As Compressor Station Becomes Reality, Hingham Must Do More
By Priya Howell
Over the past several years, Hingham has taken many steps to become a greener community. The town has switched to LED lights in municipal buildings, banned single-use plastic bags, and is positioned to source more of its power from solar panels set on top of the landfill and MBTA parking lots.
When given the opportunity, such as in 2016 when the solar array over the landfill was put to a vote at town meeting, or 2019 when the plastic bag ban was voted on, Hingham residents have overwhelmingly voted in favor of green measures.
This year, in recognition of the growing climate crisis we face, multiple articles focused on the environment are expected to be presented at town meeting. Among them is a Tree Preservation Bylaw that fills an important gap in the town’s current rules.
As the compressor station project in Weymouth continues to barrel forward, the Department of Environmental Protection has finally agreed to install an air quality monitor in the Fore River Basin. One can only speculate what it will tell us about the air quality on the south shore, but if compressor stations in other areas are any indication, we will need all the defenses we can get against the increased air pollution the compressor will generate once it comes online in September.
Mature trees not only enhance property values, provide privacy, absorb sound, and provide wildlife habitat, they lower summer air temperatures, slow storm water runoff, absorb carbon dioxide, improve health and wellbeing, and, perhaps most importantly, remove pollutants from the air. Yet, we continue to see trees cut down all over town to make room for more development.
As a mother, the compressor station is the thing that keeps me up at night. It will be located only three miles away from where my kids, including my asthmatic twins, attend elementary school. I wish three miles was as far as it sounds but studies show that emissions from compressor stations can drift at least as far as 5 miles away.
As an attorney, adopting a Tree Preservation Bylaw is one thing that would give me hope. It is an important first step that we can take in Hingham to maintain our air quality.
Under the town’s current rules, if you want to cut down a tree on private property, there are two possible rules that you need to consider: the Public Shade Tree Act, which protects trees located near public roads, and the Conservation Commission’s Policy on Tree Removal and Replacement, which applies to trees near “Resource Areas,” which are like wetlands, but slightly broader.
The Tree Preservation Bylaw, summarized in just a few words, protects trees during major construction activities by requiring landowners to account for every single native and mature tree that will be cut down as part of that project. Like the Conservation Commission’s policy, landowners can do this by planting new trees somewhere else, whether it be on their property or on abutting property with permission.
If the landowner chooses not to replant trees, or simply cannot support the trees given the size of their lot, the Tree Bylaw requires the landowner to contribute to a town tree fund that will be used by the town to plant new trees elsewhere in town. We are fortunate that the town already plants new trees from time to time, but under the Tree Bylaw the money needed to do this would come directly from those who are cutting down trees in the first place.
It is important to note that the Tree Bylaw only applies during significant construction activities, like building a house on a vacant lot or putting on a significant addition. Hazardous or sick trees are also always exempt. If you are worried about a tree causing damage to your house, or you want to change up the landscaping in your yard, you can continue as you would today. The new Tree Bylaw does not cover these situations.
The Tree Bylaw also does not apply to town-owned properties. While I hope the town will plant as many trees as it can, it is entirely up to them—new schools and other town projects like the country club expansion can continue as planned.
Construction projects create profits for the landowner, but when the project requires cutting down trees, that profit is earned at the expense of the community. The Tree Bylaw, modeled after similar bylaws in our benchmark towns, including Concord, and other towns throughout the country and in Canada, will help ensure that landowners have to either replant trees or contribute some of those expected profits to a tree fund to help make the community whole for the damage suffered.
I hope you will join me at town meeting to yell AYE in favor of this article.
For more information about the Tree Preservation Bylaw, visit fb.me/TMGreenSpace.