In Mayor Walsh’s inaugural address, he pledged his support to rebuilding the Long Island Bridge and an extensive rehabilitation and addiction recovery medical unit on the island. Rebuilding the bridge is a no brainer for many Bostonians, but has not been as well received by some residents and the mayor of Quincy. By public infrastructure standards this project is moderate, does not bear the complexity of the big dig, and seeks more or less to restore a structure that existed in the harbor for many years. The history of Long Island is one filled with unique family stories, social experiments, and agricultural and educational communities.
The island was granted in rent to the city of Boston as early as 1634 by Native Americans, was used for agricultural purposes for years changing hands from public and private owners, and played a role in the American Revolution. In the Civil War the Massachusetts 3rd and 4th regiments were mustered at Camp Wightman on the island before going to battle. The federal government took over part of the island for a period of time, and Fort Strong was added to the northern end of the island as a part of the harbor defenses in both world wars. The addition of a large hotel and a chronic disease hospital, farms and a nursing school gave the island its first civic mission around improving health of citizens. In 1885 Boston took possession of the island.
Since this time the city has had numerous programs designed for the rehabilitation and education of Boston citizens. For the 20 years preceding its closure, the island had a large homeless shelter serving over 700 residents. Many found the idea of busing the homeless out to an island kind of controversial, and the mayor does not plan to restore this program. In recent memory, former Mayor Menino established a working farm and created Camp Harbor View in 2007, and the Boston Public Health Commission had an agricultural program until the island’s closure in 2014. Some of the youth programs have continued by using boats to travel to the island, including the recent private / public change of management for the agricultural farm.
Recently the B-Good fast food chain opened Hannah Farm, in cooperation with Green City Growers, Camp Harbor View, and Boston Health Commission. Hannah Farm is an organic farm designed by the company to bring fresh produce to its restaurants and the community, as well as to provide training to at risk youth. B-Good has gone on the record saying that 75% of the food grown on Hannah Farm goes to Camp Harbor View. We mention all this history in brief to make one point clear: using Long Island for social causes is not new to this city property, and there is an established precedent for Mayor Walsh’s medical plans. One of the problems the island faces in finding new purpose is that doing infrastructure work without a road, and relying upon boats to transports goods and services to the island is very inefficient, and builds in permanent cost over runs. While building a bridge to Long Island will be costly, it will pay dividends in the end.
Despite some community criticism for the vacuum created in various services since the island’s forced closure, the mayor has committed serious funds and political capital to restoring the bridge and creating addiction recovery services on Long Island. We believe this is fundamentally a good idea, if done properly and cost effectively. According to WBUR the mayor’s budget proposal for this year includes 100 million to restore the Long Island Bridge in three years. At this point the city pays millions just to maintain the mostly empty buildings on the island. Mayor Walsh is doing the right thing to restore Long Island for productive use, and his proposal seems like a modest infrastructure that citizens of Boston should support.