The seven-mile Mystic River has played a pivotal role in the civic and commercial life of the Boston area for centuries. Its proud history is now overshadowed by the legacy of the industrial age, which has left its waters too polluted to drink, swim, or fish. At times, portions of the river have been deemed unsafe for boating. As The Boston Globe pointed out in an article earlier this year, the Mystic River Watershed has consistently received a grade of “D” for water quality conditions including the 2012 US EPA's annual Mystic River Report Card.
While discharges of sewage and other contamination into the river are an active concern, the Mystic River is also suffering from contamination of heavy metals and other pollutants left behind by more than a century of industrial operations. While many of the factories have vanished, the mess they left behind has not. And no matter how many years have passed, these companies still have a moral and legal obligation to clean up their mess.
Non-profit, volunteer organizations such as the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA), which was founded in 1972, have been fighting to protect and restore the Mystic River. Despite their determined efforts, results have been slow. The Boston Harbor and the Charles River are national models for the rejuvenation of urban waterways, but that success was only achieved through the concerted efforts of a broad array of stakeholders.
In short, all of us need to do more to focus attention on the current condition of the river and the remaining blighted, toxic sites along its banks. The Mystic River is our shared resource, and our shared responsibility, and we need to do more to restore it. The dialogue we should be having is how we can replicate the successful Charles River and Boston Harbor cleanups.
We have seen some significant successes along the river in recent years. Station Landing in Medford is thriving at Wellington Circle, and the River’s Edge development has turned a blighted brownfield into a remarkable redevelopment project shared by Medford, Malden, and Everett. Assembly Square in Somerville is another example of smart growth development along the Mystic River. Accelerating efforts to clean up the Mystic River will enhance the entire region and create additional opportunities for sensible development, active and passive recreation, and a better overall quality of life all spurred by a commitment to environmental stewardship of this great resource.
No one is satisfied with the slow pace of cleanup so far, but making additional progress will require a concerted effort by the broadest possible coalition of communities, businesses, stakeholder organizations and elected leaders. This approach has proven to be effective in the past and it’s time we tried it for this neglected, but important resource, to ensure that we leave a better Mystic River for future generations.
Paul A. Brodeur represents the 32nd Middlesex District, which includes a portion of Malden and Wakefield and all of Melrose. He serves as the Vice Chair of the House Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. He can be reached at 617-722-2030 or Paul.Brodeur@mahouse.gov