Beaches get $2 million; now looking for 'friends'

Against a backdrop of eroding sandcastles on Revere Beach Aug. 1, Governor Deval Patrick announced $2 million in new funding for 19 metropolitan beaches from Nahant to Hull, including three in Dorchester. More beach benefits are in the works on Beacon Hill, but advocates say reviving Dorchester's beaches will also require friends.

Currently, Savin Hill Beach has the Friends of Savin Hill Shores to mind its sands and organize a clean-up once a year. But Malibu and Tenean Beaches are left to fend for themselves.

"The main thing I got out of meeting with the governor was that it's a new day in the State House, it's just beginning," said Rosanne Foley, an environmental health advocate living in Dorchester who sat on the Metropolitan Beach Commission. "The beaches [are] really starting to get into people's consciousness, but we still need a friends group. I don't think it's best to have individual groups for individual beaches. We need to have a Dorchester-wide voice."

According to Bruce Berman of Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, new friends groups have shown up for Constitution Beach in East Boston and Wollaston Beach in Quincy. Others have been around longer, like the Revere Beach Partnership, which recently hosted a sandcastle festival.

The final budget, said Wendy Fox, a spokesperson for the DCR, designates $1 million to payroll new maintenance staff, including six regional beach managers. Each will manage one to four beaches. The other $1 million is earmarked for purchasing new equipment such as beach sifters and solar-powered, trash-compacting garbage cans.

"Exactly where it's all going to go is still being determined," said Fox. "But those beaches in Dorchester and South Boston are very important."

"These are not idle promises," said Berman. "They're going to have new sand sanitizers and new personnel. Each beach will have a manager responsible for it. When there's a sense of ownership, there's an incentive to do a better job."

Patrick also directed new DCR commissioner Richard Sullivan to conduct a "top to bottom review" of the agency in terms of how well personnel and organizational structures are performing the task of improving parks and programming.

"Our metropolitan beaches are vital state assets that provide enjoyment to millions of beachgoers, and they deserve year-round attention," said Patrick in a prepared statement.

The DCR's summer maintenance schedule is now posted at mass.gov/dcr. Litter removal and trash barrel pick up are a daily Dorchester beach chore according to the schedule, sand sanitizing is done once or twice a week.

"We plan to be accountable," said Fox. "We have a phone line with real people answering it, our community relations line." The number, said Fox, is 617-626-4973.

The new funding falls short of the $3.3 million suggested by the commission's report, released in February, but Foley and other members are happy for the increase. The report compiled research, public feedback, and budget analysis and suggested administrative changes as well as more funding.

To affect those changes, state Senator Jack Hart, co-chair of the commission, has sponsored Senate bill 503. It proposes the creation of a non-profit within the DCR, a specific metro beach fund, and a metro beach advisory board. Parking and concession fees from the beaches would add to the fund if the legislation passes, and the non-profit would be able to solicit private donations.

During commission hearings, residents suggested improvements to the bathhouse at Malibu Beach and youth and community programming along the shore. These and other problems are where Hart, Berman and Foley say a friends group could step in.

"With the announcement of the funding, the [commission] report and the need for programming, now is a really great time," said Foley. She said an informal network of institutions, yacht clubs and individuals along the shore already exists. "We have a nugget, a core group, but we definitely have to expand it."

Another larger "friends" group, the commission board upon which Foley and Berman sit, may stick around as well. According to Fox, it will continue to check in on the DCR's progress with metro beaches.

"The commission's not going away that easily," said Berman. "We've been asked to continue informally. We'll be holding a public meeting in the fall to assess how the DCR's been doing this season."

Rosemary Powers, spokesperson for Hart's office, said the meeting would include all 19 beaches and might be scheduled for September, location to be announced.

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