(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
It’s been more than 30 years since residents locked arms to block toxic dumping at the Shaffer Paper site in Dorchester. Now, after a lot of lobbying, plenty of late nights, and decades of pushing from residents, the site will be cleaned up by the state and turned into a park.
On Thursday officials from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, along with a slew of local elected officials, announced the $4.25-million effort by the Commonwealth to clean up and redevelop the 14-acre former industrial site that sits at the mouth of the Neponset River.
“This is really a special day; it is really long past due,” DCR Commissioner Jack Murray told supporters and residents Thursday.
The 2014 state budget includes $250,000 for the project and $1 million has been allocated in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget. An additional $3-million in construction funding for the project has been allocated in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. Close to $3-million worth of work has already gone into the site over the years including building demolition, environmental testing, and remediation work, according to DCR.
“I want to thank the neighbors for their patience and their persistence,” said Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, who as a state representative helped lobby for the project. “This is a reality; this is going to happen now.”
The site, located in the Port Norfolk neighborhood of Dorchester, just over the water from North Quincy, has sat underused and contaminated since the state first took control of it by eminent domain in 1986. Prior to the state’s takeover, it had been used as a lumber yard and was contaminated through the uncontrolled release of hazardous waste, according to DCR.
While the dumping may have stopped in the 1980’s, the headaches continued as the site collected trash and attracted the wrong kind of visitors.
“We’ve been reminding them for 30 years that they needed to do this and they finally did,” exclaimed Maria Lyons, 58, a local resident. “We always wanted a park there, but most of all we wanted it to be cleaned up and safe; it’s a good day.”
A concrete plan for the new park has not been developed, but conceptual plans presented Thursday by DCR called for a passive park space, the construction of a walking path, the removal of contaminated soil, and the removal of the pillions and seawall located in the Neponset River, just off the site. Woburn-based GEI Consultants Inc., will be DCR’s design consultant on the project.
Although for the neighbors the project has been a long time coming, its redevelopment will have the potential to impact residents as far away as Mattapan and South Boston. The park is positioned along the Neponset River Greeway, a nearly nine-mile bike path that, once completed, will link a number of Boston neighborhoods and communities.
“Right now the greenway feels like it ends at the Neponset Bridge and now there will be a destination that can move people onto the northern section of the trail,” said Valerie Burns, the executive director of the Boston Natural Areas Network, which along with the Neponset River Greenway Council, has actively pushed for the project.
“It’s a significant site and it is a really exciting day,” Burns added.
DCR officials are expected to present conceptual plans and gather input from residents next week, at the Port Norfolk Civic Association’s December 17 meeting. The meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m., will be held at the Port Norfolk Yacht Club, located at 179 Walnut St.
Although both residents and DCR officials have a lot of work ahead of them, for those that live in the neighborhood and have pushed for the project, Thursday's announcement made it feel like the race is almost won.
“I’m so happy this is happening,” said Ben Tankle, 85, who along with his late-wife Barbara, tirelessly advocated for the site. “She didn’t live to see this day, but I know she’s looking down on us and when we meet again, we’ll definitely be talking about it.”