State Senator Jack Hart is advocating for the city to dump its snow surplus into the harbor, saying that Boston streets have become a public safety concern.
A state environmental regulation passed in 1998 forbids dumping snow in waterways, but it does make an exception for emergencies.
Joe Ferson, spokesman for the state's Department of Environmental Protection, says that in the 12 years since the regulation was passed, the city of Boston has never asked for an emergency exemption.
The regulation went into effect the same year that the state completed the new Deer Island Treatment Plant, which is generally credited with the significant improvements in the harbor's water quality.
"Whenever snow is plowed, gathered and transported, it picks up various materials—debris, auto fluids, asphalt, salt, sand—and that can be harmful to the water environment, and possibily in violation of the Clean Water Act, or the Wetlands Protection Act," Ferson said. He added that dumping into rivers could cause navigational hazards, as well.
Should the city seek permission to dump in the harbor, he said, the snow could not have visible or apparent debris, and it would have to be dumped into free-flowing water, to avoid ice blocks and navigational hazards from forming. Trucks would also have to follow strict guidelines when releasing the snow, to avoid shoreline damage or erosion.
Hart appeared on Fox 25 on Wednesday morning, advocating for the measure. Hart, who is co-chair of the Metropolitan Beaches Commission, said he is an avid supporter of efforts to clean up the harbor, but added that dumping the snow was "common sense."
He called the growing snow drifts on sidewalks "a public safety issue that causes a real crisis, I think, for all of us in the city."
Hart told Fox 25 that he had talked to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino about the plan, and that, should the mayor ask the DEP for an exemption, the state would grant it.
But the mayor has indicated he will not ask DEP for an exemption. In an interview with WBZ radio on Thursday morning, he called dumping in the harbor a "last resort," adding that the city still had room in its snow farms, designated lots where excess snow can be dumped, and that MassPort had just provided Boston with an additional lot where public works employees could dump snow.
"I'm not really a big fan of throwing it in the harbor, because we've spent millions and millions of dollars cleaning up that harbor. Some people say, 'Oh, it's only a little bit.' A little bit here, a little bit there, and we'll get back to the old days, when we couldn't swim in the harbor or fish in the harbor," he said. "We're not in an emergency situation yet."
Meteorologists are expecting more snowfall in the city on Saturday, and again early next week.
E-mail Cara Bayles at email@example.com.