Acting Mayor Kim Janey has reportedly asked her administration to explore the idea of using ferry service to get patients to the Long Island Recovery Campus – a move that has been rejected in the past by many stakeholders – just as the key membership of the Mass/Cass 2.0 Task Force has unraveled and is going back to the South End Forum Working Group format.
A spokesman for Janey said on Wednesday she has asked her team to explore the idea of ferry service, and stressed that Janey doesn’t see such a service as a replacement for the Long Island Bridge. The comments from Janey were characterized by her team as less a reversal in approach and more of an evolution in approach.
“Rebuilding the bridge to Long Island is an essential piece to reopening a regional recovery campus there,” said Spokesman Nick Martin. “We expect to go out to bid on the bridge this fall and start construction next year. In the interest of exploring ways to accelerate the reopening of vital regional recovery services on Long Island, Mayor Janey has also asked her team to take another look at hospital and public safety infrastructure that could be added to the island as well as how ferries might complement the guaranteed, all-weather access that a bridge provides.”
The use of ferry service has been suggested before, at one time by Councilor Ed Flynn and most recently as part of the Mass/Cass Plan presented by Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Andrea Campbell. In the recent past, however, the idea of ferry service has been wholly rejected by members of the South End community and the 2.0 Task Force – as well as by the Boston Fire Department and Boston Emergency Medical Services (EMS). That said, it’s something that does continue to come up.
In the neighborhood though, it was just another piece of news on top of more frustrating news delivered to the Task Force recently. Last week, Task Force member Mike Nelson, of Worcester Square, said the meetings of the Task Force were no longer productive, and indicated if something didn’t change they wouldn’t really be worth his time any longer.
This week, that has been followed up by key South End member Steve Fox announcing that he will revive the South End Forum’s Working Group on Mass/Cass – a long-time public meeting of the community, the City and providers that gave birth to ideas such as the Long Island Recovery Campus. The Working Group had been disbanded almost two years ago when Mass/Cass 2.0 came in and the Task Force seemed to replace that forum – though the Task Force meetings were not open to the public and were not as transparent.
Fox said the issue of ferry service was one reason, but another was the fact that the Task Force was told this week that the mobile bathroom venture – which has been discussed for almost a year – was being put on hold.
“We’re bringing back the Working Group,” he said. “We’re asking all the old members of the Working Group to come back and all the current Mass/Cass Task Force members to join us and we’ll invite the public and the press and have a rigorous discussion on pros and cons of all these issues…We were discouraged that after six months of work in the Task Force on the mobile bathroom issue, that we’re being told now that the idea is being shelved for 90 days as the City examines its own departmental capacity and whether this is a good idea. We all wish that could have happened six months ago.”
Fox said that Sue Sullivan of the Newmarket Business Association, another key Task Force member, has told him she would also agree to transition to the Working Group again. Many on the Task Force, including Nelson, have said that Fox and Sullivan have become the drivers of the Task Force, and little would get done without them steering the ship.
Last week Nelson, and this week Fox, said they are very worried that the summer is going to bring a barrage of quality of life issues to the South End if there isn’t a winning strategy implemented as soon as possible.
Fox said they need to return to a community-driven process for that strategy.
“We need a community-driven process because summer is upon us,” he said. “We understand the challenges of Mass/Cass and we need a better balance of mental health and social workers…We need to triple or quadruple the BEST team. We also need concentrated enforcement on the dealers who are omnipresent on Atkinson Street…That’s why we’ve decided to reconstitute the Working Group to bring people together and have an open and public discourse. The Long Island Recovery Campus was born in the Working Group and was endorsed by former Mayor Walsh and made a big part of his second term inaugural. That is the kind of work that needs to be done and is inclusive and transparent.”
The Working Group was formed as a subcommittee of the long-time South End Forum in 2016 as a way to focus the energies of the community, the City and stakeholders at a time when the opioid epidemic was first surging. It met monthly in the Crossroads Hampton Inn on Mass/Cass.