In a world preaching cooperation, the meeting in Quincy Tuesday night on the Long Island Bridge state Chapter 91 license was all about opposition.
It was Boston vs. Quincy.
City Hall vs. City Hall.
And Recovery vs. traffic.
In a hall in the Squantum neighborhood of Quincy that was packed to standing-room capacity, the showdown that was to transpire was apparent from the outset, with the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Ben Lynch ineffectively trying to control matters and enforce time limits on speakers. About 50 percent of the room was made up of Boston City Hall officials, with a large contingent of neighbors from the South End and Bay Village making the trip to show their support for the Bridge – which opens the key to creating a Recovery Campus on the abandoned facility.
Yet, none of those neighbors even got to speak, and most left in frustration about 90 minutes into a meeting dominated by public officials and engineering experts hired by Quincy to give a dissenting point of view regarding the engineering studies done by Boston.
The meeting began with a lengthy presentation by Boston Chief of Streets Chris Osgood and Engineer Mark Ennis of STV consultants.
“We’re here because we’re facing a public health crisis brought on by the opiate epidemic,” said Osgood. “There is a shortage in the continuum of care to provide recovery…I think everyone in the room agrees on that. On Long Island, there is a public health campus now. In order to re-open that public health campus, we need to re-build the bridge.”
One key point made by Ennis involved the idea brought about by Quincy that the Island should be accessed only by ferry. Boston officials spent nearly an hour talking about that issue before public comment started.
Ennis said a commonly referred to report by the Cecil Group in 2001 concluded that the best way to reach Long Island was by water. However, he said that study was done looking at passenger service, and not looking at a ferry that can carry vehicles.
“That report looked at providing recreational access to the public separate from the campus,” he said. “Only passengers would be accommodated and certainly not 24-hour services…We would need to be able to bring vehicles to the Island. We have to have heating oil deliveries, food deliveries, trash pickup and lots of services that require vehicle access.”
The new dock system to accommodate that on Long Island and in Boston – along with other costs would be around $330 million, he said, over a 75-year period. On the other hand, the Bridge would be at $150 million over that same period of time.
Fire Commissioner Joe Finn said he cannot support a ferry system as a matter of public safety.
“My major concern is that with a ferry we wouldn’t be able to get the resources we need to the Island in time,” he said. “It’s that simple…Fire doubles in strength every minute. It’s dangerous…It’s important we have a bridge that is able to help us get our fire equipment out there.”
Chief of Health Marty Martinez said there is a major public health crisis, and Boston is treating the region’s problems. He said now is no time to delay.
“Well over 50 percent of the people we serve in Boston are not from Boston,” he said. “We need to build a bridge. The need is too great to not figure this out…The need is too great to delay, delay, delay.”
And then, the tide turned as Quincy officials came to the microphone for more than an hour.
“The roads in Squantum were not designed to handle the loads of traffic this will bring,” said Quincy State Rep. Bruce Ayers.
Norfolk County DA Michael Morrissey, an outspoken opponent of the Bridge, said Boston has not shared any information with Quincy – and few know what the real plan is.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to have a conversation,” he said. “This is someone saying they are going to build a big hole and foundation next to your house, but they’ll tell you later whether it’s three stories or 10 stories…Let’s have a real conversation. Let’s not fool anyone. Get your vendor together, get your plan together and then talk to us.”
At that point, he had far exceeded the three minute limit – exacting calls from the crowd to cut him off.
“I don’t see the City of Boston following that three-minute rule,” he cajoled, and then went on for many more minutes.
South End State Rep. Jon Santiago made the counterpoint that his neighborhood, which is at the epicenter of the crisis on the Mass/Cass corridor, is overburdened.
“Help us help those with substance use disorders by allowing us to re-open the Long Island Bridge,” he said. “The Bridge will save lives and bring families back together…I hope we can come together to save the lives of my patients, and to save my community, which can no longer bear the brunt.”
Quincy City Councilor William Harris, who is originally from Dorchester, said Boston has been a bad neighbor. He also alleged that Mayor Martin Walsh wants to sell parts of the island to developers for luxury housing.
“We would rather be friends with Boston than foes without a doubt,” he said. “But the City of Boston has not been a good neighbor. Martin Walsh said in front of some of you here tonight five weeks ago he’d reach out to me – hasn’t happened yet…The issue is he put a ‘for sale’ sign on that Island. The City of Boston has been a bad neighbor to Quincy for several years. And I come from Boston.”
Quincy Councilor Anne Mahoney also alleged that Mayor Walsh wants to develop the Island for luxury condos.
“Boston has cut Quincy out and hasn’t talked to us,” she said. “Mayor Walsh has to say it is for addiction purposes only. We should all be working to solve this and that is the sin of this conversation tonight.”
Some residents from Squantum were concerned about safety and toxicity of the Bridge.
“My environmental issue here tonight is my children going swimming on Orchard Beach or Nickerson Beach,” said Margaret Ronan. “There’s going to be traffic, noise and fumes…I want answers. If we go swimming on those beaches, what would be the toxicity of this bridge there.”
Said neighbor Donna Richardson, “We need more facilities, but I wonder if there is a better place. We had a dog hit by a fire truck and killed. We have taken just about enough from Boston. We would like our space to be preserved.”
However, the charisma award for the night seemed to land on Recovery Coach Jack Harper, of Quincy. A boisterous recovery veteran – who sobered up on Long Island years ago, Harper explained with a thick South Shore accent how it was the children from Quincy and all over that he picks up and tries to save. However, he said with the Island closed, he has to take patients as far away as Worcester (he pronounced it ‘Wista’)
“For 17 years I picked up men and women from Quincy getting out of jail and taking them to Long Island,” he said. “They would go to get services on Long Island they needed and it was all there in one place. They grew their own food out there…It’s your kids every day I’m taking to detox. I’m picking them up in my car – dope sick – and taking them to Tewksbury and Worcester. I don’t hear anyone complaining about the traffic going to Marina Bay. That’s big bucks. Come on, let it out.”
The meeting continued on until about 10 p.m., though many who wanted to speak had left before they got an opportunity. However, the Chapter 91 process continues on until the end of the comment period on May 27. To submit written comments, one can email them to [email protected]. For questions, call (617) 348-4084.