IS BOSTON REALLY going to spend $100 million to rebuild a bridge, just to serve a summer camp and a substance abuse “recovery campus”?
“I think there is another unspoken, long-range plan to use Long Island for other development purposes and that a bridge would be critical to that future development,” said Norfolk district attorney Michael Morrissey, who lives in the Squantum section of Quincy that linked the old bridge to Long Island — and wants no part of a new one.
At the risk of burying the lead, I’d say Morrissey is onto something. When I asked Boston Mayor Marty Walsh if he has any plans for Long Island beyond serving the addicted, he replied, “Not yet. Potentially.” There have been no formal meetings, he said, but “a few people have been talking to me.” He offered no further details about who those people are or what they’re talking about.
With that, Walsh’s surprise plan to rebuild the bridge to Boston-owned Long Island raises questions not only about the mayor’s method of launching big ideas — but also about how big this one really is. Some of Walsh’s previous notions, such as bringing a summer Olympics to Boston or an IndyCar race to the Seaport District, collapsed at least partly because he didn’t build advance consensus for them. This time, he promises, “There’s gonna be dialogue.”
But dialogue about the bridge didn’t come until after he’d already made up his mind to rebuild it. There has to be more — and more open — dialogue before he decides what else he wants to do on the 240-acre harbor island.
The bridge was closed in 2014, after the state condemned it. That shut down a 450-bed homeless shelter, along with drug treatment programs for several hundred more. Since then, Camp Harbor View, a day camp established by businessman Jack Connors Jr., has been using ferries to transport some 900 campers at a cost of $500,000 a year.
Last week, I wrote that complaints from the Newmarket Business Association factored into Walsh’s decision to relocate substance abuse sufferers to Long Island. The mayor insists that’s wrong. Yet it’s true that merchants have been pushing him to reconsider alternatives to the Newmarket area, which is home to shelters for the homeless and methadone clinics.
A Facebook post from the Newmarket Business Association, dated Aug. 11, 2016, calls for “a solution to the transportation issue” out to Long Island, while noting, “It is incomprehensible that this ideal refuge for Boston’s homeless is sitting here with all of the potential to provide physical and mental health services, the potential for long-term housing and other wrap-around services, while Boston’s homeless currently spend all day lying on concrete sidewalks, begging for spare change, dodging traffic, and falling prey to drug dealers and human traffickers with no end in sight.” Susan Sullivan, the executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, also told me she was “thrilled” to hear about Walsh’s plan for a “comprehensive campus-style setting.”
If Morrissey’s reaction is any indication, Squantum residents are not as thrilled.
After hearing Walsh’s bridge building pledge, Morrissey fired off a lengthy e-mail to US Representative Stephen Lynch and other elected officials, which reads in part, “Don’t be fooled by the argument the Walsh plan will allow Long Island to be used to develop programs for people with substance abuse issues or to provide housing opportunities for the homeless. . . . The Walsh plan is nothing short of an attempt by the Mayor of Boston to provide access to Long Island for future development.”
Quincy Mayor Tom Koch is more circumspect, but he, too, has concerns. Noting that Walsh called him the Sunday before his inaugural speech announcement of his plans to rebuild the bridge, Koch said, “I was taken aback. I didn’t think Boston or the state would build a bridge for restricted use. That is separate from my concerns about traffic.” Koch said he’s not necessarily against the recovery campus but thinks expanded ferry service is a better way to transport people there. Meanwhile, he looks forward to Walsh “welcoming Quincy to the table.”
While he’s at it, Walsh should set a place at that table for the rest of the public, too.