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NEW BEDFORD — The Baker-Polito Administration today joined New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell to announce that nearly $670,000 will be invested in designing and constructing the first phase of the “Riverwalk Project” along the Acushnet River, using Natural Resource Damages (NRD) settlement funds obtained from electrical parts manufacturers due to past contamination of the New Bedford Harbor. The announcement follows the recent completion of a restoration project on Palmer’s Island using NRD settlement funds.
“The funding announced today is the next step in the Commonwealth’s efforts to help the City of New Bedford restore the habitat along its shoreline and reconnect residents with the water,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Increasing access to recreational opportunities and open space is a priority for our administration, and this exciting project will allow New Bedford residents and visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the Acushnet River.”
“The Commonwealth has partnered with local and federal officials to address historic contamination in and around New Bedford Harbor in order to bring these vital natural resources back for all to use,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “The Palmer’s Island restoration and the new Riverwalk project will enhance the quality of life for all in New Bedford and the surrounding communities.”
The Riverwalk and Palmer’s Island projects are part of more than $20 million in Natural Resource Damages (NRD) settlement funds utilized by the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council. The Council oversees the restoration of natural resources that were damaged or lost due to PCB contamination in the harbor. Since its implementation in 1998, the council has funded more than 40 restoration-related projects.
“Over the years, Natural Resource Damages funds have been used to restore, replace, or acquire and protect injured natural resources in and around greater New Bedford Harbor,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, the Commonwealth’s NRD Trustee. “We are proud to put this funding obtained from previous contamination of the harbor to work improving habitat and returning recreational access to the waterfront.”
“The starting point for everything we do as an administration is maximizing on the value of the assets we have as a community,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. “In this case, our Upper Harbor is an unparalleled recreational resource whose development has long been impeded by the need to address underlying contamination. I could not be more pleased to see the dramatic progress being achieved in the overall cleanup and the simultaneous preparations we’re making to create this spectacular waterfront walkway for our residents. Support from the Baker-Polito Administration was instrumental in the HarborWalk and CoveWalk projects and is of equal importance to our success with the RiverWalk, and I am grateful to the administration for their support.”
As part of the settlement fund, the Trustee Council has approved the use of $2.9 million in three phases for the Acushnet River “upland riprarian walkway,” better known as the Riverwalk project. Today’s announcement involves $669,833 for the design and construction of the first phase of the Riverwalk, which will involve a multi-year effort to preserve a 25-foot-wide corridor of land along 2.2 miles of the Acushnet River, construct a walking path in this area, and create nearly six acres of native vegetation while controlling invasive plants.
“As the New Bedford Harbor Superfund cleanup has progressed, Massachusetts and our partners have also made sure that the coastline, waterfront and industrial areas have not been forgotten,” said Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. “The area is being transformed from a neglected and contaminated neighborhood into one that is vital and desirable.”
The first phase of the Riverwalk project begins at Coggeshall Street north to Sawyer Street; other segments include areas along Pierce Mill Cove and Riverside Park, Victoria Riverside and Riverbank Lofts, two former industrial mills that have been converted into residential units through Brownfields redevelopment. Funding for the second and third phases of this project is expected to total $2,018,883.
Earlier this year, the Palmer’s Island NRD ecological restoration project was completed. The Trustee Council provided $100,000 to the City of New Bedford for habitat enhancements at the island, and the separate Bouchard B-120 Trustee Council provided an additional $20,000 to help improve access on the island via trails and the beach. These funds also helped to create a trail system, install signage and benches for passive recreational use. The work also involved the removal of debris and invasive species, and the re-planting of native species along the wetland and other areas.
“Efforts like these help capitalize on one of New Bedford’s greatest assets – its beautiful waterfront,” said State Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford). “Through these joint projects, the City will be able to transform a once-contaminated site into a recreational and quality of life space for the people of New Bedford.”
“We all share a responsibility to work towards reclaiming our local landscapes, so that we and future generations can appreciate nature and can enjoy a better quality of life and better health,” said State Representative Robert Koczera (D-New Bedford). “The RiverWalk project will allow our residents to reconnect with the Acushnet River, rediscover the natural beauty of our area, and appreciate quality time outdoors.”
“New Bedford is home to many beautiful natural resources and the time has come for them to be appreciated at their highest value,” said State Representative Paul Schmid (D-Westport). “Many thanks to the Baker-Polito Administration for investing in the Riverwalk project and highlighting the importance of our environment and natural landscape.”
Find more information on NRD settlement fund projects in the New Bedford Harbor area here.