Worcester, Massachusetts — A Walmart store along Tobias Borland Way in Worcester cut down dozens of trees from the banks of the Blackstone River after clearing out a homeless camp in 2021, according to city documents. It then violated state environmental laws.
Now, more than a year later, the company is overseen by the Worcester Conservation Commission as it works to restore about 200 trees that were felled during logging. Under state law, Walmart requires a permit and oversight plan from the Conservation Board to conduct major work in a 100-foot buffer zone near the river—a sensitive area that helps control flooding, erosion, and pollution. was needed.
In October 2021, a homeless camp in the woods between a Walmart parking lot and Blackstone was cleared in a joint effort by railroad company MassDOT, shopping plaza owner RK Worcester Crossing LLC, and city police. At that time, construction equipment was used to clear belongings from parts of the camp and clear trees and other vegetation along the river.
Hundreds of trees were cut down from a buffer zone near a section of the river protected under the Massachusetts Wetlands Conservation Act, and logging continued for months after the initial clearing, according to city documents. Almost all of those trees have been removed within 15 feet of the river between McKeon Road and the Blackstone bike path.
According to Worcester Chief Development Officer Peter Dunn, who oversees the Board of Conservation, members of the board were initially aware of the potentially illegal work. The city issued a moratorium on shopping center owners on December 14, 2021.
Arkansas-based Walmart did not respond to a request for comment on why the trees were removed without the commission’s approval. A report prepared for Walmart by environmental consulting firm Apex Companies said the trees were “inadvertently” removed.
The Apex report said logging operations may have disturbed potentially contaminated soil along the Blackstone River, which was contaminated by industrial sites along the river in the 19th and 20th centuries. increase.
“[A]Additional personal protective equipment or protocols may be required for work proposing additional disturbances for site restoration and planting activities in areas associated with past contamination,” the report said. I’m here.
Walmart Shopping Plaza is located on 44 acres of former Washburn Moen and U.S. Steel factories.
Apex said some of the land was also done on land owned by MassDOT, but not done by the transportation agency.
In October 2021, the Providence and Worcester Railroad also cleared land it owned along Blackstone across the river from Walmart. The Worcester Conservation Commission tried to cite the railroad, but it didn’t have jurisdiction because the company is regulated by the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, Dunn said. , agreed to do some planting along the still-bare river banks.
“We have communicated with the railways and we understand that they are willing to mitigate the problem by installing erosion control and planting. We believe the planting will be installed in the spring. increase.
After halting work in late 2021, Walmart was asked to develop a plan to restore the riverbank. It contains. Today, fresh vegetation can be seen along the river between McKeon Road and the Walmart parking lot.
The restoration plan was put to public hearings on Monday, but the committee decided to postpone it until January 30.