Magdalena LaBattaglia moved to East Boston in 2003 to work and raise a family. She very quickly discovered that her neighborhood, as a coastal city, experiences a dichotomy between socio-political economic progress and the challenge to building equitable resiliency.
In 2016 LaBattaglia founded The Harborkeepers, a grassroots coastal resilience nonprofit, to help shift the resiliency narrative and make systemic changes in climate resiliency-building, multi-sector collaboration and developing more innovative models of stakeholder engagement.
Last week the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized LaBattaglia and seven other individuals and organizations in Massachusetts for their work to protect New England’s environment. LaBattaglia was among 24 recipients across New England honored by EPA’s New England office at the 2020 Environmental Merit Awards virtual ceremony.
At the awards, EPA New England Administrator Dennis Deziel said LaBattaglia has helped build an equitable and sustainable coastal community in Eastie.
“Her organization’s mission is to create a community prepared for potential impacts of major flooding or storms,” he said. “East Boston, with its unique geography, cultural diversity and long relationship to maritime history, is particularly vulnerable to environmental and climate-related impacts. A clear and dire need for climate resiliency and education here led LaBattaglia to found Harborkeepers in 2016.”
The Harborkeepers has provided free education to youth and adults about coastal issues and the impact of climate change. Over the last four years, under LaBattaglia ‘s leadership, Harborkeepers has worked with several local schools, housing developments and community groups to address the need for building resiliency in the community.
“Recognizing the impact of marine trash pollution around East Boston, Harborkeepers has held volunteer shoreline clean ups since its founding,” said Deziel. “By the end of 2018, it had removed over 2,555 pounds of trash from the coastline.
Deziel added that over the past four years LaBattaglia has demonstrated leadership, passion and innovation.
“I was surprised but extremely humbled and honored for this recognition from such an important government agency,” said LaBattaglia. “I wake up every day and think about how we can find implementable solutions to help our coastal environment. This is a critical time for all coastal areas and we have no time to waste to do whatever we can to help our ocean and urban coastal communities. I am truly grateful for this award and to be able to do this stewardship work.”
EPA New England’s annual Environmental Merit Awards are given to community leaders, scientists, government officials, business leaders, schools, and students who represent different approaches, but a common commitment to environmental protection.
“Initiatives led by individuals and groups, like Magdalena LaBattaglia, have driven progress toward clean water and clean air, built community support for revitalization investments, sparked environmental innovation, reduced waste, and protected the public from exposure to harmful substances,” said Deziel. “EPA is always proud to recognize the honorees’ dedication, commitment to partnerships, and passion for success that has led to measurable change.” Deziel noted that this year’s award celebration – an online video presentation – by necessity differed from past years, but reaffirmed the awards ceremony is more important than ever.
A multilingual native of Argentina who grew up in New York and New Jersey and holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Montclair University in International Relations, LaBattaglia came to Boston in 2003.
With her, LaBattaglia brought her extensive experience in community engagement, cross-sector partnership building skills and knowledge of multicultural sensitivity to find points of collaboration between diverse stakeholders in order to advance local, state and regional climate resiliency plans and as well as assure that environmental policies work for more impacted communities, like Eastie.
“I am pleased to join EPA Region 1 as they honor municipal officials, environmental activists, state transportation planners and celebrate their amazing work to protect our environment and the public health,” said Commissioner Martin Suberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “I celebrate their success and achievements as they safeguard our natural resources and ensure the health of communities across the Commonwealth.”