Weeks after Mayor Michelle Wu announced that Boston had received a key permit to rebuild a bridge to Long Island, city officials and health care providers on Wednesday toured the shuttered and derelict addiction recovery campus in Boston Harbor, hailing the site’s potential to help solve the city’s opioid and homelessness crises.
“It’s a moment of great momentum and excitement,” Wu told reporters at a South Boston dock after the tour.
Wu hopes to have services up and running on the island in four years, but much work has to be done to the existing structures, which have been ravaged by time, weather, neglect, and vandalism since the campus was shut down in 2014 after the access bridge to the island was deemed unsafe.
Wednesday’s tour of the campus, which was formerly anchored by an overnight homeless shelter, showed some buildings in an eerie, almost apocalyptic, state of disrepair. Water damage had crumbled walls and ceilings and buckled wooden floors. Wall paint was peeling.
The detritus was random. Documents were strewn across one office. Another room had basketballs and large jars of old grape jelly lying on the floor. A heap of blankets, sheets, and linens sat in a hallway. A sign tacked to one door proclaimed: “The Rec Room is off limits until further notice.” Behind it, a pool table collected dust. A musty smell pervaded many of the rooms. Outside, there were sweeping vistas of the harbor, Deer Island, the downtown skyline, and Logan Airport.
Currently, the city plans to renovate 11 of the existing buildings, but at least a couple of the structures are likely beyond saving and will have to be demolished, according to city officials.
Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said the vision for the recovery campus was for it to be a part of “a system of care that we don’t have for this population.” In the past, services on the island operated in silos too often, and the island’s campus lacked synergy with services on the mainland.
“That’s one of the areas that we would like to fix,” she said. “We would like there to be a continuum.”
Health service providers who toured the island applauded the city’s vision, with some saying that Long Island represented a generational opportunity.
“This is the missing piece,” said Karen LaFrazia, president of St. Francis House, a day shelter in downtown Boston.
Efforts to revive the campus have been in the works for years. The permit the city received recently, known as a Chapter 91 license, evaluates the impact of a project on public access to coastlines and waterways and puts Boston on the path toward rebuilding. The next steps for the project: a federal consistency review by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and a bridge permit from the US Coast Guard.
The announcement of the permit came as Boston’s Mass. and Cass area, which is the epicenter of the region’s opioid and homelessness crisis, has become increasingly violent. City officials say a criminal element has overwhelmed a homeless encampment in the neighborhood and forced outreach organizations to pull their teams from the street out of fear for their safety.
Boston officials have said they hope to have all the necessary permits in hand by year’s end and to reopen the bridge within four years. Requests for proposals to improve existing buildings on Long Island are expected to be put out to bid later this year, with construction anticipated to start next spring and be completed within two years.
There is $38 million earmarked in the city’s capital budget to rehabilitate the existing buildings on the island, and an additional $81 million for rebuilding the bridge.
The plan to rebuild the bridge has been met with stiff opposition in Quincy, with residents saying the project could increase traffic through the Squantum neighborhood, harm the local environment, and affect quality of life. Recently, a pair of Quincy officials asked the Massachusetts congressional delegation to intervene, citing their concerns over the project, according to The Patriot Ledger.
The bridge dispute triggered a protracted legal clash between Quincy and Boston. Last year, the state’s highest court ruled that state approval for Boston’s bridge reconstruction plan trumps a rejection by the Quincy Conservation Commission.
Central to the friction between Boston and Quincy 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. In order to access the islands on land, vehicles would have to pass through the residential neighborhood of Squantum in Quincy.
Boston’s plans call for a span 3,300 feet long, supported by the existing piers. There would be two lanes for cars, one in each direction, with sidewalks and lighting “very similar to the previous bridge,” according to city authorities.