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Restoring the Muddy River: Finish the improvements

A Canada goose glided through the waters of the Muddy River in Boston last fall.
A Canada goose glided through the waters of the Muddy River in Boston last fall.(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File 2014)

AS PART of his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal, President Obama should direct the Army Corps of Engineers to finish the job it started on the Muddy River, which flows from Jamaica Plain to the Charles River and forms part of Fredrick Law Olmsted’s historic Emerald Necklace. After decades of construction, it’s about time.

The first phase of the project, which is in full swing, aims to improve water quality and enhance the natural habitat for wildlife by reopening the stretch of river that has been covered or impeded over the years.

Improvements will also mitigate flooding caused by storm water: A devastating flood in 1996 caused more than $60 million in damage to the Kenmore Square MBTA station and adjacent institutions and businesses. But the second phase of the project, which calls for bank-to-bank dredging of invasive phragmites reeds, hit a snag when federal officials decided that it would cost too much. Instead, they proposed dredging a smaller channel.

But that decision falls short on many levels. Notoriously tough and prolific, phragmites reeds need to be completely removed by a thorough process like bank-to-bank dredging — or they’ll grow back, choking off the stream again. Restoring the flow of the Muddy seems to align perfectly with the goals of Obama’s climate preparedness initiative, which is designed to help local communities cope with the effects of climate change. And as Massachusetts environmental officials observed in a review in 1999, Olmsted envisioned making the Muddy an ecologically rich link in his park system, which was designed and constructed between 1878 and 1895 to provide Bostonians an area “where they may stroll for an hour seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets.”

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The cost of the second phase is estimated at $70 million, with the federal government picking up 65 percent. The Commonwealth, the Town of Brookline, and the City of Boston are responsible for the rest — and private interests are expected to contribute as well. The depth of local support is impressive: Mayor Walsh has written to Obama asking for support, as have senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and congressmen Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, and Joseph Kennedy III.

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Unless the White House fully funds the second phase of construction, progress on the Muddy will stagnate. Obama should direct the Army Corps of Engineers to finish the job they started and recreate Olmsted’s vision.