Rollins picks a fight worth fighting

Only Quincy is under a microscope now. But local officials across the state — many of whom are too used to churning out spurious environmental or traffic excuses to thwart projects that would serve marginalized populations — should start sweating.

Rollins’ investigation seeks to determine whether Quincy’s ongoing efforts to prevent the reconstruction of the bridge, which is only accessible by a road through the Squantum section of town, are really just an effort to prevent the use of the island as a drug rehabilitation centre. If so, it puts those city officials at risk of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, which, as she noted in her May 12 letter to Mayor Thomas Koch, covers people with substance use disorders.

It may be a new take on what is essentially a land-use dispute — one currently before the state Supreme Judicial Court — but it has certainly caught the attention of Quincy officials. , who will be required to produce a boatload of records for federal civil rights attorneys. examine carefully to determine if traffic problems and environmental concerns are really at the heart of the problem.

For decades, Boston maintained facilities on the island that provided shelter for more than 700 homeless people and recovery programs for another 225, until 2014 when the bridge was deemed unsafe and eventually demolished, in 2015, leaving the city and private agencies to scramble. to find shelter beds. But the people of Squantum had long complained on the homeless buses that came and went with the cars of the workers who served this community on the island.

When Boston Mayor Marty Walsh proposed that the bridge be rebuilt, at a cost of around $100 million, Quincy officials kicked their complaints — and their lawsuits — into high gear.

It’s those actions that Rollins and his civil rights team are focusing on now.

Under authority granted by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rollins wrote, “We are investigating the various efforts of the City of Quincy regarding the reconstruction of the Long Island Bridge. This includes, but is not limited to, the Quincy Conservation Commission’s denial of a conditional order for the reconstruction of the bridge, the Quincy City Council’s enactment of new permit requirements for bridges and the enactment by the Quincy City Council of restrictions on vehicle access to Moon Island. [which sits in the harbor between Long Island and the mainland].”

Rollins gave the city 30 days to produce various documents, including those related to the Conservation Commission’s Sept. 25, 2018, refusal to grant Boston an essential environmental permit to work on the wetlands. She also asked the city to turn over emails, text messages, voicemails and any communication relating to the bridge involving the mayor, his chief of staff, the entire city council and conservation commissioners.

The point is, of course, to see if this legal attack wasn’t driven by environmental concerns, but by who would pass by the scenic Squantum en route to a recovery center – and if that discussion might have been different if a developer had proposed, say, a Marina Bay type development on the island.

Whether to actually rebuild the bridge is a separate discussion from whether Quincy’s tactics should be tolerated. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said just last week that she was still looking at “the possibilities” of the Long Island site for treatment and possible low-threshold housing as part of the long-term solution. term to house people with substance use disorders. In the meantime, the City is committed to continuing to repair and “stabilize” the aging buildings that remain there.

Of course, rebuilding the bridge remains an expensive – and time-consuming – undertaking. A ferry service to the island is also being explored as a possible interim solution.

The question is not whether Long Island is the best possible site for a recovery center, but whether such facilities should be held hostage by officials determined to keep their streets and neighborhoods off limits to anyone not them. Many homeless shelters, addiction treatment centers and affordable housing projects in Massachusetts have faced the same type of opposition as the bridge, for equally dubious reasons.

In facing Quincy officials, Rachael Rollins put a new spin on a very old story. But she picked a fight worth fighting, and if she wins it, the precedent could resonate in a state where NIMBY attitudes have held too much sway for too long.

Editorials represent the opinions of the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.

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