QUINCY — Many questions about the future of Long Island and its bridge remain unanswered. But here in Squantum, a peninsula of tightly packed manicured lawns, summer evening sea breezes, and sweeping vistas of the surrounding bay and Boston’s downtown skyline, residents are still leery about the plans of their northern neighbors in the state’s capital.
For several years, this North Quincy neighborhood has served as the front line of an ongoing conflict between Quincy and Boston over the possibility of building another bridge to Long Island, where Boston has expressed a desire to build a modern recovery campus to help combat the opioid and homelessness crises that have ravaged the region.
For its part, Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration says it currently has no firm timeline for rebuilding the bridge and is waiting on two permits, one from the state and one from the Coast Guard. Nor does it have a firm price tag for the project, though its expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Right now, Boston has more than $100 million earmarked in its capital budget for rebuilding the bridge and stabilizing existing structures on the island.
Some in Squantum want a pledge from Boston to dedicate a chunk of the island to open space with public access, but there, too, are questions. The Wu administration’s focus, said one Boston official, remains on the recovery campus.
The prospect of reopening the bridge has rankled some in Squantum, which historically has served as the only road access point to Long Island. How will Boston transport homeless people to the island, residents ask. What about ferry service in lieu of a bridge? And, perhaps most crucially, will a recovery campus work? Or will Boston just be shuffling the problem around, moving it from Mass. and Cass to a remote corner of the harbor?
“Boston has never been a good neighbor,” said Michael W. Morrissey, the district attorney for Norfolk County and a longtime Squantum resident. “They treat us like a doormat.”
Central to the friction is simple geography. The bridge — which would replace one demolished in 2015 because of structural concerns — would connect Long Island with Moon Island, which is owned by Boston but falls within the municipal boundaries of Quincy at its northern tip.
Quincy’s perceived lack of input over what happens on the islands, combined with the impact of Boston’s uses of them, continues to incense Squantum residents.
For instance, in 1993, Boston stripped Moon Island of trees and brush in order to expand its police training facilities without obtaining a necessary environmental permit from Quincy, something that Squantum residents still recall.
Multiple residents also lament the city of Boston restricting public access to Long Island in the past. One specific anecdote repeated by three residents featured a 1992 showdown over access to Long Island to view the Tall Ships, a grand parade of a flotilla of vessels in Boston Harbor. Quincy residents were initially barred from enjoying the stunning seaside panoramas offered by the island as the ships glided past.
There are other complaints. The islands have long been a place where controversial initiatives have taken root. For decades, Moon Island was home to an active sewage facility. For years, the facility pumped sewage into the surrounding bay and harbor, severely polluting the waters.
Now, Squantum residents are viewing any Boston initiative that would rebuild the span to Long Island and reestablish a recovery campus with distrust.
“We just can’t build a bridge and stop there, we have to participate with the end use, what’s going on with the site,” said Christopher Carroll, an attorney and longtime Squantum resident. “And their record has demonstrated, and I hate to say it, not keeping us fully in the loop.”
But Wu’s office also pointed to at least four public meetings involving Quincy residents where rebuilding the bridge was discussed.
Christopher Walker, chief of staff for Quincy Mayor Thomas P. Koch, said Quincy has never had an issue with a prospective recovery campus on the island. It’s the bridge that is the sticking point.
“The problem is the access,” he said.
Boston, he said, “has never explored the potential of water transportation,” meaning using ferries to access the island.
The city of Boston maintains that ferry service will not provide the necessary level of public safety access for a recovery campus on the island, an assertion that many Squantum residents reject.
Rebuilding a bridge and creating a recovery campus on the island was broached by former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh in 2018. Since that time, the city of Quincy has waged a protracted legal battle against Boston’s plans for the bridge. When the bridge abruptly closed in 2014, it upended treatment services and residents were evacuated off the island.
Many residents and business owners in Boston’s Mass. and Cass area, which is the epicenter of the region’s opioid and homelessness crisis, point to the bridge’s closure as having a domino effect in their neighborhood. Quality of life conditions around the open air illicit drug market near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard deteriorated once Long Island was no longer an option, they said.
Boston residents and politicians alike often gripe that many folks living and using on the streets of Mass. and Cass come from outside Boston, including Quincy.
And Quincy, like so many communities, has not been spared in the opioid epidemic. According to state records, from the start of 2021 to the end of the first quarter of this year, there were 689 opioid-related incidents reported by EMS in Quincy.
“Long Island represented an opportunity for a campus to exist in a safe environment where the constant access to drugs and drug dealers can be controlled,” said Steve Fox, chairman of the South End Forum, an umbrella organization for a collection of Boston neighborhood groups.
In Quincy, a city of 101,000 residents, the skepticism remains. There are ongoing concerns about how a new bridge and recovery campus would affect day-to-day life in the neighborhood, specifically the traffic.
And many question whether rebuilding the bridge for a recovery campus is simply a ruse to open the island, and its breathtaking views of the harbor, to private development.
Marie Stamos, an 83-year-old realtor who lives in Squantum, said the current buildings that were once used for the homeless only take up about 35 acres on an island that is more than 220 acres. The island, she said, from a development perspective, would be “pure gold.”
”What they’re proposing doesn’t make sense for what they possess,” Stamos said, adding that she would favor building a bridge from “Boston to Boston.”
Her husband, Jim Stamos, had similar sentiments. He doesn’t want a bridge to Long Island, but would like to see that land opened up for public access. Like many people in Squantum, he rejects any notion that his opposition to the bridge is grounded in NIMBYism, pointing to the presence of Father Bill’s Place, a homeless shelter in Quincy.
But like every community, Squantum is not a monolith when it comes to the bridge. Take Janice Porter, a 58-year-old neighborhood resident who grew up here and raised her three now-adult children here.
Porter said that the interconnected crises of homelessness and addiction are such a problem that “I feel very strongly that we need to do all the things.” She wouldn’t mind seeing a ferry service and a bridge to a Long Island recovery center. If Boston can figure out a way to operate it without a bridge, she’s fine with that, too.
She understands that some neighborhood residents have legitimate concerns and acknowledges there will be problems with reopening the bridge. But the problems, she thinks, would be manageable.
Porter is among those who think that lost in the debate about the bridge is that there are human beings who are in serious need of help that a recovery campus could assist.
“It’s a question of helping a fellow human being and being inconvenienced,” she said.
Jeremiah Manion of Globe staff contributed to this report.