(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
The cleanup and reuse of the Shaffer Paper site, a stretch of land in Dorchester’s Port Norfolk neighborhood, may be gaining momentum as the Department of Conservation and Recreation prepares to finish its report on the property.
The new, Phase 4 report will lay out for the DCR the toxic and chemical hazards at the site, which has hosted a number of industrial uses in the past, including a lumber yard. The report will also present DCR with potential choices for cleanup or site mitigation and what the site can be used for.
Since 1996, when the Lower Neponset River Reservation Master Plan was created, the Shaffer Site, which is approximately 15-acres and was acquired by DCR in 1986, has always been envisioned for park use. Connecting to the Neponset River Greenway and linking to the Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester’s Neponset neighborhood, the Shaffer Site is the final piece in the reuse of the once industrial Dorchester side of the Neponset River shore.
“It was always meant to be a park, but unfortunately with the ups and downs of the economy it’s never gotten done,” said Mary McCarthy, president of the Port Norfolk Neighborhood Association, whose group has pushed for a passive park that incorporates many of the natural features on the land.
It is hoped the new report will begin the process of turning a site that is currently home to broken bottles, discarded trash, and a homeless encampment into a space for residents and visitors.
“We have a relationship with that neighborhood, we have other properties near that site, and it’s important for us to help that neighborhood fulfill the vision for that site,” DCR Commissioner Edward Lambert said. “It’s always a priority for us to accomplish those goals, but given the fiscal challenges it makes it hard for us to make commitments at this time.”
Lambert acknowledged that there are a number of challenges standing in the way of the project, especially the potentially hefty price tag to clean up the site, but said creating the momentum is what’s important at this point.
“What we can do is continue to advance the ball and move it to the pace resources allow. We’ve committed to continue this environmental assessment, so we can be ready when resources do allow us to go forward,” said Lambert.
Currently there are no funds available for any part of the project past the Phase 4 Report.
“What we want them to really do is get the hazards out of there,” said McCarthy. “We want to help, we want to see a park there, we're ready to go.”
In addition to the increased open space in the neighborhood, the park is also an important connection for the Harbor Walk and the Neponset River Greenway, which connect in Dorchester. The park would also provide a those following the trail a stop between DCR's Tenean Beach and Pope John Paul II Park.
“[Shaffer Paper] is the last piece that has yet to be addressed,” said Valerie Burns, president of the Boston Natural Areas Network. “It’s really the missing link”
Burns said the site would create a tangible link between the trails and the beach, creating a destination and bringing more users to the trail and all the open space along the Dorchester waterfront.
“Having Shafer Park and having that piece there creates another destination along the chain of parks and encourages people to explore,” said Burns. “It will be what really invites people into the Boston Harbor.”
Lambert, like Burns, also highlighted the importance of the park to the overall trail network and DCR’s continued plans for the Neponset River Greenway and the Harbor Trail.
“If it were just a standalone project, given its cost it might not be as enticing for us to consider moving forward and expending resources,” said Lambert. “But we can increase its prioritization by looking at it as part of a larger network of properties we have and tying it into the trail network we’re looking to develop. That makes it, for us, something we’re more likely to pay attention to.”
Momentum may be slow for some residents and those who are familiar with the decades-long history of the park and its development, but McCarthy said at the end of the day, any movement is welcome.
“I think they’re paying attention to us,” said McCarthy. “It’s going slower than we want, but it’s moving.”
(Image courtesy Google Maps altered by Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
(Image courtesy DCR)