Veto of Neponset cleanup funds puzzles activists

Gov. Deval Patrick's veto of $12 million for the cleanup of the lower Neponset River has left activists puzzled and hopeful that lawmakers will move to restore the money. The funds were meant to be part of a $1.7 billion bond bill that Patrick signed in August. In a press release announcing the signing, there was no mention of the Neponset veto or any others.

"We're still not sure what happened," said Steve Pearlman, advocacy director of the Neponset River Watershed Association. Activists still feel they didn't get an adequate explanation of the veto, but have received assurances from Patrick administration officials that they are still committed to the project. Patrick's environment undersecretary, Phil Griffiths, responded to supporters, saying various state agencies are cooperating with a Citizens Advisory Committee to evaluate options for restoration of the river. "We look forward to the results of that process, and pledge to give full consideration to the recommendations that come out of that process," he wrote. "At that time, we will explore all of the federal and state funding sources that might be appropriate for the project."

Pearlman said he takes Patrick administration officials at their word and notes that other funds from the $1.7 billion bond bill could be used, but the project has to compete with others in the five-year borrowing bill. "There is money if the governor has the will to do it," Pearlman said.

Activists are also hopeful that lawmakers, who are worried about a potential economic crisis with a $1 billion hole in the newly-passed state budget, may override the veto if they decide to come back into formal session later this fall. The funds would go towards cleaning up the river of toxic chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.