officials prepare an environmental impact report before the project begins. But they may also request a waiver from the state’s environmental secretary if doing the study would cause “undue hardship” and “not serve to avoid or minimize damage to the environment.”