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Harbor’s resurgence means jobs for city youth

Left to right: MWRA Deputy Director of Operations Marcis Kempe, essay contest winner Dennis Leahy and his teacher, Katherine Fogarty, Boston Latin Academy. The award was presented to Leahy during a ceremony on May 27 at Deer Island. Photo courtesy MWRALeft to right: MWRA Deputy Director of Operations Marcis Kempe, essay contest winner Dennis Leahy and his teacher, Katherine Fogarty, Boston Latin Academy. The award was presented to Leahy during a ceremony on May 27 at Deer Island. Photo courtesy MWRA

Editor’s Note: Dennis Leahy, a Boston Latin Academy senior from Dorchester, has won First Place in MWRA’s annual writing contest. The winning essays were chosen from over 600 entries received from cities and towns across the MWRA service area. The topic was “What a Clean Boston Harbor Means to Me.” This is Leahy’s winning essay.

About two years ago I began working as a deckhand for the Massachusetts Bay Lines Company.  Prior to my employment, I had known nothing about boats or the ocean.  I was clueless and uninterested by anything that the job had to offer. 

However, when I arrived at Rowes Wharf on my first day of work, I was mesmerized.  The sun was shining and the water was glistening.  Boston Harbor was bustling with dozens of boats coming in and going out.  Hundreds of people were wandering around the wharf for the sole purpose of viewing the very sight I was looking at.  So you might wonder what a clean Boston Harbor means to me.  A clean Boston Harbor means there is a healthy work environment for me.

Each day that we set sail was the same routine.  I narrated historical tours, scrubbed the boats, and watched traffic move in and out of the harbor.  Given the history of Boston Harbor, however, I valued my work surroundings.  Apparently in the early 19th century, as a result of increased population in Boston, the health of the harbor itself decreased.  In an attempt to rid excessive waste, raw sewage was pumped into the harbor through the Boston Main Drainage System.  I pictured what it would be like to work in such an atmosphere.  A swamp like ocean would constantly surround me, pulling off the dock everyday surrounded by water so dark that it appeared black.  The strong smell of the sea would be enriched with filth and waste making it almost unbearable to smell.  If that was the case I don’t believe I would even tolerate to work in such an environment.

Not much improved up through the 70s and 80s.  Boston Harbor had grown to have the reputation of the “filthiest in the nation.”  Conditions grew so bad that raw sewage had started to wash up on the shore.  This would mean that my job would consist of  spraying black gunk off the boats every time we docked, requiring more work, delaying tours, and creating longer hours of work.  I have enough on my hands already, and do not wish to have more on my “to do” list.  Eventually even swimming became prohibited in areas along the harbor.  I would like to know that if I fell into the water while cleaning the windows on the far side of the boat that I had at least a chance to keep myself away from bacteria.  Getting wet is already bad enough!

Many of the captains that I worked with told me firsthand about the previous conditions of the harbor.  Many of them had started at the same position I was in in the late 70s when they were teenagers.  They told me that giving tours of the Harbor became embarrassing. Historical tours of the waterfront, even out to the depths where whale watchers were held were losing interest from tourists due to the constant sight of trash and sewage floating around.  I have dealt with angry customers, and it is not something that I like to do.  I know that I would not like customers constantly nagging me for refunds just because they did not enjoy their sightseeing.  A clean harbor creates a happy customer, and a happy customer ensures that an employee like me remains happy.

Although I did not find my job to be too entertaining at first, I did grow to appreciate it.  A dirty Boston Harbor would mean a difficult job for me.  I would constantly be surrounded by atrocious smells and grotesque scenery.  A larger workload would be required of me.  A clean Boston Harbor ensures that I have an enjoyable job.  So what does a clean Boston Harbor mean to me?  It means that I can let loose and stare at the majestic sea when I’m faced with the worst of days on the job.