Kudos to Leslie Pond for an informative and well-researched spotlight article on the Muddy River Restoration Project in the March issue of The Fenway News. The “Thinking Global, Acting Local” feature includes an overview of Project goals and their complexities:
“The project is technically complex, adhering to specifications while maintaining free flow of the river to minimize impacts on river wildlife and ensuring that heavy equipment doesn’t damage the many healthy trees along the river’s banks. It’s also managerially complex, involving partners at the federal, state, and municipal levels.”
The article also provides a brief history of the MMOC, described by Kelly Brilliant (MMOC treasurer and Fenway Alliance co-executive director), as “a rare model for stewardship and oversight while ensuring public participation.”
As the Project’s end date draws closer, all the stakeholders encourage residents “to take in some of the new river views this spring from the Boylston Street Bridge or behind the Victory Gardens: ’The difference is amazing.’”
We invite you to read Leslie’s article in the March issue of The Fenway News or in its entirely here:
Thinking Global, Acting Local series
Leslie Pond, for The Fenway News
Have you noticed new vistas opening along the Muddy River in the past several months and wondered what’s going on behind the fences and when they’re coming down?
It’s all part of the Muddy River Flood Damage Reduction Phase 2 Construction Project, which started in 2018 along 3.5 miles of the Emerald Necklace between Leverett Pond in Brookline and Boylston Street in Boston.
Phase 1 construction and restoration from 2013 to 2016 brought part of the Muddy River back to life, removing the old Sears parking lot to reveal the river across from what’s now 401 Park. The area is named Justine Mee Liff Park in honor of the former Boston Parks Commissioner.
The Muddy River Restoration Project was developed in response to multiple floods in the area since a 1996 storm resulted in extensive flood damage to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Kenmore Square MBTA station, and many buildings. The floods in 1996 and 1998 alone caused an estimated $70 million in damages.
The nearly completed project is a major achievement: an approximately $70 million investment in climate resilience, environmental restoration, and historic preservation to reverse environmental degradation that occurred over decades due to lack of maintenance. The project has also been decades in the making, starting with community members who championed revitalization of the Emerald Necklace and Muddy River in the 1980s.
Top priorities for the Boston portion of Phase 2 along the Back Bay Fens and Riverway are: increasing the river’s flood#storage capacity by dredging between one to eight feet of sediment and restoring the historic shoreline by removing phragmites— an invasive species—and planting trees, shrubs, and other flora appropriate for the wetland environment and riparian area. The restoration is intended to align with landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision for the Emerald Necklace in the late 19th century.
The project is technically complex, adhering to specifications while maintaining free flow of the river to minimize impacts on river wildlife and ensuring that heavy equipment doesn’t damage the many healthy trees along the river’s banks. It’s also managerially complex, involving partners at the federal, state, and municipal levels.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose mission includes restoring degraded ecosystems, designed the project and oversees the construction being carried out by Charter Contracting. Federal funding covers much of the project; non-federal sponsors and funders are the Commonwealth, City of Boston, and Town of Brookline. The Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee (MMOC), established in 2003 by the Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs, is an all-volunteer committee that provides independent monitoring of the project and raises public awareness. The MMOC works to ensure that the project’s five major goals are met: flood-damage reduction, water-quality improvement, aquatic and riparian habitat enhancement, historic landscape rehabilitation, and best management practices implementation.
The MMOC has 12 voting members, six carried over from the precursor Emerald Necklace Citizens Advisory Committee and six representing advocacy organizations and cultural and academic institutions; non-voting members represent municipal and state agencies. “This is a rare model for stewardship and oversight while ensuring public participation,” explains Kelly Brilliant, MMOC treasurer and co-executive director of the Fenway Alliance. In addition, four subcommittees of non-member consultants—including technical experts—and a staff member support the MMOC.
Some of the many issues being addressed in ongoing work include plant health, water quality, and phragmites control.
Some plantings from Phase 1 did not remain healthy, and lessons from that phase are informing Phase 2 efforts, according to Tom Timmons, contracts manager at the Boston Parks & Recreation Department. These include better understanding of fluctuations in water levels, being more mindful of shade and water levels, changing approaches to mulching and overseeding, increasing ef#forts to identify and remove noxious weeds, and adapting pruning techniques.
The Muddy River’s water quality has a lot of room for improvement, having received a D-minus rating in 2021 from the Charles River Watershed Association and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Upgraded stormwater infrastructure is needed to filter out urban pollutants before runoff enters the river. Elisabeth Cianciola and Lisa Kumpf, co-chairs of the MMOC Water Quality Subcommittee, say water-quality measurements—including bacteria and nutrient levels—taken upon Phase 2 completion will help determine next steps.
Phragmites removal is important for the health of the river and riparian areas, and controlling phragmites growth requires ongoing intensive maintenance. After project completion this year, how long will our views remain phragmites-free?
“The phragmites will be monitored and treated as needed going forward. The areas where a majority of the phragmites were removed fall under a two-year warranty period with USACE, so we plan to work with them to establish a schedule for maintenance,” says Timmons of the Parks Department in an email.
As the tall construction fences come down, shorter “landscape protection” fences will remain in place for two years to delineate walking paths and give the new plantings time to become established. Construction fences along the Riverway have been removed, those between Ave. Louis Pasteur and the MFA are scheduled to come down in October, and those in the Back Bay Fens will stay up until the middle of next year, Timmons says.
After inspection to ensure the work meets project specifications, a BPRD project manager to be named will oversee maintenance contracts, which will go out for bid in late summer, says Timmons.
As Phase 2 wraps up, he encourages residents to take in some of the new river views this spring from the Boylston Street bridge or behind the Victory Gardens: “The difference is amazing.”
Leslie Pond lives in the West Fens.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PROJECT
- To learn more, visit www.muddyrivermmoc.org, and www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Projects-Topics/Muddy-River.
- To register for the Muddy River Restoration Project’s annual meeting, hosted by the MMOC at the MFA on Wednesday, April 26, visit ourmuddy_2023annualmeeting.eventbrite.com.
- For details on phragmites removal, see www.muddyrivermmoc.org/ national-invasive-species-week-part-1 and The Fenway News’s July 2022 issue. To read about efforts to measure and remove phosphorus from the Muddy, see the October 2022 Fenway News. To learn more about the project’s Carlton Street Footbridge restoration, see the November 2022 issue.
Be sure to register for the upcoming MMOC Annual Meeting on April 26th!