Photo by Doc Searls
Mayor Wu’s promise of halting the construction of the Long Island Bridge generates cautious optimism
Following a tumultuous and historic election, Boston’s new Mayor Michelle Wu will start off her term facing innumerable challenges as well as opportunities. With political fervor receding, anticipation is growing over the fate of the proposed bridge to Long Island and its 500-bed hospital complex, formerly a homeless shelter and rehabilitation facility.
The bridge project, a once-critical component of then-Mayor Martin Walsh’s plan to address the region’s substance use crises, has long been a source of contention with neighboring Quincy. Though Long Island itself falls within Boston’s borders, the foot of the bridge that would first extend to Moon Island before extending all the way to Long Island and the aforementioned services is in Quincy.
In her campaign, Wu vehemently opposed rebuilding the bridge at all, suggesting a more immediate plan was necessary.
“I want to make sure we’re taking action in the four-year mayoral term that I am seeking, not for a bridge project that is out of that frame,” Wu said in the final debate. Referencing the dire situation on Melnea Cass Boulevard, the candidate added, “Our resources can be used much more urgently, with much more impact, for folks at Mass and Cass and across our city … if we are looking to reactivate ferry service[s] while we’re moving quickly to retrofit supportive housing on city property.”
While projected to be substantially more expensive in comparison—approx. $330 million over the estimated 75-year life span of the proposed $150 million bridge—exclusively using ferries carries some nonmonetary incentives.
Notably, the neighboring city of Quincy would likely drop its longstanding lawsuit against Boston in opposition to the project. As of publication, the suit cost the city of Boston approximately $274,000 in legal fees, per a public records request.
“If the next Boston mayor did not move forward with the construction of the Long Island Bridge, Quincy would have no further reason to pursue legal action,” Quincy solicitor James Timmins said shortly before the election. “The bridge construction is the only matter that Quincy opposes. Quincy has always supported the reopening of the hospital campus on Long Island.”
Timmins, one of three attorneys representing Quincy in the case, didn’t endorse a candidate for Boston mayor at the time. Nor did Quincy’s mayor, Thomas Koch, who echoed Timmins’ enthusiasm for alternatives to the bridge and reopening the Long Island Hospital.
The suit, fast approaching its third year and costing the city of Quincy at least $535,100 in legal fees per a public records request, also called for an environmental impact review (EIR) due to anticipated traffic disrupting the neighborhood of Squantum. While the case itself may be dropped if Wu keeps her promise, the Quincy City Council maintains its push for an EIR—albeit with additional reasons.
On Oct. 18, Quincy Councilor William Harris introduced and unanimously passed Order 2021-100. The resolution reaffirmed the body’s support of the Muhheconneuk Intertribal Committee on Deer Island (MICDI), a collective of Native American governments whose ancestors were put into concentration camps in Boston Harbor during winter 1675 amid King Philip’s War. Long Island is one of at least three islands to have had a camp.
“Native Americans were here long before anybody, seem to have been treated the worst, and continue to be treated horribly,” Harris said. “There should be a study to make sure that any remains out on that island are discovered and treated properly.”
The Massachusetts Historical Commission conducted a study and subsequently approved the project. However, MICDI members haven’t seen sufficient evidence that the bridge—or, indeed, any additional construction—wouldn’t disturb potential remains on the island.
Wu, meanwhile, pledged in June that she would order an EIR prior to any construction on the island.
Regardless of the candidate or policy, the resolution also proposed a three-way partnership to manage Long Island between the Quincy City Council, the MICDI governments, and Boston’s next mayor. The proposed administration would include decisions about the construction and other projects that would take place within its boundaries.
“What happens four years from now if something changes? What happens if [Wu] moves on to bigger and better things?” Harris asked. “The Native Americans and the city of Quincy are reaching out with an olive branch with the city of Boston.”
Harris confirmed Wu’s campaign received a copy of the proposal but had yet to hear back. It’s unclear if Wu reviewed it.
In addition to the expressly stated policies, the resolution seeks to forge a strong relationship with the city of Boston while addressing the tribal community’s concerns. The MICDI governments’ relationships with previous administrations have varied greatly but were particularly tumultuous during the Walsh years.
“This initiative is an intergovernmental initiative between governments seeking [and] expressing goodwill, and hoping to receive goodwill in return,” said Gary McCann, a tribal policy advisor for the MICDI and Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck tribe. “A new administration comes in with clean hands. But that doesn’t mean the hands of the city of Boston are clean.”
The Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck tribe, represented by McCann, has long sought to intervene in the suit between Quincy and Boston.
McCann commends Wu’s commitment to an EIR but contends that it’s only one aspect of the necessary measures the city of Boston must take to come to terms with its past.
“How do you treat former concentration camp sites?” McCann said. “What is the model that Boston is going to use? Right now, the model Boston uses is denial. They’re not going to be a model with an EIR alone. The EIR is a step in the right direction, but as a stopgap measure.”
The MICDI isn’t the only Native presence asking for an EIR, either.
The North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), a nonprofit organization, works with tribal communities in and around Boston by providing services and support. While unaffiliated with the push from the MICDI and the Quincy City Council, NAICOB works with some of the MICDI governments and supports their efforts—including the EIR.
“Even within the scope of Massachusetts, you have 30-some-odd tribes that are not all here—but they all have a vested interest in the history, cultural resources and human remains that are,” said Jean-Luc Pierite, NAICOB president and director.
“When it comes time to support a tribe, like the Chaubunagungamaug asserting its right, NAICOB is willing to work with that government to support and do whatever we can to support their interests,” Pierite added. “Without a very explicit policy stance or being 100% for the environmental impact review, I think that’s much less than what we’re looking for.”
Though neither the MICDI governments nor NAICOB opposed the bridge or hospital, both McCann and Pierite felt their calls for an EIR were interpreted as resistance. Ironically, NAICOB met with the Boston Public Health Commission in the hopes of having indigenous peoples’ traditions implemented once the hospital opened.
Despite this, Pierite feels NAICOB’s support of the EIR strained its relationship with the city of Boston. The strain was reflected, he feels, in the Boston Public Health Commission gradually ceasing discussions altogether.
“[We were] talking about when the recovery campus does get developed—because there is a disproportionate impact in our community—how can we actually consult towards culturally relevant services. That didn’t necessarily pan out anywhere,” Pierite said. “There’s a lot of different conversations that we’ve had with [Walsh] administration officials, and the tensions did get in the way.”
While quick to note the Janey administration made significant strides over its predecessors, particularly with the recent signing of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day executive order, the issue of the bridge remained. Nevertheless, assuming Wu keeps her word, Pierite hopes its resolution would allow NAICOB to focus on other areas of concern to the Native community.
Until Wu publicly restates her position on the EIR, and after that follows through with her promise of retiring the idea of the bridge altogether, Pierite and McCann’s optimism is somewhat curtailed. Neither was personally told of Wu’s EIR pledge, despite both reaching out and Pierite having communications with her team. The only documented instance of her support came from prior reporting.
The Wu campaign declined to comment and did not indicate if she still supports the EIR or recognizes the sites as concentration camps.
“We hope that the promises made would be promises implemented, right?” McCann said. “Political leaders sometimes make pledges in campaigns, and when they get in office, they may choose a different route. But it is a legacy that the city does need to face and address … that [concentration camps are] just not right at any time—whether there’s a campaign going on or not.”
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