Walsh says More Work Needed to Sell Quincy on Long Island Benefits

The fight was inevitable, and now it’s on.

The clash between Quincy and Boston has heated up this week now that serious steps have been taken to move forward on rebuilding the Long Island Bridge, a bridge that would unlock access to a planned world-class recovery campus on the Island and make major headway in reducing the social service inundation in the South End.

The trouble – there’s no way to get to Long Island except by going through Quincy and its insular neighborhood of Squantum. Last week, Mayor Martin Walsh announced the advancement of the Bridge rebuilding project to the City’s Conservation Commission – a first step in the re-build that looks to relieve a tremendous amount of the quality-of-life problems in the South End caused by homelessness and addiction issues on its streets.

That milestone set off the complaints from Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch and Norfolk County (and Squantum resident) District Attorney Michael Morrissey, who had their separate criticisms of Walsh’s plan. Koch entailed that he opposes the bridge in total, while Morrissey painted a picture of Walsh clearing the way for big-pocketed developers to build on the Island.

On Wednesday, Walsh said he understood the complaints of Koch, but didn’t appreciate Morrissey’s disparaging comments.

“They’re doing their job,” he told the Sun. “They’re elected to represent the people of Quincy and Squantum, more so the mayor. The DA took it a little personally and he shouldn’t have gone there. He knows better than that. He’s been around in his position a long time, so making fun of Boston and some of the things he said are uncalled for. But I respect the mayor of Quincy and the representatives over there. They’re doing their job… I have a very good relationship with Mayor Koch, the representatives and the councilor – I don’t know him but I think he’s from Dorchester. Morrissey is a person that’s not really looking for solutions, so that sums it up.”

Koch did not return a request for comment from the Sun, but in comments to Commonwealth Magazine, he said that Quincy doesn’t want the bridge re-built, but feels powerless under the weight of Boston.

“Boston answers to a different set of rules,” he told Commonwealth, noting that he thought it was a dead issue until Walsh called him about it in January. “They get all sorts of special legislation. Boston does what it wants. I don’t think they give two hoots about their neighbors south of Boston. They’re going to do what they’re going to do, and that’s Boston…The reality is we don’t want a bridge. We’ll be looking to inject ourselves into the process at every step of the way.”

Morrissey called for Walsh to institute ferry service to the island, which he said in an op-ed in Commonwealth Magazine was used exclusively until the 1950s. He intimated that Walsh was only looking to enrich developers who want to build on Long Island.

“We are a city of people who work hard for what we have and aren’t interested in being taken advantage of by anyone,” he wrote. “If the real plan is to enrich a small number of already wealthy developers, bask in the reflected glow, and create a monument to the Walsh years – like Federal Hill in Providence is associated with Buddy Cianci, or the Seaport is associated with Thomas Menino – then say it. Clearly. Aloud. And then we can watch the real proposals rise or fall on their merits. Or, start calling regional ferry operators and re-open those facilities in the weeks ahead.”

Walsh’s overall reaction to the comments on Wednesday was one of a salesman. He said he believes that Quincy officials, particularly Koch, will come around when they understand what he wants to put on Long Island.

“I think we have to do a better job of explaining what is going to go on there,” he told the Sun. “We have to work with them on it, and we will. I think there will be people in Squantum and other parts of Quincy that don’t want additional traffic there. But I think we have to sell it. We have to explain to people what’s going to happen.”

He said what is going to happen is they will put long-term treatment, where people are working and embarking on the last step of their recovery process. He said it isn’t going to be a detox or a holding facility, but a place for people to get better.

It will also be a place for Quincy folks to get better, too, as Walsh has said recently that it isn’t just for Boston people, but for the entire state and Greater Boston – including Quincy.

That’s important because, according to statistics released earlier this year, Quincy residents are some of the largest transgressors in the South End on Boston’s shelter system. Those statistics showed there were 66 Quincy residents in 2016 who were first-time homeless adults entering Boston’s shelter system – which are adults getting care on Boston’s dime. That has been pointed out more and more often by neighbors in the South End and by elected officials like Councilor Annissa Essaibi George.

Walsh said that rebuilding the bridge has to be done with an understanding that the services will be regionalized.

“The programming we’re going to be putting out there is for the state,” he said. “It’s not just Boston programming. When you have recovery programs, whether they’re in Boston or Quincy or wherever, the people that access those programs are generally accessing statewide programs. You bring people in. The best way to get recovery for some people is to get them out of their neighborhood, their element, and into a different area. Long Island is the perfect setting for a residential component. We have to make a better argument as to why we need the bridge, but the people staying there will actually be working. It’s not a detox or a holding. It’s where you go to get longer-term care. We have some work to do and we will as time moves on. I didn’t want to close the bridge in the first place. We had to.”

Walsh said he was convinced he could work with Mayor Koch to work out the differences.

“As we get more into this conversation internally with people about what’s going to happen, I think people will see a better picture,” he said.

Last week, Mayor Walsh filed a Notice of Intent with the Conservation Commission that specified the method by which the bridge will be rebuilt. Closed on an emergency basis in 2014 for public safety reasons, the superstructure of the bridge was removed in 2015 with the support of all relevant federal, state, and local permitting agencies. Since the emergency closing of the bridge, all 742 shelter beds and all 225 recovery beds from Long Island were replaced, with most of the beds and the services being relocated to the South End – something that a majority of the neighborhood now believes was a horrible mistake.

The City’s Capital Plan, released on April 26, indicated the City would invest $80 million in new funding to rebuild the bridge to Long Island, for a total of $92 million to go towards the project. In order to minimize impacts on the seafloor around the bridge, the bridge replacement superstructure component will be assembled offsite and then floated into place on barges. The new bridge will be similar to the original 1951 bridge, with one lane in each direction and sidewalks, as well as an open channel for boats below. The design and materials from the original bridge will be updated to ensure a longer-lasting structure that will be able to serve those in recovery for decades to come.

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