BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The state’s environmental secretary has ruled that the city can begin the first phase of the Brimbal Avenue project without doing an environmental study.
In a decision issued Wednesday, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan said the project will not significantly harm the environment and that the city has proposed adequate measures to minimize its impacts.
Sullivan also said that requiring an Environmental Impact Report before the start of the project would cause “undue hardship” because the city could lose state funding if the project is not ready to go by Nov. 30.
Sullivan had said earlier this month that the city’s waiver request had merit. This week’s decision makes the waiver official.
His ruling came over the objections of the Norwood Pond Coalition and the Ipswich River Watershed Association. The organizations wrote letters to Sullivan saying that a full environmental report should be done on the project, which will include digging up a former landfill.
The project, which will cost about $5 million, includes moving the connector road between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue about 500 feet toward the Northridge Homes apartment complex. That will allow more room for cars waiting in traffic that now backs up onto Route 128 during busy periods. It will also create a 7-acre piece of land where a developer plans to build a $20 million shopping plaza.
Mayor Bill Scanlon is seeking approval from the state Legislature that would allow the state to swap land with the shopping plaza developer, CEA Group of Cambridge.
The land swap would allow the state to build the new connector road on vacant land now owned by CEA Group and allow CEA Group to build the shopping plaza on state-owned land that includes the current connector road.
Scanlon said he’s hoping to get the approval in September and to award the construction contract by the end of the year.
The first phase of the project also includes widening a section of Brimbal Avenue from two lanes to four lanes. Roundabouts will be installed where the new connector road intersects with Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue, and traffic lights will be installed at the intersection of Brimbal Avenue and Herrick Street Extension.
Pam Kampersal of the Norwood Pond Coalition said the group is “very disappointed” by Sullivan’s decision to waive the environmental study.
“We feel he made a precedent-setting decision that might eliminate future (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act) regulations to be followed in similar infrastructure projects,” Kampersal wrote in an email.
Kampersal said the environmental study should be done now because there are “clear linkages” between the first and second phases of the project.
The second phase involves building a bridge over Route 128 between Brimbal Avenue and Dunham Road, among other traffic improvements to the area. Scanlon has said the plan will open up acres of land on both sides of the highway to development, creating jobs and generating tax revenue for the city.
That phase, which is expected to cost around $20 million, will have a larger environmental impact and will require an Environmental Impact Report.
Sullivan, in his ruling, said the first phase can be considered as a separate project because the second phase “will not occur in the foreseeable future.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.