The Muddy River is flowing again through its full 3.5-mile length from Jamaica Pond to the Charles River, thanks to the Muddy River Restoration Project.
This achievement is testament to the efforts of intrepid community advocates and friends groups who came together during the 1970s and 80s to begin restoration of one of Frederick Law Olmsted’s most significant historic landscapes, the Emerald Necklace.
“The Muddy River Restoration Project didn’t come from elected or appointed officials. This remarkable state and national model of activism on behalf of our open spaces came from citizens.”Betsy Shure Gross, Founding Member, MMOC
Public Oversight Reimagined
The story of the Muddy River Restoration Project Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee (the MMOC) is a shining example of citizen advocacy in Brookline and Boston.
Community organizations like the Friends of the Public Garden, Common and Commonwealth Avenue Mall; The Fenway Alliance; Fenway Civic Association; Franklin Park Coalition; Friends of Leverett Pond; Jamaica Pond Association; Friends of the Muddy River; and others worked together to bring urgency to problems of benign neglect, environmental degradation, bridge deterioration, inappropriate intrusions, and inadequate budget appropriations that had caused Olmsted’s Muddy River parks to become unusable and unsafe for public constituents. The coalition set out to educate and activate Boston and Brookline public agencies responsible for the operation of the parks and their capital improvement.
Inspired by models of stewardship organizations such as the Central Park Conservancy in New York City and the National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP), local advocates in Boston and Brookline worked with their elected and appointed officials, including the Massachusetts Legislature, to establish and fund the Olmsted Historic Landscape Preservation Program within the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management in 1983.
Flood Waters Galvanize Activism
The Muddy River and its parklands had deteriorated as a result of long-term disregard of the need for dredging and maintenance. Catastrophic flooding in 1996 caused nearly $100 million in damages to abutter institutions, residences, and the Kenmore Square MBTA station.
The Citizens Advisory Committee Frames the Project
Initial planning focused on mitigating future flooding. In 1999, Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs Bob Durand required responsible agencies to support meaningful citizen participation through a Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC).
The CAC significantly influenced the shape of the Project, its final management structure, and the long-term maintenance obligations of the Proponents: the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the City of Boston, and the Town of Brookline. Meeting monthly from 1999 to 2005, the CAC evaluated the environmental impacts of the Project through the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) process. During that period, the Committee also reviewed proposed filings by the project Proponents and provided input to the Secretary.
The MMOC Extends Citizen Oversight
Secretary Durand transformed the CAC in 2002, identifying key advocacy organizations to establish the Muddy River Restoration Project Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee (the MMOC) as a permanent, citizen-led independent oversight committee. Its formation was an important recognition of the advocacy community’s leadership role in illuminating and sustaining the public stewardship responsibilities to the Emerald Necklace Muddy River parks.
The Secretary assigned a number of critical roles.
“[The MMOC] will participate in the development of performance standards and identify benchmarks to identify progress; provide independent review on a periodic basis to evaluate efforts to achieve the Project goals, including long-term maintenance and management goals; monitor and evaluate compliance with the provisions of federal, state, and local permits and approvals…and promote close coordination of activities among Boston and Brookline agencies, the [DCR] and the MBTA…”Secretary’s decision on the Phase 1 Waiver Final Record of Decision, July 29, 2002
In 2003, the Secretary emphasized that “maintenance and management [are] the key to ensuring that the Project meets it long-term goals and that the significant public investment is adequately protected… The Project itself, with all its worthy goals, [is] in effect a deferred maintenance project…” and that “… the MMOC is a necessary component of the Project management structure.”
Two years later, Durand mandated that the management structure, a five-member Cabinet that includes the MMOC, and the roles and responsibilities of all Cabinet members be incorporated into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) among the Secretary’s office, DCR, Boston, Brookline, the MMOC, and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. The MOA was signed in 2007.
Since then, the MMOC has continued to provide ongoing oversight of construction activities, landscape maintenance work, water quality improvement efforts, best management practices implementation, and historic resource preservation. The committee works in partnership with the public agencies to ensure compliance with environmental permits and progress toward Project goals.
The MMOC’s role of independent oversight ensures that citizens are represented as equal partners with government entities.
A Model of Stewardship
The Muddy River Restoration Project represents a comprehensive response to urgent environmental priorities.
The MMOC, as its oversight organization, is a model of public participation in improving and securing the health and vitality of our treasured urban resources.
With the expected conclusion of Phase 2 construction in 2023, the MMOC will continue to oversee maintenance of the Muddy River Parks from Charlesgate through the Back Bay Fens, the Riverway, and Olmsted Park.