A Long Journey to a Cleaner Boston Harbor

Peter Shelley | @peashell47

Peter Shelley, CLF senior counsel. Photo credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Twenty-eight years ago, we at CLF said we were going to take Boston Harbor back from the state polluters for the benefit of the children at the beach, the economic opportunities around a clean harbor and the future of Massachusetts. No one at CLF even suspected that this was to be a $4.5 billion, generational effort, let alone that billions more would be needed to rebuild metropolitan Boston’s water distribution system. Last week, the final major capital project from the original litigation to create that cleaner harbor was completed, producing feelings of great satisfaction as well as nostalgia. It was the light at the end of the tunnel that CLF entered on behalf of our members so long ago. Our supporters have been patient beyond recognition.

It is safe to say that it was worth the wait and the investment. Today, Boston Harbor is swimmable and fishable. Boston now has a world-class water and sewer authority and a new National Park celebrating the Boston Harbor Islands. Billions of dollars were invested in real estate, producing thousands of jobs around the harbor in the process, and Boston Harbor now also has its own watchdog—Save The Harbor/Save The Bay, a group CLF helped form to carry our vigilance forward. While CLF was just the point of the spear that made all this happen, there is no question that we were the point of that spear.

So many of the people who made this a success story are now gone. At the top of that list would have to be Massachusetts Superior Court Justice Paul G. Garrity and Federal Judge A. David Mazzone, neither of whom lived to see the final realization of their judicial efforts. Judge Garrity singlehandedly faced down the Massachusetts Legislature and refused to budge until they released their control of the sewer and water system by creating the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA). In the process, he may have issued the only city-wide building ban in Boston history. Judge Mazzone was the harbor cleanup program. He loved this harbor and threw his keen intellect, his brilliant strategic skills and his wonderful sense of humor—not to mention a couple of unbelievably good law clerks—into the challenge that was thrown before his court. Also in that list has to be Sam Hoar, a long time friend of CLF’s who died in 2004. Sam selflessly volunteered himself and some of the best lawyers at Goodwin, Procter & Hoar to help CLF survive the relentless legal briefing of the early days.

Among those who have moved on to other things are Doug Foy, Paul Levy, Doug MacDonald and Dick Fox. Doug Foy is gone only in the sense that he is no longer CEO of CLF. He needs no special introduction to the CLF family. His vision never faltered when he had made up his mind that something had to happen with Boston Harbor. Paul Levy and Doug MacDonald both performed project management miracles to bring one of the biggest and most complicated public works projects in Massachusetts history online both on schedule and on budget.  They, of course, were just the tip of the iceberg of the extraordinary staff at the MWRA. As for Dick Fox, lead engineer for CDM, the project design and construction lead, I’ll never forget the moment in open court when Judge Mazzone leaned his long frame forward, fixed Dick Fox in his eyes and said: “I’m going to hold you to your promises here.” Dick not only didn’t flinch; he responded “I expect you to.” This may have been a court-supervised cleanup, but make no mistake—it was a cleanup that happened because of the personal integrity commitment of lots of folks like Dick Fox.

Great credit also has to be extended to Diane Dumanowski, one of the finest reporters ever at the Boston Globe and one of the best environmental reporters in the country. Her series in the Globe on the collapse of the Metropolitan District Commission sewerage system, backed up by strong editorials from Globe columnist Ian Menzies, was the spark that ignited Doug Foy into action. Finally, no story about the Boston Harbor cleanup would be complete without mentioning Bill Golden, then solicitor for the City of Quincy, whose fateful jog on the feces-strewn Wollaston Beach in 1982 made him mad as hell and got the whole ball rolling.

CLF is not done with Boston Harbor, however. All the tributaries coming into Boston Harbor still suffer from significant pollution discharges from multiple public and private sources. These discharges expose Massachusetts residents to disease, damage the environment, and frustrate new economic opportunities. With the same energy we brought to the battle for Boston Harbor, we are hard at work fighting those upstream pollution sources with a terrific coalition of community groups and partner conservation non-profits. We look forward to similar moments of great accomplishment and satisfaction in the future when we can finally say that this great harbor’s entire watershed has a clean bill of health.

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