Boston--MBTA ignored scientific findings, neglected to do the most basic environmental studies, and embellished ridership data in order to promote a rail line through the Hockomock Swamp, according to a white paper released today by New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (New England PEER). The report, titled "Science Derailed: The Hockomock Swamp Heads for Ecological Trainwreck," was written with the anonymous help of public employees from the array of federal, state and local agencies overseeing the project.
The proposed rail line is part of a larger expansion project to bring rail service to New Bedford and Fall River. According to the white paper, MBTA selected its preferred alternative because other, less environmentally sensitive, routes were opposed by influential legislators. In order to promote the so-called "Stoughton Alternative" through the Hockomock, MBTA performed a number of creative feats of documentation, including:
· Ignoring air and water quality impacts. While studies show that the line will severely degrade the Hockomock's sensitive vernal pools and the region's air quality, MBTA has stated, without documentation, that the extension "will not adversely affect surface or ground water quality." MBTA has also gone out its way to tout the project's air quality benefits.
· Fudging ridership estimates. MBTA seriously over-represented ridership figures in order to make the proposed rail line look viable. Outside studies indicate that MBTA's figures are nearly two times higher than they should be.
· Downplaying enormous costs. Estimated construction costs have more than tripled in the past 6 years. Even using MBTA's inflated ridership figures, construction alone will cost taxpayers nearly a quarter of a million dollars per rider. It would be cheaper to shuttle each commuter to Boston by limousine every each day.
In addition, MBTA grossly mishandled endangered species studies. Originally the agency denied the existence of rare-blue spotted salamanders along their favored route. When challenged, MBTA grudgingly conducted an impact study, but ended up killing 48 of the rare species and then misplacing the bodies.
"The entire process has been a decade-long disgrace" stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist formerly with EPA. "MBTA has wavered between simple incompetence and gross negligence."
As Massachusetts' largest freshwater wetland, The Hockomock Swamp is designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern by the state. Executive Office of Environmental Affairs Commissioner Robert Durand will decide in the weeks ahead whether to approve the project.
"We are hopeful that the Secretary will uphold his commitment to protect the Hock, but we are prepared to fight a bad decision," concluded Bennett.
A copy of "Science Derailed" is available on request.