On Dec. 7 and 8th MyRWA’s Executive Director, EK Khalsa, attended a meeting of the North American Wetlands Conservation Council (NAWCA) in Spanish Fort, Alabama. EK attended as a representative of the Mystic River Watershed Association and more than one dozen established environmental advocacy and grassroots community organizations from the Mystic River Watershed. Several of these organizations are part of the Mystic River Collaborative, including Chelsea Collaborative, Charles River Watershed Association, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), Conservation Law Foundation, La Comunidad, Inc., Alternatives for Community and Environment, Tri-CAP and Groundwork Somerville.
At the meeting, EK was given an opportunity to address the council regarding the disposition of funds transferred to NAWCA from a Community Service Payment made by Exxon/Mobil Pipeline Terminal as settlement of a case involving the release of more than 15,000 gallons of fuel oil to the Mystic River. Funds from the Exxon/Mobil plea agreement were directed by the Federal Court to be spent with a preference to restore the environment of the Mystic River where the release occurred. The court allowed that these funds could also be spent on coastal projects within Massachusetts especially if no suitable projects could be located in the Mystic River. EK made a strong appeal that the Council make arrangements to return to the Court any funds that NAWCA was not able to spend in the Mystic River region.
In many ways, NAWCA's strict grant criteria and focus on preservation and restoration of large areas of wetland migratory bird habitat made it difficult for NAWCA to recruit and fund applications from the Mystic River region. EK made an appeal to the NAWCA Council that it give further thought as to how these funds could be transferred to another agency that could more easily provide grants compatible with current environmental conditions in the Mystic.
In the end, NAWCA Council members voted to approve four project applications and provided funding of more than $4,500,000 from this Mystic River settlement. One project which received a grant of $1,600,000 to complete salt marsh and tidal lands restoration in Chelsea Creek was located in the Mystic River Watershed. The other three projects that received the balance of $2,900,000 from the settlement were located either in Buzzards Bay or the Great Marsh area near Rowley, MA.
NAWCA was selected by the Court because it is a reliable and well established grantor of environmental funding. Certainly NAWCA did all it could to see that these funds were spent where the release occurred. Unfortunately, NAWCA's mission is difficult to fulfill in a densely developed and much impaired urban watershed such as the Mystic.
As a result of this experience, MyRWA and its collaborative partners successfully established the Mystic River Environmental Fund. This fund will provide a local alternative for the courts and regulators when fines, fees, and penalties are assessed in the Mystic River and when Mystic River related Community Service Payments are made. This field of interest fund will be managed by The Boston Foundation with an independent Board of Advisors to focus exclusively on projects that help restore the natural environment of the Mystic River Watershed. Mystic River advocates including MyRWA are now working diligently to direct applicable financial settlements and support to this new Mystic River fund.