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New Bedford receives $352,000 grant to monitor and restore water quality on Acushnet River

Release Date: 12/10/2001
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON – The City of New Bedford has received a $351,928 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a project that will monitor water quality conditions in the Acushnet River estuary and educate area residents on the health of the estuary and actions that are needed to restore it.

The grant will fund a cooperative project involving the planned New Bedford Oceanarium and the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, as well as the city. The project calls for a moveable exhibit that demonstrates the quality of water in the estuary, which is directly upstream from New Bedford Harbor.

This grant was awarded as part of EPA's focus on educating the public by providing ‘real time' water quality data that is immediately publicized on web sites and other venues.

"The Oceanarium, the School for Marine Science and the city of New Bedford have a history of working together for the betterment of the community," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "This project will help restore New Bedford Harbor and bring the city one step forward in its goal of restoring and revitalizing it."

A central component of the project will involve a mobile exhibit displaying the real time and near time information collected from buoys in the estuary. This exhibit will eventually be expanded into a permanent exhibit at the Oceanarium.

New Bedford will oversee the project through its Office of Environmental Planning and direct outreach into the neighborhoods. The Oceanarium will design the exhibit and participate in outreach and education programs for area residents and schools.

"This grant from EPA reinforces the strong partnership between the city, the Oceanarium and SMAST," said Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz, Jr. "This grant will help gather technical data, and disseminate that data in a format useful to the general public. The benefits of this project as an educational tool are enormous."

"We are excited to be part of this project and grateful to the EPA for its support," said William N. Whelan, president and chair of the New Bedford Oceanarium's Board of Governors. "The Oceanarium is dedicated to the city of New Bedford and its strong ties to the ocean. We hope this is the first of many collaborative efforts to restore and maintain the health of the harbor."

The U-Mass Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology will provide the technical expertise to set up and maintain the monitors and synthesize and interpret the results.

Monitoring efforts will focus on tracking changes in pollution, particularly in relation to weather. Monitors will be set up at three locations on the river, as well as at one location in the harbor. A weather station will be set up at Clark's Point, near the School for Marine Science in New Bedford. The data from these monitors will be displayed in the traveling exhibit and also will be presented through ongoing science curriculum developed by the Oceanarium and UMD-SMAST for use in New Bedford's public schools.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for the Oceanarium, the city and the university to work together on, not only a scientific problem, but a problem that is very important to the community," said Brian Rothschild, director of the School of Marine & Science Technology.

"When the Mayor's office asked me to make a strong effort to get these funds, I was glad to comply," added Congressman Barney Frank. "This is a project that benefits the region on several levels, and demonstrates again that good environmental policy is also good economic policy."

"A key aspect to cleaning up New Bedford Harbor is ensuring that people know about it," added US Senator John Kerry. "The work of the New Bedford Oceanarium and UMass- Dartmouth will help ensure that the public is aware of this important environmental and economic revitalization effort. It is good for the environment and great for New Bedford."

An overabundance of nutrients is a significant environmental issue facing the Acushnet River.

"Many area residents believe PCBs are the only source of pollution in the harbor," Varney said. "The truth is that the river's health also is hurt by sewer overflows and stormwater runoff that discharge large amounts of bacteria and other pollutants."

EPA New England is engaged in a $300 million cleanup of New Bedford Harbor, which was declared a Superfund site in 1983. EPA's cleanup plan calls for dredging some 200 acres of contaminated sediments and wetlands in the harbor. Work is expected to begin in 2003. The harbor is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the result of past waste disposal practices at two electrical component manufacturing plants on the river.

The Oceanarium, which will be built in a former power plant located on New Bedford's historic waterfront, will cost an estimated $90 million. This cooperative project by three New Bedford organizations is a continuation of the efforts to restore the coastal resources of the region for future generations.