Environmental groups work to improve Mystic River
By Vladimir Shvorin / malden@...
Thu Dec 24, 2009, 02:16 AM EST
MALDEN - The Mystic River Watershed Collaborative has recently enlisted the help of Tri-City Community Action Program to address issues pertaining to the Mystic RiverÕs improvement.
Tri-Cap, an anti-poverty agency operating in Malden, Medford and Everett, recently appointed Nick Cohen to assume the role of environmental justice community organizing coordinator as part of the project. The Malden River is one of many Mystic River tributaries; others include the Aberjona River, Alewife Brook, Chelsea Creek, Island End River, Malden River, Mill Creek and Spot Pond Brook.
ÒThis collaborative was formed in 2008 with seven organizations to address the Mystic River watershed,Ó explained Cohen. ÒThese groups were already doing some work on an individual level. They were working in their own backyard, though. I think the goal was to get all of these groups together and see if they could work in this collaborative format.Ó
With more than 500,000 people living within the 76 square miles of The Mystic River watershedÕs confines, it is the most densely populated watershed in Massachusetts. Years of industrialization have polluted the water and surrounding areas of the river, particularly in the lower regions near Boston Harbor.
Cohen expressed optimism that Tri-CAP will be able to use its expertise in anti-poverty community endeavors to specifically target vulnerable river locations.
ÒThe idea is that Tri-CAP will use its abilities to work on behalf of these sometimes ignored and needy communities,Ó he said. ÒI think whatÕs exciting about this is that everyone has experience in different areas [in the collaborative]. The idea is that Tri-CAP will hopefully use this to improve the communities it works with.Ó
Though it runs underground through downtown Malden, the Malden River is a prime concern for Cohen and the organization he represents. He voiced issues regarding water quality within the river, and offered measures to reverse years of contamination and neglect.
ÒOutreach would be the biggest general buzzword I would use, as far some specific tactics weÕre going to employ,Ó said Cohen, referring to the Malden River. ÒWeÕre planning on talking with citizens and seeing what theyÕre interested in; working with government officials; going door-to-door; working with citizen taskforces. I think it comes down to what people are interested in. One thing that I believe is unique to us is that weÕre not just trying to tell people what to do. Instead, weÕre reaching out to the community for input.Ó
Malden River is a tributary of the Mystic River. It was put underground in the early 20th century. And when Malden Town Hall went in the 60s and 70s, more of it was put underground. The issue now is that water quality issues exist; however, itÕs difficult to get people interested in a river that isnÕt seen everyday.
Antonio Amaya, executive director of Everett-based environmental group La Comunidad, said that his organization became involved with the collaborative in order to use it as a gateway for change. Reaching directly to the Latin American community around Everett and other neighboring cities, La Comunidad has ramped up their efforts since joining the watershed collaborative, and plans to make this a trend in the upcoming year.
ÒFor us, itÕs important to get our face out there in the community,Ó said Amaya. ÒTo promote issues important to us like environmental justice, specifically in the Mystic River watershed, is important to us as well. As an agency, we would like to educate our community about the Mystic River, its tributaries around the region and what we can do to clean it up. I believe together we can have a voice and make a change.Ó
EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association, an organization that has been involved with the collaborative since its inception, placed great value in MRWAÕs awareness initiatives within local communities.
ÒWeÕre very pleased to be working with other environmental activists and community groups,Ó said Khalsa. ÒOne of our hopes is that our experience of 30 years with issues surrounding the Mystic River Ñ and working to restore and promote the beauty of the river Ñ will provide some assistance to community organizations such as La Comunidad. We have expanded our staff and increased our activism to do this. Our objective is to support the efforts of communities and community groups as they deepen their outreach and participate in advocacy.Ó