The project, called “costly and redundant” by MWRA’s longest-serving board member John Carroll, has been controversial from the start, not only because of its unprecedented wetland impacts, but its siting in one of the most scenic and visible parts of the century-old Reservation. In 1997 it was opposed by late MDC Reservations and Historic Sites Director Brian Broderick, who said it would cause “significant impact and long-term disruption” and demanded that it be moved to a less damaging location. Last November Quincy’s representative on the MWRA Board of Directors voted against the bid award but was overridden. MWRA Executive Director Fred Laskey has said “92 percent of the project benefits Quincy.”
MWRA’s insistence on obtaining an unparalleled exemption from the long-standing no net loss policy caused the project to become much more expensive than it might have been otherwise, as Laskey admitted at a statehouse hearing in 2006, when he said that the tanks had been originally budgeted at $20 million, and that the agency had already spent more on delays and litigation than it would have cost to replace the wetlands.
The now-drained reservoir was built by damming 16-acre Twinbrook Swamp in 1951 and has not been used since 1981. It was the largest body of fresh open water in Quincy. In 2001 Camp, Dresser, and McKee found that it held some of the cleanest water in eastern Massachusetts, comparable only to White Pond in Concord and Long Pond in Plymouth, and clear enough to support vegetation across its entire bottom despite a maximum depth of 35 feet. It was popular with hikers, and Reservation trail maps recommended its perch, bass, and pickerel to anglers beginning in the 1980’s.
It will be replaced by two cylindrical ten-million gallon concrete tanks, each 43 feet high and 250 feet in diameter. The giant mound of dirt covering them will block views of the adjacent ridgeline. The project is the largest construction in the Reservation since interstates 95 and 93 were completed forty years ago. The Blue Hills Reservation, a historical masterpiece of park-making, was originally acquired with public money over a century ago in order to preserve natural scenery for public use and enjoyment.
A 1999 MWRA report said that the tank project could not succeed unless it achieved community support, incurred reasonable costs, and caused minimal environmental disruption. It failed miserably on all three counts, and is going forward only because MWRA does not consider itself accountable to those who pay its bills. We regret that Governor Patrick did not see fit to lend a hand to ourselves, our many supporters, or our elected representatives, and help us prevent the Blue Hills Reservation from becoming the place where our state’s proud tradition of wetlands protection was tossed aside in favor of government arrogance and stupidity.