Last week I was startled when I turned to my morning newspaper and learned that the Boston 2024 Olympic Organizing Committee had proposed Squantum Point Park on the shores of the Neponset and the site of the recently completed Quincy RiverWalk trail as the location for a world wide beach volleyball competition.
My initial reaction came in two simultaneous extremes: “Oh no!” and “Wow, what an opportunity!”
The “Oh no!” impulse came from the fact that Squantum Point is a sensitive wildlife habitat, an unusual floodplain forest which is perpetually stunted by saltwater and flooding into a dense shrubby habitat that attracts an extraordinary diversity of bird life, including some 200 resident and migratory species.
Because of this—as well as its value for passive recreation, freshwater wetlands, beach, shellfish beds and fascinating aviation history—Squantum Point Park was included in the state designated Neponset River Estuary Area of Critical Environmental Concern or “ACEC.”
ACEC status is given to areas where multiple kinds of environmental, recreational and cultural resources overlap, giving an area regional significance and earning it an added level of from state environmental agencies. The Watershed Association successfully nominated the Estuary for this special status in the 1990’s.
The “Wow, what an opportunity!” reaction came from the opportunity to put the Neponset, referred to by many as the “hidden river,” on a global stage, and perhaps see the Olympics leave behind some improvements to the park that would be a long term benefit to the community.
And after all, Squantum Point Park includes a large parking lot (without proper stormwater management controls) which could be utilized with little environmental impact.
As I delved into the announcement, fact sheet and conceptual renderings provided by Boston 2024, I came away with more questions than answers:
- With the current parking taken up by a stadium for 20,000 spectators, where will the parking be?
- What exactly is the footprint of the event, both in the short term and the long term? Will vegetation that provides the site’s habitat value be removed?
- Volleyball courts are shown on top of the existing meadow and path system out to the point, which was designed to echo the historic layout of runways on the site. Will these be left behind or will the pathways be restored?
- A “shoreline restoration” is mentioned but what are the details?
- Will the stormwater management system be brought up to modern standards to keep pollution from being discharged to the harbor?
- Will there be changes or improvements to Commander Shea Boulevard and other roadways?
What can be done to showcase and improve the river as part of the event?
- How does the proposal align with the recommendations of the Neponset River Estuary ACEC Natural Resource Management Plan which guides the management of the ACEC particularly on public land?
- Will the State Department of Conservation and Recreation who owns the site, and which just lost another 13% of their staff to the state retirement offer after years of cutbacks be able to manage and maintain what is left after the Olympics are long gone?
From reading the impressive volume of media coverage of the announcement (in the Globe, the Globe, the Herald, the Ledger, the Sun, WBUR and the Dorchester Reporter), it seems that, like me, many others also had mixed reactions to the proposal and lots of questions.
The Ledger article and the Boston 2024 Facebook page mention a community meeting on July 9, but give no details on a time or location.
The Watershed Association has no position on the Boston Olympic bid in general, but we look forward to learning much more about the proposal and evaluating its environmental implications once we have some detailed information.
Ian Cooke, Executive Director – June 26, 2015