Boston — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has clearly signaled that the legal problems plaguing the plan to build a rail line from Fall River/New Bedford to Boston have not been cured, according to an agency letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA cites “incorrect interpretation and application” of federal rules, conclusions “not supported by the record” and persistent information gaps among the environmental defects yet to be cured.
The January 8, 2014 letter from EPA Regional Administrator Curtis Spalding informs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that their Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the rail line has several “outstanding” problems which must “be addressed prior to” a final approval of the long-planned project. EPA’s latest expression of concern mirrors its earlier critique back in June 2011 that “the proposed project will have a substantial and unacceptable impact on aquatic resources of national importance” leading to a possible federal veto of the project.
“The EPA comments highlight that, despite more than a decade of planning, the basic environmental deficiencies of this rail plan have not been seriously addressed,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist, attorney and wetlands specialist who formerly worked for EPA. “It is too late to go back to the drawing board on this turkey; it is time to put it out of its misery.”
The new EPA comments fault the quality and accuracy of the massive environmental impact document that tried to characterize building a commuter rail through Massachusetts’ largest vegetated freshwater wetland as the least environmentally damaging alternative. Among the issues raised were –
- Violation of Clean Water Act rules designed to minimize adverse “aquatic resource impacts”;
- Absence of a coherent mitigation plan as required by law; and
- The analysis of impact on vernal pools is “inconsistent with the current science” and “substantially understated.” EPA concludes “that a more extensive survey of vernal pools is necessary.”
In the one area where EPA complimented the FEIS, it cautioned that the laudatory aspects may be illusory since pledges to minimize indirect effects “fall short of specific strategies and funding commitments.”
EPA also questions the basis for dismissing the far cheaper alternative of a rapid bus line.
“The issues EPA raises are among the same issues that make this project legally vulnerable should it ever be approved,” added Bennett, whose past objections are echoed by EPA’s comments. “In addition to the environmental drawbacks, this plan makes no economic sense while ignoring vastly cheaper and clearly more beneficial alternatives.”