Before the state seized the Shaffer Paper site in Port Norfolk in the 1980s, neighbors would chain themselves to chairs to block trucks from dumping hazardous waste at the 15-acre former marsh area next to their homes.
They successfully pushed the state to seize the contaminated land in 1986 and have since pushed for the land to be converted into public space.
Last week, after nearly three decades, state officials broke ground on the long-awaited park. The year-long, $4.25 million cleanup and rehabilitation project will be completed by the summer of 2016, transforming the former industrial site into a passive park that will serve as a key link in the Neponset River Trail, stretching from Castle Island to Hyde Park.
“All of the families on the Port at least kept it on the front burner, at least on the minds of people we elected,” said Jim Lyons, a Port Norfolk resident who lives adjacent to the site. “This is the only natural piece of land left on the Boston Harbor and anyone can come and enjoy it once the hazardous waste is removed. The only other thing I want to say is thank you.”
The state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation and local elected officials were on hand for the announcement and all gave credit to the Port Norfolk residents who lobbied for decades to see the project come to fruition.
“This project would not be happening without hard work, persistence, and special efforts of so many gathered here today,” said Jack Murray, the Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
They noted the work of Mary McCarthy, the Lyons family, the Tankles, the Mannons, and others for keeping the project at the forefront for elected officials. State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry said the many Port Norfolk constituents told her that the Shaffer Paper site was a priority when she ran for the senate seat in 2013.
“I think this project started when Steven Tankle was five,” joked City Councillor Frank Baker. “You can’t state it enough: it was more about the residents here.”
The parcel, on the water and bordering Pope John Paul II Park, was once used by lumber companies to load wood products onto the Old Colony Railroad. During that time, the site became contaminated by hazardous materials including chromium. The state seized the land by eminent domain in 1986 and has since invested $3 million in building demolition and environmental testing.
Funding for the cleanup will come from the DCR’s capital budget over the next two years.
“I hope you’ll spread the word for everyone that this is a park for everyone to come and enjoy,” Lyons said.