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Quincy hopes to complete Broad Meadow marsh restoration this summer

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 14, 2013 04:12 PM

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Photo courtesy of CorpsNewEngland

Photo taken in July 2010 - At the time, the contractor had installed temporary and erosion control fencing, constructed the detention basin, water diversion and control device and haul roads to begin the project

Come this summer, Quincy’s Broad Meadow salt marsh may finally be open to the public.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Quincy have been working since February 2010 to restore 35 acres of the salt marsh, situated in quiet abandonment beside Quincy High School, the Department of Public Works yard, and a skating rink.

The project is designed to reverse the work done by the Town River Federal Navigation Project, which dumped dredged materials into the marsh in 1938 and 1956.

Though 36 of the 106 filled acres have been developed with buildings and uses, the remaining marshland has attracted invasive plants and become an inhospitable habitat for wildlife that was once abundant there.

City officials have hoped to change that, bringing water back to the land and making the space open for recreation.

“We’re looking forward this site being an accessible and viable passive open space for our residents, and we’re getting closer to that every day,” said mayoral spokesman Christopher Walker.

Though the project is set to wrap up within the next few months, the plan ran into several difficulties, including that the uplands soil – former dredged material – makes it challenging to grow desirable plants. Phragmites, an aggressive non-native plant that almost looks like fields of tall wheat, has also be hard to get rid of.

And those are just the more recent challenges. Prior to dredging the marsh – the largest component of the project – there were issues securing funding and permits for a wish list of upgrades.

“We had to deal with several issues during the design – like coordination with the utility company and permitting, which took longer than anticipated,” said Wendy Gendron, a New England District project manager with the Army Corps. “The contractor completed the excavation of the marsh ahead of schedule, but we’re extending the contract a couple months into the spring to allow for spring seeding.”

This city project was jointly funded by the city and a three-to-one matching grant from the Army Corps.

All in all, the Army Corps. contributed $4.6 million to the project, and the city roughly $1.5 million.

While $150,000 came from the Neponset River Watershed Association, the remaining came from a hotel/motel bond from 2004 ($1 million), and mitigation money for filling the Quincy Quarry Hills with dredged material ($300,000 to $400,000).

The city was not able to get funding for the installation of an elevated wooden walkway over the marsh, and could not remove the utility lines belonging to National Grid.

However, if the city wants to do these things in the future, there isn’t much stopping it beyond the cost.

“There are grants out there that are for public space ... to allow them to have better space for passive recreation, and they could probably [apply] for grants to help out with that. That isn’t something that they can't do. They can take that on at any time, as well as moving the utility line,” Gendron said.

But it isn’t likely that the Army Corps would partner in that, Gendron said.

Though it will be many years before the area looks like a typical marsh, the work is already having a desirable effect.

“Although the marsh vegetation will take time to colonize and reach the full design potential, the site returned to an estuary as soon as we restored the tide in December of 2011,” Gendron said. “It was the first time in almost 80 years the area was underwater. The recently excavated area currently functions as a mud flat. Mud flats may not be as aesthetically pleasing as salt marsh, but they are important ecologically. They provide habitat for invertebrate animals, such as clams, mussels, snails, and other invertebrates.”

Over time, the marsh will develop more wildlife, encouraging the proliferation of birds and other wildlife in the area.

According to Ward 1 City Councilor Margaret Laforest, the restoration is a welcome change and an exciting prospect, though there are still issues to be worked out about community access.

“I think there is a lot of anxiety about ... the project, we’ve been hearing about it for a long time," she said. "[At a recent meeting, councilors] saw pictures at other Army Corps projects that had a similar design, and the time it takes to grow grasses so it's recognizable as a coastal marsh land [is significant].”

Though that process will take several years, for the first time in decades, when you drive down Market Road, there is a waterfront view, Laforest said.

"It's tremendous to see what it is now," she said.

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