By Barbara Taormina
When Ward 5 Councillor Barbara Murphy launched the Waterfront Access Committee back in the fall of 2015, her hope was to highlight the Malden River and explore ways to connect the community to a neglected natural resource. Since then, different groups and organizations have jumped on board with studies, vision projects and aspirations to revitalize the Malden riverfront with walkways and parks.
“I’m happy that everyone is now focused on this underutilized asset,” said Murphy, who this week held the Waterfront Access Committee’s first meeting of the year.
For Murphy, one of the next steps is to meet with other groups who have been studying ways to reclaim Malden’s waterfront. The Friends of the Malden River, the Mystic River Watershed Association, the Malden Walkability Committee, the Malden Redevelopment Authority and groups in Everett and Medford have all been working on riverfront plans. “I think we should invite the different groups in and have them tell us what their visions are so that we can look at everything that’s going on,” said Murphy.
The Waterfront Access Committee is still waiting for the results of tests on river sediment that will determine if there are any health risks for boating and other uses of the waterway. The tests, which are being conducted at MIT, will show if heavy metals or other contaminants are present, and could potentially affect the types of access provided to the public.
Those results should be available in in March, and in the meantime, Ward 1 Councillor Peg Crowe suggested, committee members should bone up on all the different aspects of Chapter 91, the state law that governs the use and development of waterfront property. Crowe said it is important for committee members to be armed with information when discussing public access rights with private property owners along the river.
Councillor-at-Large Stephen Winslow suggested that the committee consider a land ownership study that would examine the public and private properties along the river and provide information on zoning and possible design elements. Winslow said the Northern Strand Community Trail project, or Bike to the Sea, began with a similar study which ultimately determined the trail’s design.
But Murphy wants to hear from the other groups and organizations before moving forward with more studies, surveys and plans. The committee also needs to decide on the scope of its mission and whether to include the entire path of the river or to concentrate on waterfront property on Canal and Commercial Streets.
The Public Works yard on Commercial Street, which is owned by the MRA, has been a central issue for the Waterfront Access Committee from the start. “That’s really our one piece of property, and I wanted to make sure we had a force to protect that or to at least protect public access to the river if it should ever be developed,” said Murphy.