Restoration for Community Vitality

Fort Pierce Mill, Now Riverside Park.

Fort Pierce Mill, Now Riverside Park.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Our parks and waterways are critical to our daily lives, providing everything from food to storm protection to recreation. But what happens when human activity turns one community’s coastal resources into a Superfund site? Superfund is the federal government's program to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

Restoring an area’s natural resources following such contamination is the job of NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program. Along with state and federal partners, its job is to assess the damage and devise a plan for dealing with the losses. Collaboration throughout the process, with input from the local community, leads to a final list of proposed restoration projects. New Bedford Harbor, located in southeastern Massachusetts where the Acushnet River empties into Buzzards Bay, provides a glimpse into the successes of such a process.

New Bedford Harbor: Successful Restoration Example

One of the New Bedford Harbor parks following restoration.

One of the New Bedford Harbor parks following restoration.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

From the 1940s to 1970s, industries discharged polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and toxic metals into New Bedford Harbor, leading to contamination of the waters, sediment, and organisms. As a result, the area was designated a Superfund site in 1983. NOAA, along with its state and federal partners, assessed the contamination impacts and reached a settlement with the polluters that provided $20.2 million toward the Harbor’s restoration.

The restoration program planners in New Bedford took into account the community’s use of natural resources, like fishing, as well as the needs of the local ecology, as they considered potential plans. The New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council’s collaborative efforts resulted in preserving hundreds of acres of land, creating parks, restoring fish passage on the Acushnet River and tidal exchange to affected marshes, managing endangered seabirds, and even provided funding for shellfish restoration.

Playground structure at Riverside Park, New Bedford.

Playground structure at Riverside Park, New Bedford.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Preserving open space represents one important way that restoration work benefits the local community. New Bedford’s removal of former industrial buildings allowed planners to use some of the settlement funds to create park space. These new parks provide outdoor recreation opportunities and what economists refer to as “amenity value” to the local population. Rather than being located near abandoned buildings, community residents now have an inviting and convenient access point to experience nature.

“It is exciting to see so many completed restoration projects, current projects underway, and still more projects being proposed. These projects will provide lasting benefits to the people and natural resources of the Greater New Bedford area,” said Jack Terrill of the NOAA Restoration Center and Coordinator of the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council.

Fish passage provided at the Acushnet River Sawmill Dam.

Fish passage provided at the Acushnet River Sawmill Dam.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Maintaining Restoration Success

Remediation and restoration enables communities to recapture the benefits from natural resources that have been lost over time due to a legacy of contamination. DARRP will continue to use the collaborative approach, like in New Bedford, throughout the country to develop projects that benefit both the environment and local communities.

For more information on this project or related restoration efforts, please visit the DARRP Web site. NOAA logo.