New Bedford Wants Rest of PCB Settlement Money

By Charis Anderson

NEW BEDFORD — City officials are pushing for the remaining funds in the New Bedford Harbor trust to be allocated to city projects, arguing that the money should be spent as close as possible to where the damage from the long-running contamination of the harbor occurred.
“The intent of this trust was to make sure that we begin to repair the damage that had been done,” Mayor Scott W. Lang said. “This last major funding round, I want to see the money infused into New Bedford.”
Of the $19.1 million expended from the trust to date, about a third has gone to projects in New Bedford or the harbor, according to Jack Terrill, a fish and wildlife administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.
The bulk of the money has been spent on projects outside the immediate harbor vicinity, such as $1.5 million to restore the tern habitat on islands off Marion and Gosnold and almost $500,000 on the restoration of a marsh in Nonquitt in South Dartmouth.
The New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council was established in 1992 with a $20.2 million settlement from electrical parts manufacturers who released toxic PCBs and heavy metals into New Bedford Harbor from the 1940s through the late 1970s.
In this final funding round, which was announced in January 2009, about $6 million will be distributed, according to Terrill, who is the council’s coordinator.
The city submitted three applications: a $6 million proposal to restore about 1½ miles of coastline along the upper harbor; a $1.1 million plan to remediate Palmers Island and an $800,000 project focused on the continued restoration of shellfish beds in the outer harbor, according to city officials.
“The citizens of New Bedford have been the recipient of the greatest injury of this pollution … and deserve, from my perspective, that the remaining dollars go toward projects that are in New Bedford,” said Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.
The riparian restoration project, which will include planting native vegetation along the shoreline and the construction of a walkway with a permeable surface, is the city’s priority, according to city officials.
In addition to the environmental benefits of the project — reintroducing vegetation to an area of the shoreline that has been denuded; improving the wildlife habitat; and reducing erosion along the shoreline — the project will give city residents access to that stretch of waterfront for the first time in decades, city officials said.
“The fact is connecting the people back to the river is a significant statement that the Harbor Trustee Council could do to say the damage that was done is being reversed,” said Lang, who noted he also wants additional funding for shellfish restoration.
The trustee council received 15 applications, including the city’s three projects, requesting a total of $24.5 million, Terrill said.
A draft environmental assessment of the projects is undergoing review, and an announcement of the council’s preliminary decision will be made once that review is complete, according to Terrill, who said he expects that to occur in the coming weeks.
The council’s decisions are governed by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, which states that the settlement funds must be used to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of the resources that were damaged.
“There are typically fewer opportunities for natural resource restoration projects in a working developed harbor,” wrote Terrill in an e-mail.
“The trustee council early on recognized that there may be limitations on what could be done in the immediate harbor considering that cleanup activities were going to occur for years to come,” he wrote.
The trustee council’s restoration plan states that any projects funded must not be undone or negatively affected by the ongoing remediation work in the harbor, according to Terrill.
Former Mayor John Bullard, who served as the NOAA trustee on the council during the 1990s, said there was an ongoing debate over whether to devote the money to where the injury occurred or to restore natural resources as close as possible to New Bedford.
“Everyone’s going to have their own opinion on that,” he said. “Personally, I would have weighted it more toward investing in the inner and outer harbor.”
Mark Rasmussen, executive director of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, said he agreed with the city that trust funds should be spent as close to where the damage happened as possible.
However, he said, “The pollution in the harbor doesn’t know municipal bounds.”
Projects such as the Marsh Island restoration and the acquisition of the Acushnet Sawmill property, although not located in New Bedford, benefit city residents as well, Rasmussen said.
The two projects for which the coalition is seeking funding from the harbor trust — a plan to restore wetlands and create a public trail system on the sawmill property, and a plan to purchase a 40-acre farm directly north of that property — also will benefit the city, he said.
March 04, 2010
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