By Christine Morabito – September 2015
While it is fashionable to say you care about the environment, at least one nonprofit organization is putting words into action. I recently had the opportunity to join the Clean River Project on the Merrimack River in Lawrence. The clean-up was sponsored by Siemens, and I was amazed at what could be accomplished with a handful of volunteers unafraid to get their hands dirty.
I went home exhausted and in need of a good scrubbing, but not without some new friends and a fresh appreciation for this a vital natural resource, that happens to be right in my own backyard.
On our field trip, I had the pleasure to work alongside some very energetic Siemens volunteers and two candidates for Lawrence City Council: the always cheerful, Myra Ortiz, and Jeovanny Rodriguez, who grabbed my hand to keep me from sliding into a seething pool of muck and mire. Our cleaning efforts were rewarded with a delicious lunch donated by Three Dogz Diner.
Clean River Project volunteer, Jonathan Bergeron, feels that the Merrimack River is under-appreciated by residents, mostly because they don’t have access to it. This is something the nonprofit is trying to change. Through public education and river tours, they hope to get people out on the water. According to Bergeron, the group’s goal is not to further burden the taxpayers by soliciting money from the government. Instead, they look for individuals and corporate sponsors who want to give back to their communities. He looks forward to the day the group is no longer needed. Then, he says, he and his family can spend more time fishing and kayaking this beautiful stretch of water.
The 110 mile Merrimack River has gotten a bad rap over the years, some of it deserved. The river has an exceptionally strong current in places and, as with many large bodies of water, drowning incidences do occur.
Before Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, the Merrimack was considered one of the most polluted rivers in the country, mostly due to waste products from textile mills in this once heavily industrialized part of the country. Once people were educated, and, yes, legislated, things improved dramatically. However, illegal dumping continues to be a problem.
In the 1970s, Massachusetts had the distinction of being the “Car Theft Capital of America.” Stolen cars were often dumped in the river. That means gasoline, grease, oil, antifreeze, batteries and corroding heavy metals ended up in the water too. The presence of these and other pollutants creates a problem for the nearly 600,000 people who rely on the Merrimack for their water supply. It is also unhealthy for fish and other wildlife living in and around the river.
The Clean River Project is committed to making a difference. To date, they have removed 61 cars (some with keys still in them) and over 8,000 tires. To help locate the vehicles, volunteers, like search and recovery diver, Todd Hammond, use sonar equipped with GPS, donated by Raymarine. They also remove a staggering amount of trash, appliances and scrap metal, recycling whenever possible. Discarded fishing line is also removed, before birds, fish or mammals can become fatally entangled in it. Much of the group’s work is done along the shores of Lowell, Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill and Newburyport.
Some environmental nonprofits have highly paid executives and enormous administrative costs. This is not the case with the Clean River Project. Founded in 2005, by Rocky (Dick) Morrison, the current staff is completely volunteer.
Partnering with the project is a great charitable option for corporations. The clean-ups spread goodwill throughout the community and offer employees team building experiences. Donations to this 501(c)3 are tax deductable. Some of their sponsors include Keurig, Rockingham Boat, Coady’s Towing and SPS New England, Inc..
Kevin Houlihan, service manager at Siemens Building Technologies, has been involved with Clean River since the beginning. He said Siemens’ business model is about helping customers conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint. “This project dovetails nicely because of its focus on recycling and getting stuff out of the water that doesn’t belong there.”
The Clean River Project’s Open House is Sunday, September 20, from noon to 3 p.m. at 1022 Riverside Drive, Methuen. Visit their website for more information and great videos: Volunteers are vital to the effort. Contact them at (978) 590-9374. You can also help Clean River win an environmental award by voting for Rocky Morrison here. Contest ends on September 24.