Purification Plant Fund Cutting Could Impact Clammers

Already hurt by the alleged Logan Airport jet fuel spill in late 2010 that decimated a large number of soft-shell clams, local clammers that dig the beds surrounding the airport in East Boston are now facing a new challenge that threatens to wipe out their existence in the area.

The Newburyport Shellfish Purification Plant, which processed 14,829 bushels of clams last year, is again facing state budget cuts that could close the plant and put the 96 shellfishermen and their families that are supported by the plant out of business.

“This is the only Purification Plant in the whole State of Massachusetts,” said clammer John Denehy. “Consequently, the entire Massachusetts clam digging industry will be wiped out.”

Denehy said that while the clam digging industry in the Boston Harbor has been devastated by a jet fuel spill caused by the Logan refueling company Swissport/BOS Fueling, which has killed off almost all of the clams in that area, clam digging in other areas of Massachusetts continues to thrive.

“The clam flats in Revere, Newburyport and Quincy are viable and continue to be harvested for clams.  In addition, new clam flats are scheduled to be opened soon,” said Denehy. “The impact of closing the plant will devastate the State of Massachusetts both economically and environmentally.”

Senator Anthony Petruccelli and a group of bipartisan legislators is now working to prevent Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed closing of the Purification Plant, and are asking budget writers to consider an alternative proposal to keep the plant open and save jobs by increasing the volume of shellfish processed at the 83-year-old facility and making it more self-sufficient.

Petruccelli and others plan to outline what they hope will be a “sustainable solution” for maintaining the state-owned purification plant, which was built on Plum Island in 1928 by the City of Newburyport and is now the oldest and largest continually operating depuration plant in the country.

Legislators have put forward the concept of allowing the plant to treat shellfish harvested from beds that currently don’t utilize the facility when those beds are closed by the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) due to potentially unsafe levels of pollution caused by heavy rainfall. This would enable many shellfishermen to continue working at a time when they would otherwise find themselves unemployed.

“A practical solution to both the shellfishermen’s potential economic woes and the state’s underutilization of the plant would be to expand the plant’s intake to include rainfall-contaminated harvests,” wrote Petruccelli and his colleagues in a letter to Chairman Stephen Brewer and Chairman Brian Dempsey of the Joint Committee of Ways and Means. “The preservation of the purification services offered by the DMF would ensure the continued provision of safely consumable shellfish products from Massachusetts’ waters while stabilizing an industry often detrimentally impacted by unpredictable weather.”

By expanding the volume of shellfish processed on Plum Island, legislators hope to protect jobs in the fishing industry while allowing the plant to generate sufficient fees to help pay for its operations and maintenance moving forward.

“We believe the expansion of the volume of shellfish processed by the plant offers an opportunity for the DMF to fully utilize the plant while generating additional income for the division’s plant operations,” the letter states.

Aside from fighting to keep the Purification Plant open, Denehy and 19 other clammers affected by the massive clam die-off last year that they say was caused by a significant oil spill at Logan are prepared to file a lawsuit in federal court against Swissport and Massport.

Denehy and the group of clammers, through their lawyer, have drafted an Oil Pollution Act Letter and sent it to Massport and the fueling company. Both Swissport and Massport have 90-days to respond to the letter and make the clammers an offer for lost wages due to the oil spill and clam die-off before the formal lawsuit in Federal Court.

is filed.

Cut line,

Clammer John Denehy out clamming off the shores of Logan International Airport in East Boston. Denehy and clammers are getting help from state legislators in their fight to keep the Newburyport Shellfish Purification Plant open. The plant helps support 96 shellfishermen and their families.

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