By Seth Daniel
With strong statements from Mayor Carlo DeMaria and two other neighboring mayors – Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke and Malden Mayor Gary Christianson – and a host of stakeholders along the Malden River, the pressure is on National Grid as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) continues to re-examine the waterways license for an equipment repair project along the river.
Though the Malden River has been forgotten for years, and the National Grid site that stretches along the waterfront between Malden and Everett has existed for more than 100 years, the River is now seen as more of a untapped resource, and during a public hearing at Everett City Hall on Thursday, Nov. 17, leaders and organizations from the three communities asked National Grid to restore access to the entire Malden River waterfront at its site.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria topped off the hearing, which included two representatives from the DEP and a short presentation from National Grid.
DeMaria said the Malden River was a place he was forbidden to go as a kid by his mother, as it was believed to be harmful.
“Times have changed though,” he said. “We have a crew team from our high school out there and other crew teams use it too. I want Everett families to have a waterfront that I was never allowed to go near as a child…My hope is we can work with National Grid again like we did with the bike path, along with our businesses and residents, to create a better RiverWalk…For too long, we have not been allowed to experience the sheer beauty of this River.”
Representatives from Mayor Christianson’s office and Mayor Burke’s office also read statements in support of expanding the walking path the full length of the National Grid property, which would go a long way to creating one, long unified Riverwalk.
“A big part of the River reaching its full potential is getting a pedestrian connection at the south of the National Grid site,” said Malden City Councilor Peg Cronin.
Added Everett State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this right, so it’s a very important time in our history. I want my children and my grandchildren and future generations to have this benefit.”
State Rep. Joe McGonagle also spoke in favor of expanding the public access, saying times have changed along the Malden River.
National Grid had applied earlier this year to consolidate several Chapter 91 waterways licenses for their site along the Malden River and to do some renovations and upgrades to equipment inside a fenced-in facility. That facility has existed there for more than 100 years, lawyers for National Grid said.
The site contains a major electrical substation that powers most of Everett with two branching lines – a 115 kV and a 23 kV. The project looks to upgrade the substation and two large transformers – along with the control house and protected coverings.
“This is an unusual situation for what is a minor project modification,” said Attorney T.J. Roskelley for National Grid.
As part of that project, to fulfill the public benefit requirement as part of a Chapter 91 process, National Grid had proposed to build a roughly 100 foot path to a small viewing platform that has been in existence – and to repair that platform.
However, with so much momentum along the Malden River now, many public officials and advocates are calling for National Grid to do more, as they believe the company should have been required to build a RiverWalk to give the public full access long ago.
“They’ve done tens of millions of dollars in upgrades,” said Pat Herron, executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA). “There have been 40 years of upgrades and nothing has been done to meet the public access needs. We could look at the costs to clean up the contamination. What is the cost to move off the property? What we’re only asking is really reasonable and that to prove public access all along the Malden River…Every other major river gets a great walkway and we get left out. Why Boston Harbor and the Charles River and why not the Malden River?”
Even heavy hitting environmental advocates, such as Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) President Brad Campbell, had the hearing on his radar. He said National Grid had denied access for generations, and now was the time to require them to open it up.
“National Grid does contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, which is a great thing,” he said. “The only think being asked here is to provide an in-kind contribution to these communities who have been shortchanged in getting access to this river…Rather than a consolidation of permits with an asterisk about public access, it’s about providing them with something that’s been closed off for more than a Century. The community’s call for a walkway is a modest one in our view.”
Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who represents the area in Everett, added written comments that the waterway connection was vital to his ward.
“I support continuing and expanding this very usable and pedestrian-friendly walk that has become vital in Ward Six as the public access to the Malden River has become for the first time in decades available to the general public in the very near future,” he said. “I have fully supported this master development plan since the beginning and look forward with full anticipation of this next step.”
Herb Nolan, of the Solomon Fund, said his organization has been critical over the years in developing a Master Plan for areas like the Charles River, and now they are ready to put resources into the Malden River. Working with National Grid on a Master Plan and on providing the RiverWalk is something they look forward to.
“This is a critical link in the Malden River,” he said. “Without it, you break up the continuity of the entire system.”
The National Grid permit had been sitting ready for approval when Mayor Carlo DeMaria and his administration heard about the process and called on the DEP to re-open the Chapter 91 process so that more people and municipalities could weigh in.
It was announced recently they would re-open the process and hold the public hearing in Everett.
The DEP is likely to render a decision in the next month or so.