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Fact vs. fiction about restoring Herring River

Last week we published a letter to the editor from a group called Herring River Concerned Citizens warning that there will be “unforeseen consequences” of the Herring River Restoration Project and questioning the process by which the project has moved forward for more than 11 years.

The participation of citizens and scientists in the planning of this project is critically important, and there are legitimate questions to be asked and answered. There were, however, assertions in the letter, as we received it, that struck us as misleading — and which, when we investigated, proved to be false.

For example, the letter stated that “miles of major roads including large sections of Old County Road will close for nearly two years.” We found no evidence to support that claim.

Don Palladino, president of Friends of Herring River and a retired officer of the Army Corps of Engineers, told us that the total length of a few low-lying sections of affected roads, which are not contiguous, is about 1.5 miles, and that the project would collaborate with the towns of Wellfleet and Truro to raise them and replace culverts with as little disruption as possible. “We would never totally cut off access to individual homes or the Wellfleet Transfer Station,” he said.

We asked Susan Baumgarten, a Concerned Citizens group organizer, for the source of the claim that roads “will close for nearly two years,” and she could not provide one.

The letter also asserted that the project could close shellfish beds in Wellfleet Harbor, and claimed that the Final Environmental Impact Report included this statement: that the “risks to shellfish beds in Wellfleet Harbor include excess nutrient export, transport of fecal coliform bacteria, algal blooms and sediment deposition.”

In fact, no such statement appears in the environmental impact report. Indeed, one of the main reasons for restoring the tidal flow in the estuary is to reverse its increasing acidification and contamination, and to ensure the long-term health of Wellfleet’s shellfish beds. The overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence shows that the restoration will do just that.

The letter also made exaggerated and misleading claims about the effects of the project on endangered species and about the use of herbicides.

We asked the writers’ permission to publish the letter without these statements, and they agreed.

As for the process through which this ambitious wetland restoration project has been researched and planned, we see it as deliberate, inclusive and open, for the most part. Its planners and environmental scientists have conducted dozens of public meetings and allowed everyone with questions and fears about its effects to be heard.

The answers to many of the remaining questions will not be known until the tidal flow in the river begins slowly to increase and the effects are monitored and analyzed. This process of adaptive management, fully laid out in the project plans, will give us the facts we need to make informed decisions about the future of the estuary.

Restoring the river offers a unique chance to protect and preserve our natural environment — a chance that could be undermined by those who traffic in misinformation.

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