By Johanna Kaiser
Local, state, and federal officials formally kicked off a $93 million project Wednesday to restore parts of the Muddy River to prevent flooding as the waterway winds through the heart of Boston’s Emerald Necklace.
The work has been decades in the making and marked by fits and starts. The first phase of the project will reopen parts of the river that have been covered over, install larger culverts to improve water flow, and make other habitat and landscape improvements to the parklands surrounding the river.
The project, led by the US Army Corps of Engineers, will remove two 72-inch culverts and install two 24-foot-by-10-foot culverts to carry river water under the Riverway and Brookline Avenue. It will also reexpose the river between the Riverway and Avenue Louis Pasteur.
“Just think about what this project will do; we’ll have a much better Emerald Necklace,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said at the project’s groundbreaking Wednesday on land in front of the Landmark Center, once the Sears parking lot, that will be transformed so the river will be visible.
“We won’t get the calls when there’s heavy rainstorms: ‘Its raining here; we need sandbags,’ ” he said.
Boston, Brookline, state, and federal officials, along with residents and neighbors have spent years trying to prevent those calls by developing the multiphase project.
Former governor Michael S. Dukakis, who attended Wednesday’s ceremony, has been working to restore the parklands since his time as governor. An even stronger push to restore the narrowed river and remove invasive plant species from its banks came after the river overflowed during a severe storm in 1996.
The storm water flooded the MBTA’s Kenmore Station and nearby homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses, causing nearly $60 million in damage.
“It’s a long time coming,” Governor Deval Patrick said. “This is a project that comes from the grass roots up; you might even say the muddy waters up.”
The first phase is expected to last three years and cost $31 million. The Army Corps of Engineers is funding about $20 million and the state the rest.
Those who worked on the project were eager to see it come to fruition and applauded the collaboration of so many agencies and organizations.
Work for the first phase will include the areas of Upper Fens Pond, Brookline Avenue between Park Drive and the Fenway, and roadways near the former Sears lot.
Traffic around the Landmark Center will be realigned, and the “jug handle” will be removed as part of the project. New river crossings will also be built.
The second phase of the project will dredge the river, remove invasive plants, and replant appropriate plants on the river’s edge.
These changes will improve the natural habitat and allow the river to handle more rainwater, officials said.
Johanna Kaiser can be reached
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