Thursday brought the City of Boston a second legal victory this week in its long-running battle with Quincy over rebuilding Long Island Bridge, a piece of infrastructure many see as a key element in building an addiction recovery campus on the island and alleviating the local opioid epidemic.
Thursday’s ruling by Suffolk Superior Court Justice Rosemary Connolly involved a 2018 decision from state environmental authorities that Boston’s proposal to rebuild the span did not require the city to prepare an environmental impact report and that the proposal did not require further review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). Quincy officials challenged that state certification, arguing that Boston misrepresented the environmental impact of the project.
Connolly, however, ruled that Quincy “has not pointed to evidence in the record showing that damage to the environment is about to occur as a result of the MEPA process.” In her order, she denied Quincy’s motions for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings in the case, essentially ruling against its challenges to the 2018 environmental certification.
That comes just days after the state’s highest court ruled that state approval for Boston’s Long Island Bridge reconstruction plan trumps a rejection by the Quincy Conservation Commission, another win for Boston over its southern neighbor.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Thursday that the court decisions this week “are the latest affirmation of Boston’s approach to exploring the potential of Long Island to connect our residents with substance use disorder services and housing supports.”
“We look forward to collaborating with regional partners to ensure that every person impacted by substance use has a path to a stable recovery and housing,” she said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Quincy’s mayor’s office said Thursday afternoon that officials in that city were still reviewing Connolly’s order but that “an appeal is likely.”
The Boston-owned Long Island once housed drug treatment programs and a homeless shelter, until the bridge connecting it to Quincy’s Moon Island was shut down in 2014 after being deemed structurally unsound; it was later demolished. Stanchions from the old bridge structure can still be seen protruding from the harbor’s surface. Boston’s proposal is to build a new span that would be dimensionally similar to the original bridge.
The closure, which forced Boston into a yearslong scramble to identify new housing and treatment programs for the people previously served there, is seen as a key driver for the worsening homelessness and addiction crisis in the area known as Mass. and Cass.
That part of Boston, near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, has become synonymous with the opioid crisis in the state, and conditions there have steadily deteriorated in the years since the bridge closed.
The decisions this week come eight years after the bridge was closed. Without access via the bridge through Quincy to the island, Boston closed the Long Island programs for the homeless and those with substance abuse disorders that were then operating there.
Boston’s efforts to rebuild the bridge, and open a recovery campus on the island, have met determined opposition from Quincy political leaders and residents, particularly in the Squantum neighborhood, where officials say they are concerned about traffic. Legal challenges from Quincy officials have stalled the rebuilding of the structure.
“Perhaps in other circumstances, building a bridge between two communities would be welcomed,” wrote Connolly in her order. “However, here instead of bridging a divide, the structure itself is the source of the divide.”
This spring, US Attorney Rachael Rollins launched a civil rights investigation into Quincy’s efforts to block the rebuilding of the bridge, saying the city’s stance may discriminate against people with addiction by preventing them from getting treatment at a recovery program Boston wants to reopen on the island.
In keeping with past statements, Wu earlier this week said the Long Island recovery campus is a longer-term solution for the city’s opioid and homelessness crises. She emphasized that her administration’s focus “right now is to maintain where we are with Mass. and Cass.”
In January, city crews cleared a large homeless encampment at Mass. and Cass, connecting scores of people who were living in the ramshackle shelters with housing and treatment programs. That same month, Wu took a boat ride to Long Island to explore the possibility of rebuilding a long-term recovery campus for people in mental health and substance abuse treatment.
To rebuild the bridge, Boston needs an array of permits, some of which it already has in hand. Quincy, which has fought Boston’s project in multiple venues, has already contacted the US Coast Guard, which needs to sign off on a necessary federal permit for the proposal, arguing that the bridge design is outdated.