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PLYMOUTH, QUINCY

Local environmental projects boosted economy, state says

Environmental work yielded jobs, spending

By Jennette Barnes
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2012
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Restoration of river and wetland habitats generates economic benefits in the same manner as work traditionally viewed as an infrastructure investment, such as road and bridge repair, according to a report commissioned by the state.

The recent report analyzed projects at the Eel River in Plymouth, Broad Meadows salt marsh in Quincy, and two other locations - in Brewster on Cape Cod, and in Clarksburg, on the Vermont border. It determined that every $1 million spent generated an average of $1.5 million in economic activity in Massachusetts, and that the number would rise to $1.8 million if all direct spending were done in-state.

The report shows restoration projects create an average employment demand of 12.5 jobs per $1 million spent, according to a news release from the state. The report, by Cambridge-based Industrial Economics Inc., measured employment in “worker-years,’’ which is the amount of time one person works annually. Thus, if a project takes three years and requires 12.5 worker-years, it generates about four full-time job equivalents per year.

The Plymouth project, led by the town, involved rebuilding 1.7 miles of stream at the headwaters of the Eel River, where some 40 acres of cranberry bogs had altered the flow of water for decades. Workers removed a dam and earthen barriers, filled irrigation ditches, and replaced two culverts that were crushed and undersized, according to Alex Hackman, project manager for the state Division of Ecological Restoration.

Hackman said workers planted approximately 17,000 Atlantic white cedar trees that were grown in greenhouses from locally collected seed. The aim was to create an Atlantic white cedar swamp, a relatively rare habitat. Before the restoration work, the sandy-soiled bogs were turning into a pitch pine forest, but ground-penetrating radar detected peat deep under the bogs, suggesting it was previously a swamp, he said.

Engineering, permitting, and fund-raising were done from 2005 to 2009, and the main part of the construction was done in 2010, Hackman said.

Mettie Whipple, president of the Eel River Watershed Association, said the property is home to rare species, and that a fish ladder restored in conjunction with the project will improve the migration of river herring.

If human activity destroys habitat for wildlife, she said, eventually it will destroy habitat for human beings. “Our economic health is hard to separate from the water we drink and the air we breathe,’’ she said.

In Quincy, the Broad Meadows salt marsh restoration, led by the Army Corps of Engineers, recreated 31 acres of marsh in an area where 106 acres had been filled with dredged material from the Town River in the 1930s and 1950s. Project manager Wendy Gendron, a biologist with the Army Corps, said not all of the marsh could be restored, partly because there are buildings on filled land.

Material removed from the marsh was used to create upland areas planted with native coastal grass, she said. The changes are expected to encourage use by migratory shore birds and waterfowl, songbirds, and possibly shellfish in the tidal areas.

Jon Kachmar, Southeastern Massachusetts director at the Nature Conservancy, said the Broad Meadows project included extensive planting of coastal grasslands. The project aimed to build 23 acres of coastal grassland and 4 acres of wet meadow, according to an Army Corps fact sheet.

Tim Purinton, director of the Division of Ecological Restoration, said the positive economic effect of the work could echo into the future. Among the probable long-term effects outside the scope of the report, he said, were increased property values, reduced flooding, and “ecosystem services,’’ such as the ability of wetlands to remove excess nutrients from the water.

“I’m really excited to get a better handle on’’ that, he said.“Not only are we healing ecosystems, but we’re creating sort of a micro- or mini-economy around the work,’’ he said.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.

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