Control of islands is issue in Squantum
Usage, access are longtime irritants
In a rare example of cooperation between two cities at odds over a harbor island, Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino recently agreed to reduce the hours of operation at Moon Island’s police firing range, long an irritant for Quincy residents in nearby Squantum.
But while Quincy officials praised Menino’s decision, the gesture by itself is unlikely to quell local residents’ unhappiness over Boston’s management of both Moon Island and its larger neighbor, Long Island.
Moon Island falls within the municipal boundaries of Quincy at its northern tip, but its land is owned by the City of Boston. Long Island, the site of a 400-bed homeless shelter and other programs, is part of Boston, connected to Moon Island by a failing bridge. Both islands are accessible by land only through the Quincy peninsula neighborhood of Squantum.
Quincy’s lack of authority over the islands, combined with the impact of Boston’s uses of them, has resulted in a troubled history.
What tops the list for Quincy residents who remember going to the islands as youngsters is Boston’s current restriction of access to unauthorized visitors.
“We used to ride our bikes out to Moon Island to go flounder fishing,’’ said Christopher Carroll, who grew up in Squantum in the ’60s.
Today, if Quincy residents approach what locals call “Moon Island road’’ they face a guard shack manned by a Boston police officer who won’t let them pass.
Quincy officials see Menino’s willingness to trim an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening off the firing range’s operations - the hours are now 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. - as a step in the right direction, but some characterize that direction as a journey of a thousand miles.
“I don’t want to diminish any improvement in the situation,’’ said Quincy City Councilor Brian McNamee, whose district includes Squantum. “It’s a positive step, but not the total solution. I’d like to see them move the gun range to Long Island.’’
Squantum also suffers from traffic “bombing in and out’’ of the islands through neighborhood streets, Carroll said.
“Squantum has a lot of elderly people,’’ he said recently. “The racket during the day impacts the community.’’
“We’ve asked for traffic studies,’’ agreed Squantum resident Jim Stamos, “and got nothing.’’
Given the Long Island homeless shelter, other human service programs, police and fire training ranges, and a summer camp, the vehicle traffic for the islands includes facilities staff, medical workers, security, emergency vehicles, family visitors to clients, and minibuses delivering inner-city kids to summer camp, Stamos said.
Most of that traffic heads for the Long Island Bridge, a weakening structure in need of expensive repairs that Quincy officials believe should be replaced by ferry service. Squantum’s state representative, Bruce Ayers, a Quincy Democrat, said a costly repair job on the bridge is a waste of money.
“Boston continues to ignore the fact that they are wasting taxpayers’ dollars doing patchwork on the bridge,’’ Ayers said. “It’s time that the City of Boston takes a comprehensive look at the future planning of Long Island.’’
Ayers has filed a bill to create a two-city commission to come up with a long-term management plan for the islands.
McNamee also said Boston should rethink what he calls the overutilization of Long Island.
“They’ve created a gulag for the homeless,’’ McNamee said. “It’s a terrible strategy to address a group of people who need services. You are essentially putting them in isolation. They need the support of their families.’’
Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce, however, rejected criticism of the city’s use of Long Island for service programs. “The services offered on Long Island for our homeless include job training and summer camp services for some of our most vulnerable people - and save lives,’’ Joyce said.
Joyce also defended the need for repairing the bridge. “A ferry service is not suitable, for public safety reasons. You couldn’t get a fire truck on the ferry.’’
But Quincy residents contend that Long Island, the largest of the Harbor islands, has had its own fire station in the past.
“It’s a beautiful natural resource that should be shared,’’ Stamos said. Pointing to features such as a Civil War-era fort and its lighthouse, he said, “Anywhere else in the world they’d be charging admission to restore it.’’
Relations between the two communities bottomed out in 1993 when Boston stripped Moon Island of trees and brush in order to expand its police training facilities without obtaining a necessary environmental permit from Quincy.
Last week, both city halls said the agreement over firing range hours creates an opportunity for more cooperation.
Quincy Mayor Tom Koch described his meeting with Menino as “a productive, honest, and open conversation’’ and said a dialogue would continue.
Quincy residents said there’s a lot more to do.
“The saddest part of it is Long Island is a jewel,’’ Carroll said. “It’s a shame in this day and age things can’t be worked out so the island can be enjoyed.’’
Robert Knox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.