Monday, July 22, 2024

The Hobbs Brook Reservoir. (Photo: Cambridge Water Department)

A legal agreement has been reached between the City of Cambridge and Algonquin Gas Transmission on a project that would cut down trees on Cambridge-owned land in Lincoln.

While a proposal last summer involved cutting down 75 trees, and a proposal in May brought that down to 55 that could be affected, the settlement filed Thursday in U.S. District Court lowers that further to cutting down 23 canopy trees on about 0.11 acres.

Another 17 trees that may need to be removed, but there are 14 trees that will be saved compared to the previous proposal, according to the filing.

The company needs the land to build a meter and regulator system for its pipelines. Algonquin plans to use the affected parcel as a way to get heavy equipment to that system on an adjoining lot. The current equipment sits on a metal sled that was used to haul it to the site in 2000 and was meant to be temporary, the company said. The wooden supports are rotting, and the proposed permanent structure would better protect the equipment from the elements and potential vandals, as well as reducing noise, Algonquin said.

The company said this replacement is necessary to ensure the supply of gas to local communities, including Cambridge.

The city owns land in Lincoln as part of a buffer zone around the Hobbs Brook Reservoir, which is in Lincoln, Lexington and Waltham and is the main source of Cantabrigians’ drinking water.

The piece of land is subject to a recorded conservation restriction granted to the town of Lincoln. The city argued in its response to the lawsuit that preventing the degradation of a municipal water supply and mature forested land is more important than the need for natural gas.

Algonquin has offered to build the new structure off-site and lower it onto the site by crane to reduce the impact on the environment. The work needs to be completed before the winter of 2025, because the state Department of Transportation will not permit construction during the winter for fear it would interfere with snow and ice removal.

As part of the settlement, Algonquin also agreed to remove invasive plants as well as plant new native trees and maintain them for three years. The new trees will be native species, and there will also be a deer exclusion fence to prevent saplings from being eaten.

This will settle the lawsuit Algonquin Gas Transmission filed in May against the city, which cited a federal law that permits pipeline companies to exercise eminent domain rights over land needed for pipeline-related operations.

Separately, Cambridge is suing over a 5.5-acre solar panel project in the Lexington woods that would cut down more than 1,000 mature trees protecting the reservoir for similar reasons: the need for a 20-foot-wide access lane to a roughly 1-megawatt ground-mounted system of solar panels.

Cutting of these trees will cause “permanent loss of the water quality,” affecting more than 100,000 relying on the reservoir, the Cambridge filing says. Beyond the negative effect on the water supply, the project increases the threat of invasive species.

The solar panel project conflict, with a Marlboro limited liability corporation called Tracer Lane II Realty, is still being worked out, Cambridge spokesperson Jeremy Warnick said Thursday.