EPA’s Role in the Restoration of Boston Harbor


[Music] SKYEYE 4 News Reporter: THE SEWAGE OUTFLOW
FROM NUT ISLAND WAS PEGGED BY THE EPA STUDY AS A MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR TO THE POLLUTION OF
QUINCY BAY. THE STUDY ALSO DISCLOSED THAT 83% OF FLOUNDER CAUGHT IN THE BAY HAD
GROSS OR [news clip fades] Narrator: THE BOSTON HARBOR CLEANUP REPRESENTS
ONE OF THE LARGEST PUBLIC WORKS PROJECTS EVER UNDERTAKEN IN NEW ENGLAND. ONCE CONSIDERED
THE DIRTIEST HARBOR IN AMERICA, TODAY IT’S RECOGNIZED AS ONE OF AMERICA’S GREATEST ENVIRONMENTAL ACHIEVEMENTS. Ken Moraff, Director, Office of Ecosystem
Protection, EPA: When we started the harbor cleanup, this water was so filthy that no
one wanted to be down here. People in Boston didn’t seem to care that much about it. They
just accepted it…that was what the harbor was supposed to be like.
Vivien Li, President, The Boston Harbor Association: In 1973, following the passage of the Federal
Water Pollution Control Amendments, the League of Women Voters hoped to work towards getting
the harbor clean enough for their children’s generation to swim in the water. And they
went out to the business community to see if they all wanted to work together and ironically,
not one business group at the time could envision that this waterfront would be clean enough
for children to swim in. Bruce Berman, Communications Director, Save
the Harbor: For generations we’d been cut off from the harbor. In essence, the harbor
was surrounded by brownfields and abandoned parking lots; was polluted to the point where
it was not just unsafe but it was fairly unpleasant to be near or on. On some days, it would go
anoxic and everything that couldn’t flee died. So, our job at first, in the early years, was
to create a constituency to cherish, use, enjoy and help us protect the harbor.
Narrator: BY THE MID-1980s, BOSTON HARBOR HAD BECOME THE DIRTIEST HARBOR IN THE UNITED
STATES. FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY, THE DAILY WASTE FROM BOSTON AND 43 SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES
WENT VIRTUALLY UNTREATED BEFORE BEING DUMPED INTO THE HARBOR.
Phil Colarusso, Marine Biologist, EPA: When I was a kid, we were always told if you ever
fell in the water, you needed to get a tetanus shot.
Narrator: FINALLY, IN 1985, EPA JOINED THE CONSERVATION LAW FOUNDATION, THE CITY OF QUINCY,
AND THE TOWN OF WINTHROP IN A FEDERAL LAWSUIT SEEKING COMPLIANCE WITH THE CLEAN WATER ACT.
EPA WAS THEN CHARGED BY THE COURT TO COOPERATE IN AND ENSURE THE EXPEDITIOUS DESIGN, FUNDING,
AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE NECESSARY FACILITIES TO CLEAN UP BOSTON HARBOR. 
Bruce Berman: Judge Mazzone was a remarkable man and his decision, that “the law secures
to the people the right to a clean harbor.” That decision, his very first order in the
harbor case, made everything else that we’ve accomplished here possible.
Mark Stein, Senior Assistant Regional Counsel, EPA: Judge Mazzone called that part of the
way that greater Boston managed its sewage system the most incomprehensible aspect of
the whole thing. Whereby they treated the wastewater, collected … took out and collected the sludge,
and then dumped it back into the harbor on the outgoing tide. That was the innovation
that they had adopted. You know these problems weren’t new. People knew of them. But, they
just didn’t have the political will to solve them until we and others pushed the enforcement
case and the court insisted upon compliance with the law.
Narrator: THE COURT ORDERED THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS TO TRANSFER RESPONSIBILITY
FOR SEWAGE MANAGEMENT TO THE MASSACHUSETTS WATER RESOURCES AUTHORITY, THE MWRA.
Fred Laskey, Executive Director, MWRA: When the Authority was created they inherited an
antiquated, run-down, ineffective sewer system from a state agency that had been neglected
for many years. And there were a number of key components to this project moving forward.
The sewer system in Boston was actually built as two separate systems, a north system and
south system. That required that a tunnel be bored underneath Boston Harbor to bring
the flows from south and west of the city over here to the Deer Island treatment plant.
Obviously, the construction of the flagship here, the Deer Island treatment plant, was
critical to this. Another key milestone was the elimination of the sludge being flushed
into the harbor and a pellet plant being constructed down at Quincy so that the solids, if you
will, were taken out of the flow and are now made into pellets that are used as fertilizer.
And then the final big piece was the outfall tunnel, which was one of the longest single entrance
tunnels ever dug in the history of this country and that allows us to release the treated effluent
nine and a half miles out in Massachusetts Bay. This is a huge construction project that
had many, many challenges — very difficult, dangerous, hard work, deep rock tunnels. It took a lot of blood sweat and tears for the folks who were actually
out here. Narrator: MANY OBSTACLES THREATENED TO STALL
THE PROJECT. THE MASSIVE PLANT COST BILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND RATEPAYERS PROTESTED THEIR
INCREASING SEWER BILLS. CITIZENS WORRIED THE DISCHARGE OUTFALL WAS STILL TOO CLOSE TO BOSTON,
WHILE OTHERS ARGUED IT WAS TOO CLOSE TO THE CAPE AND MIGHT IMPACT MARINE LIFE.
Gwen Ruta, Vice President, Programs, Environmental Defense League: So we had community impacts,
social impacts on the communities, we had environmental impacts, we had economics, and
it was really difficult to try to figure out how you could optimize for all of that.
Ken Moraff: The project involved hundreds of individual construction projects and every
one of those had its own complications and just knowing that there were that many people
out there working on this project was just a great feeling. It wasn’t anymore that EPA
was in this alone. We actually had thousands of people working to clean up the harbor.
Dave Tomey, Former Aquatic Biologist, EPA: As soon as the sludge stopped being dumped,
you could almost see the difference in terms of water clarity. And then later in 2000, I
was there at the ceremony where Judge Mazzone and a worker from the construction opened up the new outfall. So, that was a very good feeling for us.
Narrator: THE HARBOR RESTORATION DIDN’T END WITH THE BUILDING OF THE DEER ISLAND TREATMENT
PLANT. SINCE 2005, THE EPA HAS STAYED INVOLVED AND THE MWRA HAS TACKLED PROJECTS TO ELIMINATE
THE COMBINED SEWER OVERFLOWS THAT OCCUR DURING RAINSTORMS.[Music]
Gwen Ruta: The difference in the Harbor is palpable. I think about it this way, I like
to go to Red Sox games at Fenway Park where we sing along with “I love that dirty water,”
and it’s a lot fun, but it’s not who we are anymore. It’s not how anybody would think
about the harbor anymore. People can swim and fish again in the harbor where they couldn’t
before. I think the cleanup really changed the way we feel about this city, and helped
us to really take pride again in where we live.
Fred Laskey: In this case the cleanup of Boston Harbor is one of the most scientifically studied
projects in the history of this country. And the empirical data is very, very clear. The project
has worked, the modeling used was accurate in that the … there is no negative impact on the cape
or the north shore or anywhere. The water quality is great and the harbor is rejuvenating
itself. Phil Colarusso: We’re seeing return of a lot
of sensitive marine species to areas of the harbor that one time was considered some of
the most contaminated spots. Now we see everything from small fish, sticklebacks, to large predators,
like sand tiger sharks, and just about everything in between. So, it’s just a wonderful story
of recovery and hope. Vivien Li: You know we have a clean harbor.
It has become the engine for economic development along the entire waterfront area. And we’re
all of a sudden getting this critical mass of mixes of residential, commercial uses,
cultural institutions all coming to the waterfront. I think if you had said to anyone 20 years
ago “would you have those types of prestigious firms down here?” I think people would have
said, “You’re crazy!” Ken Moraff: If you want to do something big
you need incredible persistence. We had to persist in the face of hundreds of obstacles,
and we couldn’t stop after overcoming the 10th one or the 40th one. We had to be ready
to go all the way to the end and to meet every challenge as it came. The incredible thing
about it is that we succeeded and the water is clean, and if we can clean up Boston Harbor,
we can clean up anything. [Music] Vivien Li: I think that our generation will
be looked at as the visionaries by our children’s and our grandchildren’s generations who will
say “you know, they paid a heavy price in terms of cleaning up this harbor but, my goodness,
what they have left for our generation!” [Music]

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