Boston, MA — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM) failed to consult with the state Attorney General before invoking an “emergency” environmental exemption to bulldoze a state forest onMartha’s Vineyard without public notice or review.
According to a petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), that failure led to an illegal decision to begin clearing hundreds of acres of the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in violation of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). The forest is home to 29 state listed threatened and endangered species.
DEM touted the project as an effort to suppress possible future forest fires, and used an “emergency” clause in MEPA to proceed without outside scientific review and public comment. But that clause specifically forbids environmental exemptions for activities “implemented or undertaken to deal with future emergencies, or periodic recurrence of an emergency condition.”
By moving ahead with the project, the agency ignored recommendations from its own staff and drew criticism from forestry experts around the country. Harvard University ecologists David Foster and Glenn Motzkin, who authored the only published study on the Forest, maintain in a letter to Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand that the project will be “highly destructive” to an area unique for its virgin soil, unchanged since the last ice age. They contend that the plan is motivated primarily by the fact that DEM purchased an expensive harrowing machine and is looking for an opportunity to use it.
“After years of ignoring requests to address the build-up of fuels on the Forest, DEM cannot remedy its past negligence by declaring an emergency,” stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer, who noted that DEM had previously rejected grant funding from the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife to use less intrusive brush abatement techniques. “It looks like it will take the Attorney General to rein in a rogue agency.”
“DEM is waving the flag of biodiversity with one hand and driving a bulldozer with the other,” said Pam DiBona, Legislative Director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “Then they drove right over their own rules by not asking for public comment.”
Preliminary scoping work on the project began this Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, with bulldozers expected to start clearing Forest tracts later this week. PEER intends to seek an injunction to block the work if the Attorney General fails to stop the project