Quincy Residents, Officials in No Mood to Build Bridges with Boston

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Long Island sits in Boston Harbor, not far from the Dorchester and Quincy coasts.  A mile-and-a-quarter long by a quarter-mile wide, it consists of 225 acres.  That makes Long Island roughly twice the size of Suffolk Downs, the old racetrack in East Boston and Revere fated shortly to become its own boomtown of offices, apartments, condos, stores and restaurants.

Boston owns Long Island but access to it by land has only ever been possible through the City of Quincy.  Vehicles traveled through the populous peninsula of Squantum, in North Quincy, across a causeway to Moon Island, and then over a two-lane, 3,000-foot-long steel bridge to Long Island.

One day in October, 2014, inspectors found the bridge to be unsound and immediately ordered it closed.  Decades of exposure to the harbor's salty air had corroded its steel beyond the point of repair; five months later, the span had to be demolished.

Boston was operating two vital, heavily subscribed programs on Long Island, for treating those with substance abuse disorders and for housing the homeless,  These were shut down in a matter of hours and moved to temporary quarters in Boston proper -- or what were thought to be temporary.

We are now in Year 5 of the Long Island shutdown and the plan by the administration of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to rebuild the bridge and re-establish the much-needed drug recovery and temporary housing programs there is moving at the speed of a Galapagos tortoise.

The problem is Quincy doesn't want the bridge rebuilt and is doing everything legally and procedurally possible to slow and ultimately stop the rebuilding effort.  From the beginning, Squantum residents were united in opposing the new bridge. Their resolve seems only to have strengthened in recent seasons as they pulled off several successful stalling actions.

Fearing that re-opened (and inevitably expanded) programs on Long Island would lead to intensified use and more vehicle traffic than ever, Quincy is taking the position that (a) the bridge should never be rebuilt, and (b) the only acceptable way to administer and support the island-based programs in the future is via ferry boats running back and forth from Boston to the island.

The bridge dispute will take an unanticipated turn in April when Quincy hosts a group from the North American Indian Center of Boston, which seeks to halt any developments on the Boston Harbor islands that could disturb or desecrate the graves of Native Americans.  Quincy will be exploring how this particular Native American cause could strengthen their case against the bridge and vice versa.
Enlisting allies is standing operating procedure when you're slugging it out in the public arena.

Back in the mid-Sixties, I was lucky enough to find myself on many hot summer days on the waters of Boston Harbor, thanks to the grandfather of a good friend of mine, who had a 44-foot cabin cruiser.  He would take his granddaughter and a group of her friends, including me, for trips to the islands, most of which were abandoned and little used at the time.  We would often anchor for the day off Rainsford Island and swim off the boat.  We'd also take a 12-foot rowboat, a tender, to the shore and explore Rainsford, which had once housed a quarantine hospital.  There are graves all over Rainsford.

One day, another boy and I took the tender, equipped with two sets of oars, from Rainsford to Long Island.  I'm not sure of the distance, but it was a long haul in a small boat, too much open water to have been safely traversed by two knuckleheads from Revere.  (While on the other side of Rainsford, away from the gaze of our captain, we decided on the spur to go for it; we did not ask for permission.)

I still remember approaching the Long Island Bridge, its silver-painted beams gleaming in the invincible July sun, and pulling up to one of the concrete piers that formed its foundation in the sea.  I was impressed as much by the ingenuity that had produced such a beautiful but practical structure as by the immense height and length of the bridge and its impossibly elongated, graceful, arching shape.

Despite this warm memory, I'm ambivalent about building a new Long Island Bridge.  It's not that I don't grasp the need for and the urgency of the services that would be returned to the island with a new bridge.  It's that I treasure the unique allure of the Boston Harbor islands and the exhilaration that comes from setting foot upon them.  On these islands you feel that you can almost touch the Boston skyline.  At the same time, you are experiencing a different, primal world of ocean, wind, and sun.  You feel like you could be a thousand miles away from Boston.

Long Island without its much-needed facilities is a problem for the Boston of today. One hundred years from now, however,  a Long Island kept separate from the automobile and insulated from development pressures whose intensity we cannot begin imagine, could be a solution for every Bostonian driven occasionally mad by the metropolis.      

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