Boston — Under Governor Mitt Romney, land preservation efforts in Massachusetts took a nose dive, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). During Romney’s tenure, sprawl accelerated, less land was protected and the Commonwealth disinvested in preservation.
Shortly after taking office, Gov. Romney created the Office of Commonwealth Development (OCD). The shift of policy embodied by OCD was moving away from permanently protecting land and instead encouraging new projects in already developed areas. The problem with this approach was that unprotected land still gets developed. As a result –
- By Romney’s last year in office, Massachusetts was protecting fewer acres than under his predecessors. Acreage protected fell from more than 33,000 acres protected in 2001 to less than 6,900 acres in 2006 – a lower total than any year since 1991.
- On average, 40 acres of undeveloped land were lost per day in the Commonwealth as the level of state investment in open space preservation and the amount of land protected both dropped; and
- By shrinking the role of state environmental agencies in selecting lands for protection, some of the most environmentally sensitive lands were targeted for development while more marginal tracts are left as open space.
“What occurred under Romney was the opposite of smart growth,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former lawyer and biologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Romney’s central failing was substituting rhetoric for real investment and, as a consequence, our Commonwealth’s future generations are the poorer for it.”
Ironically, even as the amount of protected acreage went down the cost per acre went up. The cost of preserving one acre rose from $3,400 in 2000 to more than $5,000 per acre in 2006.
Besides open space policies, Romney public work projects developed natural places. Perhaps the most notorious example was his decision to drain Blue Hills Reservoir, the heart of a natural park protected since 1893. It was the largest net loss of wetlands in Massachusetts since 1990. After an administrative law judge ruled that filling the reservoir without adequate mitigation violated state law, Romney appointees overrode that decision.
After the reservoir was drained, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority buried huge concrete tanks filled with 20 million gallons of water to serve as a one-day emergency drinking water reserve for 100,000 customers, mostly in Quincy. The site was then covered with dirt and sod.
“What happened at Blue Hills epitomized the stunted environmental priorities of the Romney administration,” added Bennett. “This same approach on a national level could put our conservation heritage at risk.”
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