LETTER: City Needs to be Accountable for Noise Standards and Company Compliance

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Dear Newton Neighbors (and especially Cedar),

I want to thank you for reaching out and sharing your neighborhood’s story. I remember seeing you, Cedar, when you addressed our City Council in June. It takes a lot of thought and talent to get your whole point across in just two minutes (the time Watertown residents are allowed to express a concern in that venue), but I remember that you did it admirably, and I’ve often wondered how you and your neighbors fared. Now I know, and your neighborhood’s anger and frustration is shared by many here in Watertown who feel unheard.

It is unusual for people to express a concern and propose a possible solution, taking part of the work out of it for our City. I’m disappointed that your (very practical) ideas … using technology that already exists to muffle the sound, were not followed through on. Watertown needs business. What we don’t need is bad business neighbors with no recourse from our City for redress for their bad behavior.

And seeing your letter, I am even more appalled at what I saw at our September 2023 Planning Board meeting, when the Chair of that committee asked a very legitimate question: Should we be testing lab sound to see if there’s any legitimate concern being expressed by citizens?

Here’s how Gideon Schreiber, Assistant Director of Planning, Watertown Department of Community Development and Planning, answered Chairperson Buck’s query (see minute 17:55
to the end):

I want to assure you that you are joined by many Watertown residents who have real concerns about bio labs being placed in our neighborhoods, where these kinds of unintended consequences can occur.

We are also concerned about the effects of aggregate sound levels on both our neighbors and the environment. I was surprised when Gideon Schreiber, in that same sound bite, mentions that as more tenants enter these lab buildings, the apparatus on the top gets busier and louder. Cedar, what does that mean for your neighborhood as well as our friends situated in the west end of Watertown, an area, by the way, that is designated an Environmental Justice zone? When the first large bio lab at the Russo’s site is fully occupied, making it noisier, there are plans to build a second large bio lab in front of that lab. More noise.

Now there are plans to retrofit an existing building right across Pleasant Street from the current offending lab, Arranta/Recibio, and right next to a piece of property that Watertown just spent 11 million taxpayer dollars to purchase for passive recreation and as a wildlife sanctuary. Was all of that money wasted?

Other Questions:

What is the effect of aggregate noise on a community and the environment?

I’ve been told that these different labs will be operating on different sound frequencies, producing an other-worldly “wah-wah” sound. Is that true?

Given this situation, how can we keep our neighborhoods livable and safe for people and wildlife?

And another unexplored concern: We’re told that inside the bio labs, the air is pristine. Where does the dirt go? To the outside apparatus. And then what? We were informed at the Manley Way community meeting that bio lab emissions standards are not strict, thinking that emissions are not as intensive as other manufacturing processes. Okay, but what about aggregate emissions from the many lab buildings we have in Watertown?

And what if, as was mentioned at the Manley Way meeting, the parts on the roof are meant for a bio lab (less restrictive) use and another use goes into the building instead? How safe is the community from those emissions??

Newton neighbors, your safety concerns are our safety concerns. In a way, our futures are yoked together. Our wheels grind slowly, but they are grinding! In the past year, as a result of Watertown residents:

Our Bio-Safety Committee is hard at work developing questions and criteria to work with our Health Department to have a legitimate inspection protocol for our bio labs, which up until now did not exist.

Our interim Health Department director has tightened up and is beginning to implement a rat control program for our City.

The criteria for community development meetings has been expanded so that citizens have more of a say into what is being developed in the City.

We’ve accomplished all of that and more! Even if a Watertown resident is not the altruistic type, not caring about another community, it’s easy to see how your issue is potentially their issue in another Watertown location.

So, please, once again as you’ve done so effectively, Watertown residents, speak up and let your councilors know that this is not acceptable. Let’s continue to make good change in our City!

Linda Scott
Watertown Resident

2 thoughts on “LETTER: City Needs to be Accountable for Noise Standards and Company Compliance

  1. It is a good thing that the Newton group brought their concerns to the attention of all of Watertown via Watertown News and not just our city officials as it seems that they have not been provided any relief or answers to the noise pollution issues they are experiencing from Watertown-based companies for over a year.

    At the Planning Board Meeting last night noise concerns were raised by a number of people for the Broder (Cannistraro) development and others. The special mechanicals needed by labs/life science are fairly new to our community and local residents and the rules that are currently in place may or may not be at the highest standards and should be compared to other cities and towns to see if we need to change or upgrade them. With so many new labs proposed in the near future, now is the time to get this right before they are built and to be sure we are safe and good neighbors to our bordering cities. We would want the same from them.

    Aggregate noise is again something that most of us don’t understand. We need the experts in this industry to investigate the potential upgrades that might be needed and implement them in Watertown. The Planning Board members feel that this is a solvable problem, so let’s hope that they can strongly suggest to those heading up our Department of Community Development and Planning that now is the time to react.

  2. Over the past year, I’ve seen unyielding opposition to the biotech lab buildings opened in Watertown over the past few years. But I never see talk about the many BENEFITS these developments have brought to our city, including new high- and moderate-paying jobs; more paying customers for local restaurants and businesses; more modern, attractive buildings and landscaping vs. the run-down areas which were replaced; and revenues to pay for 2 new schools (as my City Council member told me).

    I’ve seen the supposed rationale for this opposition shift over time… now it seems to be air quality. This writer offered no rationale or evidence to assume that air quality outside these buildings is impaired in any way. Nonetheless, the writer implies that air quality is a problem which she must solve.

    What she doesn’t seem to understand is that biolabs operate at one or another level of cleanroom specifications. If you don’t bring “dirt” in, you don’t need to expel it out. The basic nature of biology work is much cleaner than the 20th century industries these opposers seem to be imagining.

    I’d like to see our city focus on real (not imagined) problems.

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