Walsh lays out his vision for Long Island
‘This is about saving someone’s life,’ mayor says
BOSTON MAYOR MARTY WALSH took a police boat full of reporters and photographers out to Long Island on Wednesday afternoon to try to show them what he sees there.
Amid a ghost town of 18 buildings that have been largely vacant since October 2014 and cut off from the mainland since the unsafe Long Island Bridge was torn down in 2015, Walsh sees the potential for a substance abuse recovery campus like no other in the country.
To make it happen, however, he needs to rebuild the bridge, which would reconnect Long Island to Moon Island, which in turn is connected to the Squantum section of Quincy by a causeway. The bridge design is complete and Walsh has secured $92 million in city funds to build it. What he needs now is to complete the permitting process and fend off court challenges from Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, who opposes the construction of a new bridge.
“The people of Squantum that are concerned about traffic, I understand that,” Walsh says on a walk around the island. “But this is not going to be the Southeast Expressway. There will be people working out here and people coming out here, but I don’t envision traffic jams up all the way up to Quincy Shore Drive and over the Neponset Bridge. It won’t be that way. You’re talking 500 people living here and maybe 100 to 150 working here. That’s not a lot of traffic. This isn’t a shopping mall where you’re coming and buying and leaving the same day. This is a destination point for people to get into recovery.”
Walsh says a ferry running between Boston and Long Island won’t work, even though that’s how Camp Harborview, which shuttles students on and off the island during the summer months, operates.
The mayor wants a bridge connecting the island
to the mainland, probably because some heavy equipment may be needed when his recovery campus is being remodeled and rebuilt. His fire commissioner, Joseph Finn, also says a bridge is needed in case of a fire. The fire station on the island, currently shuttered, needs a bridge and the mainland backup it would provide in case of an emergency, Finn says.. “There’s no other way to get public safety resources here,” he says.
Walsh said he intends to build and assemble pieces of the bridge in Boston and then float them out to Long Island for installation. He has also promised not to allow any major new development on the island.
For Walsh, Long Island is clearly personal. He talks at length about his own struggle with alcoholism and recounts how he used to come out to Long Island every other Sunday to meet with people there going through recovery. For Boston’s mayor, supporting the recovery effort trumps all other concerns.
“I respect the elected establishment in Quincy, but this is bigger than me and them. This is about saving someone’s life,” he says. “We have a heroin epidemic. We have a fentanyl epidemic. Crystal meth is coming here. The response to this is better treatment, better care, and that’s what we’re creating here. This will be a model that people across the country will be looking at.”
Walsh has been taking heat for the addicts and homeless people encroaching on the South End. He says a recovery campus on Long Island would help ease that problem.
“In fairness to people in the South End, they’ve had enough. They’re overburdened with programs,” he says. “When you think about the location of a program, this is the perfect location. It’s a therapeutic location, if you will, on the harbor away from the community. It’s a safe place to be. It allows people to get their life back together.”
Walsh says Long Island would be a 500-bed regional facility, open to anyone, not just residents of Boston.“Everyone thinks of the epidemic as Melnea and Mass,” he says in a reference to the area plagued by addicts and homeless people around Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue. “But I’m looking at a bunch of reporters here. I guarantee you one of you if not all of you have a family member that’s struggling or somebody you know who is struggling, and you’re like, how do I get that person into recovery. It’s the person living in a house in Wellesley. It’s the person living in a house in West Roxbury. It’s not just for Melnea and Mass.”
Walsh is convinced his plan for the island is the right way to go. “This is going to save lives. This is going to save families. This is going to save a lot of people. And that’s why this is going to happen,” he says. “The question was asked earlier, what if we lose. That’s not an option.”