My Turn: Our community, our river, and our planet

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, left, and Katie Hereld of Easthampton load a cart with waste during the Green River Cleanup in September. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Published: 10/14/2021 8:18:10 AM

It is with a hopeful but unsettled heart that I write this letter. A fabulous outpouring of local effort has once again made this year’s Franklin County Rivers Cleanup an inspiring event. The cleanup now includes all rivers of Franklin County. Today we are learning not only how interconnected are our multiple environmental crises but also how interwoven they are with social justice concerns, a situation that became all-too-evident to this year’s volunteers. We should be heartened by what we have done together here but awed by the ocean of what remains to be done.

I have been swimming in the Green River, as often as possible, for over 40 years. My family has grown up here and treasured the opportunity to live near a “clean” river. My son Noah began the Green River Cleanup in 2002 with his environmental class at GCC. I took the baton and have coordinated the cleanup for the last 18 years. We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the wider Source to Sea Cleanup!

We must all be grateful for the dedicated support of the staff at the Connecticut River Conservancy, Deerfield River Watershed Association, Sheriff’s Department, participating local business, those who offered use of equipment, and particularly the hundreds of volunteers — school classes, small business groups, and individuals — who collected and sorted trash, donated and prepared food, and played music. An amazing display of community spirit!

Over these 18 years, the cleanup has faced many challenges, but also generated much constructive change. Unfortunately, some things have not changed.

The roads are cleaned one day, and the littering begins the next. The Green River is Grade A quality before entering Greenfield and comes out poor quality. Thirty-five percent of Greenfield’s drinking water comes from the Green River.Maple Brook, which is buried under the City of Greenfield, has the highest level of bacteria and E-coli in the entire watershed.

 There is much overuse and disrespect of the river, often from visitors who have no access to forests and clean water where they are — an example of how social and environmental issues are entwined. Children and dogs are stepping on broken glass and fishing hooks, and plastic is disintegrating into micro-particles that now accumulate in rivers, oceans, and the bodies of fish, animals, and humans. The community of Greenfield needs to address these major concerns.

This year volunteers were especially dismayed by what they found at homeless camps, many adjacent to the Green River: tents, trash, needles, and — distressingly — toys, small bikes, swings, and other evidence of children. We cannot address our environmental problems apart from issues of social justice and health affecting the most desperate members of our community, often surviving in the wooded spaces of Greenfield. How are local officials directing state and federal funding in regard to these concerns?

Cleaning up our river valley is not enough. This is why we coordinate with the Deerfield and Connecticut River efforts. It’s all one valley that pours its dubious contents into the sea. We cannot protect our beautiful corner of the world by ignoring what is beyond: there is only one world ocean and one planet. The climate crisis has come to our valley, rapidly diminishing some species, introducing others, and creating crazy weather.

What is to be done?

We must insist that a 5-cent deposit on plastic containers is not nearly enough. The 5-cent law (12.5 cents in 2021 dollars) was introduced in 1983, 50 years ago! We should place a 25-cent deposit on all containers, including soda, beer, nips, water bottles, and all non-organic fast-food packaging. We need a commitment from manufacturers to accept full responsibility from birth to death of everything non-organic they produce.

We need to reduce carbon emissions though local efforts such as revitalizing a concentrated business district, creating more housing within walking distance of that center, and making Greenfield a bike and pedestrian friendly city by widening roads and increasing bike lanes everywhere.

We must encourage everyone to keep their own streets and neighborhoods clean. Special blue bags are available from the Greenfield DPW on Wells Street and the Jon Zon Center in April and September. The DPW will collect the blue bags for free at your curbside.

Finally, we must all vote and act at local, national, and global levels to address our environmental crises.

May the passion of volunteers at the Swimming Area on Sept. 25 be contagious!

I dove into the Green River today. It was crystal clear and wonderful. See you next year.

J. David Boles lives in Greenfield.




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