Water Quality Issues Ignored; MBTA Consultant Kills Rare Salamanders
Boston – The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) bungled scientific research on a controversial transportation project, according to a complaint filed today by the New England chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (New England PEER). In producing its Environmental Impact Report for a proposed train line through the Hockomock Swamp, MBTA killed 48 rare blue spotted salamanders in what was supposed to be an endangered species study and failed to conduct competent water quality analyses.
The 17,000-acre Hockomock Swamp is home to 17 rare and endangered species and is listed as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. MBTA hopes to build a rail line through the middle of the wetland.
According to the complaint filed with the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, MBTA consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) killed 48 blue spotted salamanders, about 9% of the group they captured in their rare species identification project. The salamander species is listed as a species of special concern by the state of Massachusetts. While VHB claimed to have sent the dead amphibians to the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, museum officials never received them.
In April 2002, New England PEER conducted its own water quality analysis comparing the Hockomock to similar wetlands near existing rail lines. A team of volunteers examined water in six vernal pools and found that dissolved oxygen in the vernal pools adjacent to active rail lines was significantly lower than the dissolved oxygen in the pools of the pristine Hockomock. Dissolved oxygen is necessary to support aquatic life, and low levels are detrimental to aquatic species in vernal pools. If MBTA had conducted similar tests when drafting their Environmental Impact Report, the agency would have been forced to acknowledge the project would have an adverse impact on life in the Hockomock vernal pools.
“Once again MBTA is practicing quack science in its clumsy attempts to justify a project that can only be described as an ecological disaster,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist formerly with EPA. “Despite obvious, less damaging alternatives, MBTA is hell bent on choosing the most destructive possible route for this boondoggle.”
The Hockomock alternative has recently come under fire from transportation analysts as well. A transportation consultant for the Town of Easton released a report last month charging that the MBTA exaggerated signal problems and speed restrictions associated with another alternative in order to promote construction of the rail line through the swamp. “MBTA and its consultant have engaged in a pattern of submitting deceptive and unsubstantiated claims throughout this environmental review process,” concluded Bennett.