Improvements to wetland and shoreline habitat are coming to the Mystic River watershed, thanks to the persistent and persuasive efforts of Roseann Bongiovanni of GreenRoots and Patrick Herron of the Arlington-based Mystic River Watershed Association

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“The Mystic suffered from an Exxon oil spill that resulted in these settlement dollars, and now 13 years later this money is coming back to help restore our urban watershed,” Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots, said in a Dec. 13 news release. “Environmental Justice communities in the Lower Mystic receive a disproportionate share of the pollution and a minimum of the restoration -- this is unhealthy and unfair for everyone living here. This was about to happen again -- until we stepped in to fight for the dollars to help our local environment and communities.”

From going to Washington, D.C., one year ago to advocate for a new funding opportunity to finding other lead partners who lent their voice to this effort, GreenRoots played a critical role in articulating the negative impact of the damages on residents and the ecosystem. From their efforts, it became clear that the remaining funds should be dedicated to restoration near the damages.

The Mystic River Watershed Association led the development of the successful $1,267,685 proposal to NAWCA that includes eight related on-the-ground restoration projects. Improvements to the Mystic River watershed include:

  • Creating a living shoreline at Draw 7 State Park in Somerville;
  • Removing flow impediments and creating healthy habitat at Mill Creek in Chelsea;
  • Building an improved fish passage at Scalley Dam, thereby opening up 100 acres of herring spawning ground at Horn Pond in Woburn; and
  • Installing a trash boom along the Malden River to reduce litter entering the river.

The watershed association has also developed new partnerships outside of the Mystic River watershed that will yield high-value restoration at Great Marsh and Duxbury Beach Reservation within this proposal as well.

“Far too often, urban centers are overlooked for restoration dollars -- with funders instead focusing on more pristine locations,” said Herron, executive director of the watershed association.

“This is an outdated way of thinking though -- urban rivers can be important habitat for birds and fish--and they are vitally important for the health of people in our communities.”

Charged with violating the Clean Water Act through negligence that resulted in 15,200 gallons of petroleum product being spilled into the Lower Mystic River, ExxonMobil signed a plea agreement in 2009 that included a fine, the cost of cleanup and a community-service payment that ultimately totaled $1 million to the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and $4.6 million to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act fund.

All funds managed by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust were immediately put to work on stewardship and water-quality improvements in the Mystic River watershed.

In contrast, wetlands funds have not been successfully applied to complete restoration in the Mystic River watershed. GreenRoots, Mystic River Watershed Association, Conservation Law Foundation and Alternatives for Community and Environment were involved in the original plea agreement directing funds to the Mystic River.

“It is great to see this funding come back full circle to the communities where the funds are needed most and where the impacts are the greatest,” said Bongiovanni.

The official start date for the projects is next fall. All the work will be done in collaboration with the Town of Essex, City of Chelsea, City of Woburn, City of Malden, GreenRoots, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, The Nature Conservancy and the Duxbury Beach Reservation.

The Mystic River Watershed Association works to improve the lives of the more than half million residents of Mystic River communities through its efforts to protect and restore water quality, natural habitat and open space throughout the 76-square-mile watershed.

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This news announcement was published Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.