Boston taking steps toward harbor cleanup

Formerly America's fishing industry mecca, Boston Harbor's murky waters now top the list of the nation's most severely polluted. Each day, nearly 500 million gallons of wastewater and more than 100 dry tons of sludge are pumped into the harbor from 43 greater Boston communities. The effects of old and inefficient primary sewage treatment plants (and more than 100 combined sewer overflows) finally prompted Michael Deland, regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to order secondary sewage treatment for the city.

In July, the newly formed Water Resources Authority must decide within days of its official establishment where the secondary treatment facility should be built or whether to contest the EPA order and attempt to upgrade its primary treatment system.

From the 22 site options under consideration two years ago, alternatives have now been narrowed to seven choices for both primary and secondary plant construction possibilities. But it's the secondary treatment facility that's drawing the most controversy. There are basically two site choices.

A northern suburb of Boston, Winthrop's Deer Island, is one reluctant candidate for the site. The island already is home to the largest of Boston's two operating primary sewage treatment facilities. That's viewed as grounds for building another plant there, says Edward Ionata, public participation coordinator for the EPA under a subcontract with Barry Lawson Associates Inc.

But Winthrop residents feel they have hosted more than their share of unwanted regional facilities, including neighboring Logan airport; a correctional facility on Deer Island; and the present treatment plant, which periodically pollutes Winthrop beaches with raw sewage.

``One thing that worries a lot of people is that they've got tankers of chlorine being driven through residential neighborhoods to go out to the [present] treatment plant,'' Mr. Ionata says.

The second alternative under consideration, Boston Harbor's Long Island, is equally unsatisfactory to many environmentalists and city officials, including Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn. Although legislative action has yet to be taken, the island has been slated for preservation as part of the Boston Harbor Islands State Park recreation project.

Long Island is the only Boston Harbor island accessible by automobile, but its wetlands and small barrier beaches are virtually uninhabited. The Long Island Hospital, which also doubles as a shelter for a percentage of the city's homeless population, is cited as another reason for rejecting the island as a treatment-plant site.

``There are groups opposed to all the options,'' says Ionata. The EPA and the Water Resources Authority want the site that will best withstand lawsuits, ``because no matter where they go, they're going to get sued.''

Former Massachusetts Gov. Francis W. Sargent, chairman of a task force appointed by Gov. Michael Dukakis to study the Boston Harbor cleanup problem, agrees. ``No way that you slice it, is it going to be other than chaotic. I think the positive thing is that finally people realize that this is a terribly serious situation.

``I think Boston Harbor can be cleaned up,'' Mr. Sargent says. ``It will take a long time and a lot of money, but it could be a wonderful asset.'' -- 30 --

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