A gorgeous day and a cruise of Boston Harbor celebrates how far we have come in creating a world class destination. A two-hour sail on the 80-foot schooner Adirondack III is a treat accessible to everyone from Rowes Wharf. For me, as a journalist who covered harbor issues during the ’80’s and ’90’s, there was particular gratification.
With skipper Tim Lord at the helm, we moved out into clear, clean waters, once the toilet bowl of the region. Decades ago, I did an editorial showing a (clean) piece of
tissue being flushed away only to show up in Boston Harbor. My boss thought my imagery crossed the line, but I’m still glad I did it. It was that important a message. When you flushed your toilet, it ended up in Boston Harbor.
I had been repelled at seeing druggies’ needles and tampon applicators washing up on Carson Beach and the cancerous tumors showing up on fish pulled up by the research vessel out of UMass Boston.
At one time, Boston Harbor was labeled the “dirtiest harbor in the nation,” and President George Bush famously attacked Governor Mike Dukakis on the issue from a boat in the harbor during the 1988 Presidential election.
We all owe thanks to a 20-year effort by “sludge judge” the late A. David Mazzone, responding to a lawsuit from the Conservation Law Foundation and an activist Metropolitan District Commission (predecessor of today’s Department of Conservation and Recreation). It was Mazzone who declared the dumping of waste by a broken water treatment facility to be illegal and ordered remediation. Federal dollars were secured, and the cleanup, including a new Deer Island Waste Treatment facility, came in on time and on budget. Yes, $3.8 billion of your federal and state tax dollars can be spent well.
After the judge’s decision and plans underway, I walked the construction site at Deer Island with then Mass Water Resources Authority chief Paul Levy (former CEO of the Beth Israel Hospital). The successful outcome could hardly be imagined. Now you can swim in Boston’s waters. Tourists and locals alike are drawn to the shore and beyond. The arch at Rowes Wharf has become an icon of the city, the whole seaport area has come alive, from the Moakley Courthouse, the Institute of Contemporary Art, commercial buildings like Manulife and Vertex, condos, restaurants, and more.
Former Mayor Tom Menino, of course, deserves much credit for making the Seaport Area a priority. But crucial to the outcome were the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Senator Ted Kennedy, plus the entire Massachusetts delegation, for securing billions for the Big Dig (admittedly, over time and over budget), which eliminated the Central Artery that had separated the harbor from city since the 1950’s. And one mustn’t forget Governor Mike Dukakis’ transportation czar Fred Salvucci, who got the Big Dig project in his head and never let it go. The seaport, with its pristine waters, is now integrated into the city, for all of us to enjoy. Even contaminated Spectacle Island, where tons of material from the Big Dig project were dumped, is now a landscaped park. Amazing!
For those of us who live in the MWRA district, this success story has come at a price, with ever-increasing rates for the vast capital expenses that have had to be bonded over the years. I gripe at every quarterly bill. But in the case of the harbor, as in the Big Dig ( that now means just 25 minutes most days from the western suburbs to Logan Airport), at least we can see what we’re getting for our pocketbook pain. That’s why I heartily recommend a cruise on the harbor to make us feel good about what has been accomplished.
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