Port Norfolk park dream gets $7m boost in bond bill

Up to $7 million would be provided for the cleanup of an abandoned Port Norfolk lot under an environment-focused borrowing bill lawmakers are attempting to get to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk this week. The funds would go towards a long-awaited revamp of the blighted 14-acre area, where chemical levels were discovered to be lower than expected in the waterfront soil. The site's best-known occupants were the Shaffer Paper company.

"This is something that is a long time coming, and it'll provide opportunity to clean it up and create waterfront public space," said state Sen. Jack Hart.

Mary McCarthy, head of the Port Norfolk Civic Association, said the community has been waiting 30 years for movement on the project.

"We want our park," she said.

The neighborhood has a subcommittee to tackle the next steps for the park after its cleanup and work with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns the property.

Neighbors have expressed interest in seeing a pine grove, a stone-dust path, a lookout, a "tot-lot," a playground, a promenade and a small boat dock.

The parcel has also been the site of a lumber yard, a metal fabricating company and a manufacturer of wooden tubs and drums.

In the 1850s, the area, marshland at the time, was filled in with coal ash.

Preliminary findings unveiled by state conservation officials in January showed that chemicals levels, the result of the previous occupants, are at 4 parts per million. The chemicals include elevated metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Had there been higher levels, the federal Environmental Protection Agency would have needed to step in, costing the project more money and bureaucratic red tape.

Previous attempts to include funding for the cleanup have failed, as local other parks, such as Pope John Paul II Park and the Neponset II Park on Granite Avenue, have drawn funds.

Local politicians have estimated the project could be done in three years.

The Senate signed off on the bond bill (S 2848) on Tuesday night, loading it up with amendments for earmarks. It remained unclear as of that night whether one of the additions was $12 million for the restoration of the lower Neponset River. The Senate sped through about 180 amendments.

Environmental advocates, including the Neponset River Watershed Association, have been pushing for the amendment, which would fund the removal of PCBs from the Neponset River's sediments.

Senators said the bill, covering a broad scope of environmental projects, amounts to $1.7 billion in capital funds for environmental and clean energy needs, with much of the money going towards land protection and about $325 million for state parks and rebuilding infrastructure.

The bill now goes to a special committee made up of House and Senate members who will hash out the final version to be sent to the governor's desk.

Lawmakers have until the end of Thursday to approve the final version, when formal sessions for the year are brought to an end, in order for legislators to return to their districts for the election season.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.