June 5, 2012 | last updated June 5, 2012 9:21 am

Busy Times For Regional Advocate

Paul Matthews, executive director of the MetroWest/495 Partnership. Image: Ron Bouley

At this time last year, staffers of the Westborough-based 495/MetroWest Partnership – a nonprofit that advocates for the sustainable growth of the region – were so busy that they decided not to hold an annual meeting.

The major project was a regional economic development compact, which was published this spring by the Patrick Administration. The implementation of that plan is ongoing, but the nonprofit found enough time this month to provide a roomful of public officials and private sector executives in Marlborough with an update on its still-full slate of ongoing projects in the region.

After speeches from the heads of the Executive Office of Housing, Department of Transportation and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, partnership director Paul Matthews addressed issues that will be important to the region's growth for years to come. Here is a quick rundown of topics MetroWest residents and businesses are sure to hear more about in the future.

Transportation Infrastructure

An ongoing discussion in MetroWest is what to do about gridlock on Route 9 and the problems at major interchanges with Interstate 495 and the Mass Turnpike.

The partnership is collaborating with the department of transportation to evaluate solutions.

Matthews said various interchanges are at different planning stages.

"There's a solution to 495/290 that's already been engineered and gone through initial state review, but it needs funding," he said. "A 495/9 solution is still being developed."

The Natick Soldier Systems Center

This Natick-based military research center, which employs nearly 1,900 people, more than half with advanced degrees, could find its budget on the chopping block as a federal commission evaluates ways to cut the nation's defense spending by $500 billion over the next decade.

Murray is leading a state task force, of which the partnership is a member, which is evaluating the six military bases in the Bay State.

"It has a unique contribution to our defense department and our war fighters overseas, but it also leverages Massachusetts' intellectual capital," Matthews said.

The 495/MetroWest Partnership is serving on the business subcommittee of that task force. Murray said the state knows there will be cuts, but he identified cyber warfare as a potential growth area for military research in Natick. He said the state hopes to work with the bases to find ways to reduce their costs through the use of renewable energy.

"Yes there's going to be consolidations and cuts, but there's also going to be select opportunities for growth," Murray said.

Phosphorous Regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency issued draft storm water permit regulations in 2009 calling for property owner responsibility for phosphorous runoff at three communities near the head of the Charles River. And it could mean big costs for commercial, industrial and larger residential property owners.

In Milford, Bellingham and Franklin, any property owner with 2 acres or more of impervious surface on their property – roofs, walkways and asphalt – would be required to reduce phosphorous runoff by 65 percent.

The Charles River has long had a high concentration of phosphorous, according to the EPA.

Jessica Strunkin, the partnership's deputy director of public policy and public affairs, has been a liaison between property owners and environmental officials, but exactly what form final regulations take remains to be seen, and could take months.

She said some ways to achieve a reduction in phosphorous levels could include easy fixes like using special fertilizers and sweeping up road salt and sand. But some are worried that structural retrofits could be required, such as mandating that property owners build retention ponds. That could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, she said.

"That's where it gets extremely expensive," Strunkin said.


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