The Salem News
---- — To the editor:
The current Phase 1 plan of the Brimbal Avenue interchange project has been problematic since citizens first got wind of it late last summer. There was an utter lack of transparency in the planning process, no serious effort to seek resident input into the plan, neglect to factor in the existing traffic problems on both ends of Brimbal, prioritization of the desires of a developer, a false sense of urgency, and a conflating of the two phases of the project when convenient but a separation when not.
Despite an abundance of unanswered questions, our political leaders unfortunately failed to demand or communicate answers. Because of efforts by the North Beverly Neighborhood Association to hit pause on this process and ask questions, we have been able to get some, but still not all, of the answers. We now know that MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering think it will be extremely problematic and costly to build a new connector road on CEA’s landfill due to serious settlement problems. We also now know that even if we vote down the rezoning and the land swap, we can utilize the $5 MassWorks grant to make the necessary road improvements on the existing footprint.
This new information means that regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the necessary road improvements will be made, the $5 million grant will be used, we will get tax revenue from a plaza on the land next door, and we will be able to pursue Phase II. NONE of those things depend on which way the vote goes. What this referendum now impacts is WHERE the road improvements will be made — on the existing road footprint or on CEA’s landfill. Because building the road on the landfill is both unwise and unnecessary, I encourage citizens to vote “No” to prevent that from happening.
In fact, the new information shows that there is no reason for the rezoning and land swap other than to accommodate the developer. If the developer was not involved, there would be no question that there would be no land swap and we would make road improvements on the existing footprint. If MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering think that plan is wise because it avoids the problems with the landfill, then that is what we should do.
The plan on the existing footprint is not only cheaper ($4.4 million vs. $6 million to $10 million), but it achieves all of the same things as the land swap plan, plus we could even add in additional pedestrian and bicycle safety features since the plan is under the $5 million budget. By allowing CEA to build on their current land, it would also result in a plaza that is more in scale with the neighborhood. Why continue spending time and resources trying to resolve the land swap plan when it gives no added benefit to the city (just to the developer)?
Also of great importance in my opinion is that a “Yes” vote takes the decision completely out of our (the residents’ and City Hall’s) hands and puts CEA in the driver’s seat. After a “Yes” vote, CEA and MassDOT decide the outcome of where the road will be, and only MassDOT can officially stop the land swap. Given the power CEA has wielded to date, can we really trust that the negotiation between MassDOT and CEA will result in what is truly the best decision? CEA is a savvy company here to make money, not do what is best for Beverly. They have already boldly declared that MassDOT does not have great experience in this area and they have brought in their preferred geotechnical engineering firm to design construction details. That does not sound like a balanced negotiating process to me.
Further, you cannot “negotiate” the cost of securing the landfill. You can come to an agreement about which measures to implement, their estimated cost and who bears the costs, but you will never know the full cost until you start (and finish) digging. Once you start digging, it could turn out that the agreed upon approach isn’t suitable after all or that it will cost far more than expected. The problem is, once you get to that point, the land swap will have been finalized and there will be no turning back. What happens then if it ends up costing more than CEA negotiated they would pay for? Who pays? Why take that risk? And why take on the risk that the road could suffer from settlement problems in the future? Unless CEA is willing to pay whatever it costs to secure the land (i.e. up to at least $5 million), which Mayor Cahill has already said they are not, there is no reason to pursue this option. It is all risk and no gain.
By voting “No” on Feb. 8 we make the decision to put citizens first — to put the roadway improvements on the existing footprint and reap all of the same benefits of the land swap plan and then some, while taking on none of the drawbacks and risks related to the landfill and its uncertain costs. That is wise risk management for our city. Voting “No” also shows that we demand that citizens are allowed input into decisions that impact their lives. Let us take the reins by voting “No” and pursue a plan on the existing footprint that is truly best for Beverly.