Tuesday, February 27, 2024


Cantabrigian Benjamin Beckwith was among four people arrested Friday during a protest of destruction in Belmont’s Silver Maple Forest. (Photo: Just and Stable)

Cantabrigian Benjamin Beckwith was among four people arrested Friday during a protest of destruction in Belmont’s Silver Maple Forest. (Photo: Just and Stable)

With the removal of trees from the Silver Maple Forest continuing while a judge considers an injunction against the destruction, four people were arrested Friday crossing onto developer land in a protest – making a total of nine arrests at the site.

Those arrested at about noon Friday on trespassing charges were all Cambridge residents: Benjamin Beckwith, 52; Dana Demetrio, 26; Sylvia Gilman, 78; and Paula Sharaga, 64. Police Sgt. Kim Hurley said in late afternoon that all had already left the town’s jail to be taken to court. The five people charged Tuesday with trespassing were also Cambridge residents or Lesley University students who were part of the Silver Maple Forest Alliance, which includes representatives from more than a half-dozen local environmental groups.

A third protest is scheduled for 7 to 9 a.m. Monday, again at Acorn Park Drive and Frontage Road, according to the Green Cambridge group.

“An official from the company, the head of security, said they would in the future not even give any warning or ask people to leave,” said Patty Nolan, a Cambridge resident and School Committee member who was at the Friday protest. “They would seek to arrest anyone on the property.”

Environmental risk

About 2.7 acres of Silver Maple Forest are in Cambridge – but not the area slated for development, minimizing city government’s ability to play a formal role. Still, city councillors Marc McGovern and Dennis Carlone have an order to be heard Monday asking that city officials go on record opposing and blocking the use of Cambridge land for the condo development coming to the forest.

The protests – and requested injunction – are based on the dangers of clearing acres of water-absorbing Silver Maple Forest in a known floodplain, even as climate change worsens the risk of sustained water damage to Cambridge, Belmont, Arlington and surrounding communities and the government lags on updating information that could affect the project.

Belmont land in the 15-acre forest between Route 2 and the Alewife Brook Reservation is due to get a five-story building of nearly 300 units and around 500 parking spaces called The Residences at Acorn Park. Philadelphia-based O’Neill Properties introduced its $70 million plan in 2005, finding fierce but so far futile opposition from environmentalists and lovers of the densely wooded forest and its wildlife, including the Friends of the Alewife Reservation, Green Cambridge, the Mystic River Watershed Association, the Belmont Citizens Forum, Lesley University’s Division of Science and Mathematics, the Fresh Pond Resident’s Alliance and the Climate Action Coalition.

Protest actions

Adding 60 affordable housing units to the project puts The Residences under the protection of the state’s Chapter 40B laws – meant to add economic diversity to towns failing to meet a minimum amount of affordability – and stymies some opposition.

With the clearing of trees beginning last week, protesters began crossing over to developer land, where representatives of O’Neill and Prudential Financial said they were removing surveyor information meant to direct destruction of trees.

But the four people arrested Friday “were trying to disrupt the work site with their presence alone,” Nolan said.

“In the hour we were there before going onto the land and provoking the arrests, the chainsaws were going and we saw at least a dozen large trees crash down from being cut,” Nolan said, adding that she was “stunned that this floodplain can be cleared despite being part of a watershed without knowing what current – not decades-old – science says about likely impact on the entire area.”

Court consideration

Middlesex Superior Court Justice Rosalind Miller heard arguments in the Woburn court Thursday, as well as a request from developer representative Julie Barry to consider taking action against citizens for protesting. As quoted in the Cambridge Chronicle, she told the judge that “sanctions, perhaps, would finally convince plaintiffs and others who are behind them that it’s time to let this go. In addition, this might have the benefit of dissuading people from trespassing on the property.”

As of the closing of the Middlesex court on Friday, there has been no word from Miller’s chambers about granting an injunction.

Nolan, reporting to the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance on the Friday arrests, said:

The courage of those arrested – from a very young [26]-year-old to a senior citizen well over retirement age – was inspiring. Civil disobedience is one way to demonstrate concern about current policy and laws. We all need to use everything we can to push for a proper environmental review … It’s one thing to allow development. It’s another thing to allow the circumventing of regulations around watershed protection and stormwater drainage requirements because of a deep-pocketed developer. No one should be allowed to jeopardize the flood control which comes with the Silver Maple Forest.

This story has been updated to reflect that city councillor Marc McGovern crafted a policy order about the Silver Maple Forest. An earlier version of the story gave credit only to councillor Dennis Carlone.

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