By Jamie Thomson
The June 10th Muddy River Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee (M.M.O.C.) occurred as scheduled at M.M.O.C. headquarters in Brookline. No minutes of the previous ‘executive session’ were read to the group, much less distributed in printed form, corrected (if necessary) and approved. These omissions all violate the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting law regulations. M.M.O.C. meetings scheduled for July and August have been cancelled.
M.M.O.C. members discussed in turn five issues: (1) progress on Phase I of the Muddy River Project; (2) mobilizing the Valley population to support the project; (3) contracting for a ‘branding’ effort designed to highlight the Muddy River project and follow-on activities as a process dependent for its success on citizen stewardship to ensure sustainability; (4) approving a budget to hire an administrator – a decision approved last year, but never implemented; and, (5) the always exciting election ‘of the unopposed slate of MMOC officers.’
Muddy River Project Information
M.M.O.C. member Mr. Ed Burke initially addressed group members to criticize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (A.C.O.E.) for ‘no communication.’ Several other M.M.O.C. members, including Chairperson Fran Gerschwin, swiftly corrected Burke’s inaccurate criticism, referencing the A.C.O.E.’s on-going flood of news releases, vehicular and pedestrian traffic alerts and ’90-day look-aheads’ all clearly posted on the M.M.O.C.’s own website (http://www.muddyrivermmoc.org/), under the ‘Project Activities’ tab.
Those same postings appear on the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s, MAASCO’s and the Fenway Civic Association’s (FCA) websites. In addition to being an M.M.O.C. board member, Mr. Burke is likewise a FCA board member. On the FCA’s website, under the ‘Bulletin Board’ tab, the ‘links’ sub-tab takes a FCA website visitor directly to the Muddy River Project ACOE regular updates.
Phase I Construction Progress
Mr. Elton Elperin of the Brookline Preservation Committee and an ex-officio MMOC member, presented several pictures of Phase I engineering progress, particularly Charter Environmental’s work in daylighting the long-buried section of the Muddy River between the Jug Handle and Avenue Pasteur. That work is proceeding apace, with the channel now cleared, open stone banks installed, etc. Similarly, the Project is preparing to replace the existing Muddy River passage under Avenue Pasteur with a larger concrete box culvert capable of moving substantially larger volumes of water downstream without flooding.
Charter Environmental, following the Phase I design, has installed a set of piped bypasses that pull all the water from the Muddy upstream from Park Drive and return it to the channel below a coffer dam the project has constructed downstream from Avenue Pasteur. This allows project personnel to work on and transform a nearly-dry riverbed and the bridges that must be fitted with 10’ x 24’ box culverts to minimize the risk of flooding during future heavy rains.
Ms. Patrice Kish, de jure MMOC board member and a regional planner with the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), reported that daylighting the Sears Parking Lot, originally scheduled for June 2015, has been delayed and will not likely occur now until July. Charter is reportedly 120 days behind on the original project implementation schedule. The company may request an extension to cover unexpected delays. But, as Ms. Kish notes, Charter’s contract is fixed price and it provides for damages in the event of 1,000 days of delay in implementation, so it is ‘in their best interest to finish it as quickly as possible.’
Mobilizing Popular Support for the Project: Citizen Involvement
Vice-chairperson Betsy Shure Gross noted that when Phase I is completed, it will be critical to ‘activate the constituency and, to do that, we’re going to have to generate information and get it out to people.” She believes the MMOC will have to mobilize Longwood Medical Area (LMA) groups, governance units, citizens’ groups and ‘the public.’ As she put it in a rhetorical question to the group, the challenge facing the MMOC is ‘How do we galvanize the public to retort “Not this time!” when local officials decide to move on to something else before completing their Muddy River commitments?’ It seems a reasonable question, tied tightly to informing the public of Muddy River developments. This initiative implies that MMOC members may possibly have turned a corner on making greater efforts to inform the public.
MMOC members appear to have contracted (sole sourced?) with a local ‘branding firm,’ ‘Cahoots,’ in an effort to create more awareness of the project among more groups. Ms. Carol Lasky, a ‘Cahoot’s principal, made an hour-long presentation to the group about her strategy to address a variety of different demographic groups presumably interested in supporting and sustaining the Muddy River Rehabilitation.
Ms. Julie Crockford of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy noted that Ms. Lasky’s firm had been involved in developing the Conservancy’s branding effort. Ms. Lasky expects to hire a small local public relations firm to support ‘Cahoots’’s efforts. She anticipates that this will cost somewhere between $125,000-250,000. Chair Gerschwin observed that the MMOC has allocated $75,000 for the whole project, and that this was ‘not a down payment.’
MMOC member Ms. Arlene Levee offered some comments, in contribution to the fore-going discussion, about “how to get millennials involved.” They don’t, she stated, ‘sit around tables like we do, but they’re out there and many of them are activists.’
MMOC Vice-Chairperson Betsy Shure Gross observed that the MMOC will be hiring an administrator soon (the position was to have been advertised on the MMOC website, but it did appear there in June and does not currently appear there; it was also to have been posted on ‘job sites’). This position was to have been announced and filled last year but, for reasons unspecified in the meeting, that didn’t happen. Will it ‘not happen’ again?
MMOC Leadership Corps: The Perennial ‘Unopposed Slate’
Chairperson Francis Allou Gerschwin announced, towards the end of the meeting, that she was once again proposing the current slate of MMOC officers – Gershwin herself, as Chair, Shure Gross as Vice and Ms. Kelly Brilliant as Treasurer, for re-election. MMOC members all approved the vote, just as they did last year. When ‘the results were in,’ the re-elected Chair congratulated the newly (re-)elected officers of the ‘unopposed slate’ on their victory.
I spent much of my career working in states dominated by one-party governments. The MMOC Chair’s ‘unopposed slate’ approach shares uncomfortable similarities with one-party state elections. One of the problems characteristic of such polities is recruiting new personnel to provide new ideas and new energy, which often requires motivating their involvement by offering them a real say in decisions that affect them. On wonders if ‘millennial activitists’ will flock to the banner of an organization where they would seem to have little formal means to make meaningful decisions. Might this be a problem in recruiting future stewards for the sustainability of the Muddy River?
Jamie Thomson lives in the West Fens.