Island End River Unearthed in a Parking Lot

Deep into Everett’s industrial landscape off of Market Street lies a typical, expansive asphalt parking lot, and now, a river runs through it.

It’s not often that a river is unearthed from what has been generations of industrial wasteland, but that’s exactly what has happened this month as about 500 feet of the previously underground Island End River has been “daylighted” – freeing itself from a failing underground culvert and creating a brand new, environmentally friendly stream that will drastically improve flooding problems in the southern half of the city.

By Monday of this week, the stream had been opened up and was flowing freely through the area. The restored channel is 80 feet wide and about 15 feet deep.

The project has been in the making for years upon years, but was recently unlocked in a public-private partnership between the City, state, federal government and The Davis Companies – a private developer that purchased the Boston Market Terminal in 2019 and committed to taking on a very expensive replacement of the underground portion of the culvert. That underground phase will come later, and in cooperation with Chelsea, but the current daylighting project is nearly finished and has quickly transformed an area that seemed unredeemable.

“We have removed the old failing culvert and unearthed the Island End River with an open swale that is reinforced to help reduce flooding frequency upstream and to restore the site for an ecological improvement of the environment and provide a corridor for species to come up the river,” said Zach Chornyak, an engineer with Tighe and Bond, who has long consulted with the City on proposed improvements to the stream. “The daylighting is really the first major piece of investment to the whole Market Street improvement project.”

This first phase of the overall project is about to wrap up next week, and it’s quite a visual improvement. City Environmental Planner Tom Philbin said the project is just one aspect of Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s overall plan to improve the City’s environmental resources – particularly its streams, waterways and waterfront.

“The real ecological benefit here is whenever you create pervious surfaces where rainwater can trickle through or into, it’s far better than impervious surfaces like asphalt,” said Philbin. “The key here is it was this hidden pipe and all kinds of contaminants were down there and now it’s daylighted and sunlight hits it and that will kill bacteria in the stormwater that flows into this. It’s also huge for resiliency because of the increased capacity for stormwater to enter in and flow through the new stream.”

Philbin pointed out that about 60 percent of the city’s runoff empties into the Island End, and up until now, when large flows entered the system, the failed culvert could not handle the flows and it caused major flooding. That should all change, he said.

Chornyak said part of the process in permitting the daylighting project came through working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Conservation Commission. Both have required extensive plantings on the banks of the new stream – something that will incredibly change the landscape in the former parking lot.

The new landscape buffer along the stream will include planting of willow trees and button bush. That will help stabilize the bank, improve aesthetics, and create potential habitat for wildlife.

“It’s impossible to bring back what was down there in the past, but what we’re doing is presenting a new vision and restore it to some semblance of what it was,” he said. “We want to build it for people and for water species. This is going to make a difference down there because it radically altars the City’s landscape there and I think you’ll see more change there in the years to come.”

The Island End River was recently upgraded by the U.S. EPA in 2020 from a grade of ‘F’ to a grade of ‘B-minus.’ It is believed the completed project on Market Street will only further improve the water quality.

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